Repsol drivers in Dakar 2006: Stephane Peterhansel
What is your favourite memory of the Dakar?
It has to be my first win on a motorbike. The Dakar for me was a dream and to go out there and win my first title was a very special feeling. I used to watch the event on the television and it was my dream then just to take part in the race, never mind to win it. After just a few years I was given the chance to win and that was an incredible feeling.
After that it has to be my first victory in the Mitsubishi with Jean-Paul. It was a new career for me. It was a different feeling altogether. It was not a case of winning alone. I was winning for a team and representing the hard work put in by many people.
What makes a top class co-driver?
A professional co-driver at the highest level must have special qualities. It is a very complicated job. Perhaps, it is more complex than the role of the driver. A codriver must be well organised. He must be able to think about several things at the same time. He must have good administration skills and also a sound knowledge of car mechanics. He must be prepared to work long hours. When the driver has finished, the co-driver must look at the road book for the next day and have a detailed knowledge of navigation, maps, timings and road books. I feel that Jean-Paul is the complete co-driver. A co-driver also needs to be physically fit and that it very important.
Can you remember when you first met Jean-Paul, your co-driver?
Yes, it was around eight years ago when we were first introduced on the Dakar. I knew he was a talented individual and I realised even more so on the Desert Challenge in 1999. We began the first special stage and after about 30 kms we passed the first bikes on the left side. Jean-Paul made the decision that they were lost and that was the first major navigational decision he made in our working relationship together. We have a very professional working partnership. Jean-Paul is calm and very easy to work with even under pressure.
You have won the Dakar so many times. How do you motivate yourself?
I have been involved in the competition for over 15 years. The sport is my life and I get a buzz out of the title of being a champion. It is always tough to win, but I am passionate about my sport and love the competition and trying to do the best I can.
Would you say that after all these years the desert is a friend or an enemy?
The desert can be very hard. For Jean-Paul and I it has offered many happy times, but has also filled me with deep sadness. I have gained great pleasure from the stunning scenery, the panoramic views and the visions of Africa, both on a bike and in a car. But I have also lost friends in the desert. There have been serious accidents. It can be a very lonely and inhospitable place in racing.
On events like the Dakar you may be 10 or 15 minutes behind your rivals. How do you go about making up that time? What is the strategy?
On the Dakar there are different tactics to other rallies. Differences between drivers can be much greater. The strategy you follow when you are leading may be completely different to that you opt to use when you are behind. I think an effective strategy is to stay in contact with the other fast drivers, even if it means being 15 minutes behind. The strategy then could be to look out for the stage or stages that you feel could be the most difficult and try and push as hard as possible. A Dakar cannot be won on one stage, but it is a very effective strategy to take a lot of time on one difficult stage.
What are your impressions of the new Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution MPR12?
After four weeks of testing in Morocco, my feelings about the new car are very positive. The team has tried, step by step, to work hard on the suspension and the engine and we have arrived with a car which is very reliable. After three years we have a great all-round car. It shows improvements in the sand and on the rocks.
Are you confident about the next Dakar?
Jean-Paul and I are quietly confident. We have a good track record together on the Dakar and will be well prepared. It will not be easy by any means. Experience tells us that the Dakar is such an unpredictable event. The route is complicated, but we are both well motivated this year and looking forward to the start.