Two-Time Le Mans Champions Announce Multi-Year Dakar Effort Starting in
Petersen/White Lightning Returns to Off-Road Roots with Dakar Buggy Entry
LAS VEGAS, Nevada, USA, November 14, 2006 - Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing has won all the world's major motorsports endurance classics including the 24 Hours of Le Mans ('03 & '04), the Baja 500 and Baja 1,000 overall ('95-'97), the 24 Hours At Daytona ('01), the 12 Hours of Sebring ('05) and the Petit Le Mans ('05 & '06). Today, team principals Michael Petersen (Las Vegas, Nev., USA) and Dale White (Bozeman, MT, USA) officially announced a multi-year agreement to participate in the only remaining major endurance event that they have not conquered; The Dakar. The organization will run a Team SMG-prepared entry in this year's 15-day trek across two continents with an eye towards a full, in-house program for 2008 with an option for 2009. Petersen, an accomplished off-road and sports car racer, will drive the SMG-built T1.1 class buggy while White, himself a gifted off- road champion, will manage and drive one of the two chase vehicles, specifically the T5 class truck. Despite being rookies at the event and the Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 enjoying the largest request for entry in event history, the two-time American Le Mans Series champions earned early acceptance by the organizer, the Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.), due to their past accomplishments in off- road and sports car racing.
Because of the unique challenges of this daunting event, Petersen and White will combine not only with Team SMG but also with longtime Dakar and desert racer Darren Skilton (Long Beach, Calif., USA) of Baja Automotive Adventures. The program will move in- house in 2008 with White then overseeing every aspect of the program. Baja Automotive is currently constructing a pair of buggies for '08 based on the designs of off-road legend Bill Savage and White. These buggies, while not completed in time for this year's event, will be purpose-built with the experience garnered by Petersen/White Lightning, Baja Automotive and Savage over the course of decades of racing in off-road and at Dakar. The second and third Dakar efforts will be organized, prepared and run out of the team's Las Vegas-area shop in the United States.
Team SMG, owned by French motorsports great Philippe Gache (Cannes, France), will supply the buggy, initial preparation and two crew members for Petersen and White's Euromilhoes Dakar debut. Baja Automotive Adventures, which will have its own entry for Skilton in the T4 category (a first for an American driver), will also supply two technicians to the effort while the remaining two positions on the team will be filled by longtime American Le Mans Series team leaders Nico Castellaccio (Tracy, Calif.) and Dennis Chizma (Las Vegas).
Matthew Stevenson (Ipswich, England) will co-drive with Petersen in the buggy. A former factory team co-driver, Stevenson has raced for Volkswagen and Schlesser-Renault. He has also co-driven and navigated for Skilton at Kia Motors as well.
The world's greatest rally, the Euromilhoes Dakar 2007 is a perfect homecoming for the winners of over 50 off-road events as it blends together the team's early successes in desert racing with their endurance sports car tradition. As a demonstration of that, Petersen/White Lightning fans will find much of the Dakar effort familiar to them. Petersen's buggy, as well as the support vehicles and equipment, will carry the internationally recognized livery of the Petersen/White Lightning sports cars. The now familiar neon yellow roof and red lightning bolt will adorn the buggy's white base. As they have since the late 1990s, MMPIE and PAWS are marketing partners in the program. BF Goodrich, a sister- company to Michelin who supplies the tires to the team in sports car racing, will be the tire partner. The first test session of the Petersen/White Lightning buggy is scheduled in Morocco, November 30 - December 1.
While the specific route for the 29th edition of the grueling desert rally is held until the start of the event, the general course is known in advance by the teams. The Petersen/White Lightning buggy will travel down the west coast of Europe and Africa passing through Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Sahara Occidental, Mauritania, Mali and Senegal. The four members of the Petersen/White Lightning team, as well as their partners at Team SMG and Baja Automotive Adventures will begin the journey on January 6 in Lisbon, Portugal and close the spectacular adventure January 21 on the Atlantic Ocean in Dakar, Senegal. The Euromilhoes Dakar, formerly known as the Paris-Dakar, covered 4,813 special stages along its 9,043 kilometers (5,619 miles) course in 2006. A similar distance and route is planned by A.S.O. for '07.
Michael Petersen, Owner/Driver: "We'll are all excited about Dakar. It has been quite awhile since I have returned to the desert and I am looking forward to it. Since this is my first year, and this is a multi- year plan, my goal is to go and get experience. I want to get to the finish and, most of the time, if you can do that, you will finish well. Since our buggies weren't ready, I'd like to thank Darren for putting this all together with the SMG. Philippe and SMG have had quite a bit of success at Dakar and I am looking forward to the relationship with them. I want to help SMG and myself achieve a good result. Unfortunately, I can't take the whole team but Dale, Nico and Dennis will be coming with me to learn about Dakar. The next couple of years will be about the results more than just getting to the finish. But, in the first year, you have to learn to walk before you can run."
Dale White, Entrant/Program Manager: "We are approaching Dakar like we do every event; with the utmost respect and dedication to win it. This is the final, major endurance event that Mike and I have not won and it is probably the hardest to win. They all have their unique challenges and unique natures but Dakar is a different beast. Just like we did at Le Mans or in the American Le Mans Series, we are going the first time to learn as much as we can about the event and how it works. Success usually comes in the subtleties, in the details. Our sports car and off-road racing background is definitely going to help but we aren't going over with any delusions we'll win the first year. I'm going over like a sponge to soak up every detail that I can. I'm looking forward to learning as much as possible to fine-tune our future plans there."
Darren Skilton, Team Manager: "I am really excited to be working with Mike and Dale on their Dakar project. My long-term goal has been to develop an American team and vehicle to compete for the victory at Dakar. This is the first step. You could not pick a better team to partner with to achieve this goal. Dale and Mike's professionalism and dedication is well known, and is something that will be instrumental in being successful over the coming years at Dakar. Dale has been a long time family friend since our days racing against one another in the desert. He and Mike are approaching the event with the respect it deserves but also the enthusiasm that only the Dakar can create. This year's goal is to arrive at the Lac Rose in Dakar. After that it is right back home to finish the new cars so Mike, Dale and I can start testing them and preparing for 2008."
Philippe Gache, Team SMG: ""It's a very nice opportunity for SMG to support Michael Petersen in the next Dakar. SMG finished last year first private concurrent, third in two wheel drive and 12th overall with the same specification car that Michael will drive this year. I am sure, altogether, we will be able to defend this position or maybe better."
-credit: Petersen Motorsports/White Lightning Racing