THE INSIDER Peugeot Sport
IF YOU fail to plan, you plan to fail – an adage that’s incredibly true in motorsport. And of all the motorsport disciplines, you won’t see heads nodding along to the maxim quite like on the Dakar rally raid, one of the world’s most gruelling motorsport events.
Having recently won the 2017 Dakar – backing up its 2016 victory – Peugeot Sport knows the importance of planning. Prior to this year’s event, we find ourselves sitting just 200 yards from the Arc de Triomphe in a restaurant as comfortably Parisian as it is possible to be. Our companion for lunch is Bruno Famin, director of Peugeot Sport. Tomorrow, his 3008 DKR racers will be shipped to Paraguay, ahead of the 2017 Dakar rally raid. Once there, the cars and drivers will face a fortnight of abject misery, as Famin well knows.
On the 565km second stage of day two on Dakar 2016, he recalls, in the middle of Argentina, the temperature was 55 degrees Celsius. Inside the car it was a mere 70 degrees.
“The drivers were destroyed; Stephane Peterhansel was very slow at the end of the stage. I asked him what was wrong and he just didn’t remember the last 30 miles; he was dead. We didn’t believe it was important but now we’re fully convinced it’s very important – air-conditioning.”
That might seem like a straightforward decision but this is motorsport. An air-conditioning unit costs 10kg in weight and robs precious horsepower, but Famin is wholly convinced that the drop in driver performance without it is far more costly. These are the challenges that come with the job.
Relocated to a nondescript office block across Paris at Velizy-Villacoublay, we walk through plain ’80s decor that could just as easily be the home of a finance house or paper merchants. It’s not until you wander into Famin’s office that the small differences become apparent. Rather than ISO9001 awards, behind his desk sit his most prized trophies; a trio of statues from Le Mans, two second places and overall victory in 2009. On the wall opposite are winners’ trophies from the 2016 Dakar and I Silk Way events, and presumably soon to be joined by the 2017 Dakar gong. “Sebastien Loeb has both trophies from Pikes Peak,” says Famin. “One for first place, and one for fastest rookie.” You’d think he’d have run out of space.
Peugeot might not be the first name that springs to mind if you’re drawing up a mental list of manufacturers with glorious motorsport histories, but that’s only because you’re not giving it enough thought. Peugeot has significant victories on its CV, most notably being the first non-American manufacturer to win the Indy 500 in 1913, ’16 and ’19 as well as significant history with the Safari Rally in the 1960s and ’70s.
But it was the formation of Peugeot Talbot Sport in 1981 with Jean Todt at the helm that marked a turning point. Todt had just won the World Rally Championship constructor’s title and finished runner-up in the driver’s standings as co-pilot to Guy Frequelin; PSA CEO Jean Boillot recognised how his tactical and organisational nous could be applied to running a motorsport arm. Within three years Peugeot’s first in-house WRC program was ready to go, and it ignited the sport in an instant.
Thirty-five years on and there’s been plenty of wins across several disciplines, but Peugeot Sport has a
PEUGEOT Sport first entered rallying in 1984, during the white-heat of Group B, the sport’s most exciting period. The 205 T16 had two key advantages over the nose-heavy Audi Quattro, it was significantly lighter and, being mid-engined, more manoeuvrable. It lacked the firepower of its German rival, but more than made up for it on the twisty, narrow tracks that make up the WRC. The 205 T16 took three victories in ’84, seven the following year and with it the drivers’ and constructors’ titles with Timo Salonen at the wheel. The E2 T16 repeated the twin titles in 1986 with Juha Kankkunen taking the spoils. There were yet more trophies in the WRC era, with the Peugeot 206 taking the drivers’ title in 2000 and 2002 with a hat-trick of manufacturers’ cups over the same period. If you want a fast rally car, you know where to come.
special relationship with the Dakar, taking the sixth of its six overall victories in January 2017. “We are doing our cross-country program with two main races, the Dakar and the Silk Road Rally,” explains Famin. “It’s for two reasons; to communicate about our brand and to communicate about our products. With the 908 Le Mans program we raced 32 times against Audi – we won 24. Nobody knows. Even inside the group nobody knows. The aim is to communicate. Motorsport is a media, we are competing against other media – it’s very special media of course.”
We head downstairs and cross a narrow courtyard to the other side of the building. It’s narrower than usual today because there are three support trucks parked outside, each one being loaded with enough kit to keep four cars on the move in the most challenging conditions on Earth.
Through the workshop door and you’re struck by that smell. The smell of motorsport. Warmed oil and the smell of hand-cut tyres mixed with thousands of hours of zealous effort. It’s busy like a rail terminal on a Friday evening here, as three of the unfinished 3008 DKR rally cars are being worked on while other team members are bubble-wrapping and packing away enough carbonfibre body panels to reclothe an armada of them.
There’s also a palpable sense of history within these anonymous walls. It was the birthplace of some of the most spectacular and successful competition cars ever conceived, their achievements immortalised in the giant chrome trophies scattered among tools and personnel.
The 3008 DKR is the car created to defend Peugeot’s Dakar crown, and it is not a machine without purpose.
It’s all meat and no pastry, staring you squarely in the eye as you go nose-to-nose with it, the Peugeot grille squeezed and stretched into a sinister grin.
Famin explains how the looks aren’t designed just for intimidation. “We worked on the body to give it the new shape of the 3008 SUV and to improve the aerodynamics. We believe this is very important because the average speed is not so slow and because adequate cooling is a big problem. We need very good cooling without having drag.”
As well as the aero changes, the 3008 has revised suspension over 2016’s Dakar winner, the 2008 DKR, and an engine tuned for dune-slaying low-end torque.
Dakar 2017 threw a curveball into the already challenging mix with a dramatic increase in altitude.
Half the race took place at around 4000m (13,000ft) as it skirted the Andes. Every 100m of altitude cost one per cent of engine performance while the stipulated air restrictor meant you couldn’t just ramp up the boost; at times competitors were running on 60 per cent power. The reduced density of the air also had an aerodynamic impact, reducing downforce.
“But the main point [was] the brakes,” Famin said. (Less dense air at altitude is less effective at cooling the brakes, while the fluid’s boiling point is also lowered). “The drivers [had] to be careful because you have to brake earlier, but the brain also has less air so the time of reaction is not the same. They have to allow for these things. This is why experience is so important on the Dakar.”
Scan down Peugeot’s driver list and you can see what he means. Stephane Peterhansel has missed only one Dakar since 1988, taking six wins on motorcycles.
This year he added his seventh victory in a car, making him the most successful Dakar competitor in history.
PEUGEOT Sport’s first tilt at the legendary Pikes Peak hillclimb was with a heavily modified 205 T16 featuring a longer wheelbase and loads more aero, packing 410kW into just 850kg.
Mechanical maladies meant Walter Rohrl and Audi pipped Ari Vatanen to first place in ’87, but second, third and fourth showed the potential.
Peugeot Sport returned the following year with a bigger weapon; the 405 T16 allowed an even longer wheelbase for more stability and a bigger engine with variable valve-timing now nudging 522kW.
Vatanen was not to be denied, shaving 0.6sec off Rohrl’s time to set a course record that stood for five years, his run was immortalised in the film Climb Dance. Robby Unser won it again in 1989. As with most of the motorsport disciplines it’s entered, Peugeot Sport came back for a second crack, this time rocking up with the 208 T16. Weighing a paltry 875kg but sporting a 3.2-litre twin-turbo V6 with 652kW – or notably, that’s 1000bhp per tonne – as well as the wing, transmission and notably, carbon brakes from its 908 LMP1 car. They also brought along Sebastien Loeb, presumably bored of winning all the WRC titles, who promptly took 1min 33sec off the course record.
Cyril Despres has 11 Dakar podium finishes including five wins to his name, plus the Silk Way victory in 2016.
Carlos Sainz you may have heard of, and then there’s Mr Loeb, who enjoyed his best Dakar placing in 2017 finishing second outright.
“It’s quite a long time since Sebastien has surprised me anymore; he is amazing, incredible,” Famin said. “The fact that he was fast was everything but a surprise (Loeb’s first Dakar was the 2016 event, with Peugeot). As a newcomer he made a couple of mistakes, which is normal. But his capabilities and adaptation are incredible.”
Peterhansel may have passed his 51st birthday, but his enthusiasm for the event is borderline undignified for a man of his age and success. “It’s never the same!” he says. “In the beginning it was in Africa, but also in Africa every year was different conditions, now we are in South America and it’s also different every year. You never know what will happen! It’s still an adventure, it’s still my passion and a big part of my life.”
Teammate Cyril Despres knows all about this, having been through his fair share of adventures during his motorcycle years. His first Dakar in a car with Peugeot saw him finish 34th, but last year he came in a highly creditable seventh. He explains it’s harder to navigate in the car, less comfortable with the heat and has lost 2kg of muscle from each leg, but his record of finishing 13 Dakars from 14 starts on a bike speaks for itself. “In 2002 I broke a little part of the handlebar and crashed, dislocating my hip. I was lying on the floor thinking, ‘Oh, I’m lucky, everything is okay!’ I tried to stand up but couldn’t.” Despres mimes one leg pointing one way and the other facing in an entirely different direction… Prior to the 2017 Dakar event there were doubts about the rear-wheel drive concept, which flies in the face of conventional logic, it was ultimately proved right. “There is a saying that it is the race that chooses the winning driver,” says Famin. “It’s not true but there is some truth in it.” It’s about being in the right place at the right time, which takes some planning. M
2017 Dakar Loeb loses desert fight
SEBASTIEN LOEB nearly won the 2017 Dakar Rally Raid and the competition between Peugeot teammates was so fierce, there were whispers of team orders during the event.
But ultimately an engine issue on Day Four cruelled Loeb and teammate Daniel Elena’s hopes of victory – only their second Dakar – setting them back 26 minutes and proving decisive in the final reckoning. Despite winning more stages than anyone else – five of 10 – Loeb and Elena settled for second outright, learning the hard way that the Dakar can be cruel.
Instead it was defending champion Stephane Peterhansel who took the win, a record seventh on four wheels and his 13th overall if you include his victories on two wheels.
Peugeot driver Carlos Sainz was also shaping up as a contender early on before crashing on Stage Four, the car entering a series of rolls and becoming damaged beyond repair.
“Everybody feared this year’s Dakar – justifiably in my opinion,” Peugeot Sport boss Bruno Famin said after the event. “This tension led the members of the team to work even more closely together and the reward is a fantastic overall team result. As far as the car is concerned, the biggest step forward was its reliability. We didn’t have any mechanical issues, with the exception of a small problem which, it can be said, deprived Loeb an Elena of the win. All our work upstream of the event paid off in the form of enhanced performance. I know it can bring added stress but, for me, the thought of issuing team orders was inconceivable. As a of result, everyone was able to savour the intensity of the fight to the end, including with the crews themselves.”
The 2017 Dakar Rally Raid covered 8823km over 12 legs, including 4093km of competition across 10 stages. The rear-drive Peugeot 3008DKR won nine of 10 stages. Its top speed was 203km/h in Stage Two and the maximum temperature of the event was 45 degrees Celsius.