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22 February 2024

Double French delight in Dakar Rally

French driver Stephane Peterhansel celebrates after winning the 2012 Dakar Rally in the car category at the end of Stage 14 in Sarapampa, Peru, on Saturday. (AFP)


There was double French delight on the Dakar Rally on Sunday as Stephane Peterhansel won an unprecedented 10th title by winning the cars section and Cyril Despres wrapped up a tight motorbikes category.

Peterhansel, driving a Mini, was previously a three-time car winner and six-time motorcycle champion of the gruelling rally but it was his first victory in the race since it moved to South America in 2009.

The Frenchman, who went into the final stage with a 43-minute lead over closest rival Nani Roma of Spain, finished 10th on the 29km special, 3:12 off American Robby Gordon's pace.

Peterhansel covered the 8,400km-long rally, of which more than half were timed specials, between Mar Del Plata in Argentina and Lima in 38hr 54min 46sec, with team-mate Roma at 41:56, and South African Toyota driver Ginel De Villiers at 1.13:25.

"When you think of how hard it is to win a Dakar, it's incredible that I've been able to win 10 of them," said Peterhansel.

"It's been a long time, I've been waiting for five years to win again! To take the victory in South America is a huge relief, it ranks among my best triumphs.

"Moreover, the race was very close during the first week and there was always a lot of pressure."

The Frenchman added: "I don't know what I could do to go one better! Beating this record is going to be difficult... for the others!

"This race is stressful, exciting and fascinating, and it's also very rewarding at the end. Now I'm going to party with the entire team and then we'll see."

Peterhansel added: "My finest victory will always be my first win in the motorcycle category, but this one has something special to it.

"I was starting to doubt myself, to think I was growing too old for this, that I'd lost it or that I wasn't made for South America... and in the end everything turned out fine!

"But I still have a blue bandana from my motorcycling period. I didn't tell anyone, but I kept it in my pocket throughout the entire rally. It's the story of the comeback of the blue bandana."

The motorbike category was won by Despres, who came through the stage unscathed to finish ahead of Marc Coma, whose wrong turn on Saturday's stage handed his rival a clear run to the title.

It was a fourth title for Despres, riding a KTM, after the stage won by Dutchman Pal Ullevalseter.

Despres clocked 43hr 28min 11sec in the overall timings, 53:20 ahead of Coma, with Yamaha rider Helder Rodrigues of Portugal in third at 1.11:17.

"I always pay attention to detail. I like doing my homework and, in my job, when things go OK you end up winning!" said Despres.

"Today we won and it's simply fantastic. This is without a shadow of a doubt the toughest Dakar I've ever raced in.

"It was difficult physically, but even more psychologically. Challenging yourself every morning and fighting on the course takes its toll on your mind. It's not like a 42-kilometre marathon; here, you have to earn your place every morning."

Despres added: "All victories are beautiful, but this one is special because it came down to the wire and was decided at the last minute. This was an unimaginable scenario, with the leaders separated by mere seconds.

"I've done 90 or 85 rallies throughout my life, and this one was the one where I had to fight the hardest. Today will leave its mark on me."