Since they started off along the Silk Road trail on August 29, Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (#181) and Cyril Despres/David Castera (#182) have secured the Peugeot 2008 DKR’s first stage victories and notched up four one-stage two finishes with seven of the event’s 13 legs completed. The two Team Peugeot Total crews are currently first and second overall, split by 22 minutes.
The first leg from Xi’An to Zhongwei got things rolling and provided Team Peugeot Total and its crews with an opportunity to find their marks. Stéphane Peterhansel then steered the #181 car to a sequence of stage wins, including the Peugeot 2008 DKR’s maiden success on Day 2. The multiple Dakar winner’s momentum was not affected by the cancellation of the following day’s test and he went on to claim four more stage wins in a row to appear at the top of the provisional leaderboard, 22 minutes clear of team-mate Cyril Despres.
From the word go, it was clear that the modifications that have been made to the car are a step in the right direction, said Stéphane Peterhansel on Saturday. For example, accelerating over dunes from low engine speeds is now a delight. Everything feels easier – the suspension, the tyres, the gear shifts… – and that’s nice payback for the work put in by everyone in the team. We haven’t really had any scares. Only SS7 was a little fraught because of a hydraulic jack problem before the start. Had we picked up a puncture or got stuck in sand, it could have cost us the lead. But everything passed off without a hitch, which was very encouraging.
With the exception of a tyre coming off the rim on SS2, which cost the crew an estimated four minutes, a failure of the sat-nav system provided by the organisers on SS1 and a bird caught in a windscreen wiper on SS5, ‘Peter’ and ‘Polo’ have enjoyed a relatively trouble-free run so far.
The stages have been very varied, with a mix of dunes, stony tracks, fast sections, sand and dry river beds, added Cyril Despres. We have even come across rain in the middle of the desert! It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable event, in addition to being first class practice for the Dakar. It’s not often you have stages that are such fun to drive from start to finish. Until now, we have only had to stop once when we helped Stéphane to change a wheel! Apart from that, it’s been a trouble-free run. I have been monitoring my data and comparing it with Stéphane’s. This is something of a crash course for me so I’m trying to be as studious as possible, and Peter’s a great teacher!
Along with his new co-driver David Castera, Cyril Despres is making progress every day and second-fastest times for the crew on SS2, SS5, SS6 and SS7 have taken them to second overall, 22 minutes short of the leader, 17 minutes clear of their closest chaser.
We can’t complain about the way things have gone so far. The crews are pleased with the technical modifications we have made to the Peugeot 2008 DKR and the reliability is good. True, the pace isn’t as fast here as it is on the Dakar and the stages are shorter, but they are very varied and technically challenging, so they serve as a good pointer. We need to stay focused, though. We’re only halfway into the event and there are another 1,000 competitive kilometres to come before the rally ends in Dunhuang. Our aim is obviously to get both cars to the finish in order to gain as much experience as possible.
Live information: twitter @peugeotsport
Overall classification after ss7
1. Stéphane Peterhansel (FRA)/Jean-Paul Cottret (FRA) Peugeot 2008 DKR 12h22mn00s
2. Cyril Despres (FRA)/David Castera (FRA) Peugeot 2008 DKR + 22mn06s
3. Han Wei (CHN)/Pan Hong Yu (CHN) Haval + 39mn20s
4. Christian Lavieille (FRA)/Jean-Pierre Garcin (FRA) Haval +46mn36
5. Lui Kun (CHN)/Liao (CHN) Mitsubishi Pajero MPR11 +1h20mn13
September 6: SS8 (Alxa Youqi-Zhangye, 167km). Maximum altitude: 1,600m. 100% Sand and dunes.
September 7: SS9 (Morning: rest / Zhangye- Zhangye Desert Park, 2km). Maximum altitude: 1,600m. Hard-packed ground / soft ground/ hard-packed ground / sand.
September 8: SS10 (Zhangye-Jiuquan, 176km). Maximum altitude: 1,900m. Hard-packed ground / sand.
September 9: SS11 (Jiuquan-Dunhuang, 244km). Maximum altitude: 1,700m. Fast hard-packed ground / stones / sandy gully.
September 10: SS12 (Dunhuang-Dunhuang, 222km). Maximum altitude: 2,500m. 50% sand / 50% hard-packed ground
September 11: SS13 (Dunhuang-Dunhuang, 162km). Maximum altitude: 2,500m. gravels / gullies / sand / storm