Analysis: How Peugeot has been able to dominate the Dakar

Coming into the 2016 Dakar Rally, few considered Peugeot and its relatively unproven 2008DKR16 the favourite to win - so how has the French manufacturer defied expectations? Luis Ramirez investigates.

At the halfway point of the event, Peugeot sits in a comfortable position, having won every stage so far apart from the prologue and comfortably locking out the top three overall.

Its only major technical problem thus far has been a turbo failure for Cyril Despres, but its remaining drivers - Sebastien Loeb, Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz - are split by only five minutes, ready to battle it out as the competitors head back to Rosario from Salta. 

X-Raid Mini driver Nasser Al-Attiyah is 17 minutes back in fourth place, and the Qatari was adamant before the start of the event that Peugeot wouldn't be able to go the distance.

Al-Attiyah's X-Raid teammate Orlando Terranova was, however, less convinced. "I said you couldn't be as categorical as Nasser was; that we had to wait and see," said the Argentine.

"They [Peugeot] have proven to be very strong, they have shown better handling and better acceleration."

For Al-Attiyah, it comes down to work on the engine: "They have a better top speed than us, so it's very difficult to keep up on these roads."

Nani Roma, meanwhile, reckons the high altitude of the event so far has been the decisive factor: "The altitude has stopped us. Our engine is not as strong."

The Mini drivers may have started as favourites, but an atmosphere of pessimism now pervades the X-Raid squad, which will now be hoping the increased navigational challenges of the second week catch out their rivals.

What has Peugeot improved? 

After the failure of 2015, when Peterhansel was the only Peugeot driver to make the finish in 11th overall, the French brand gave its 2008DKR a thorough overhaul.

Maintaining the fundamental two-wheel-drive buggy concept, the team simply improved what they already had, aiming to become more efficient.

"We knew we had balance problems and work to do with the turbocharger, but the concept we used is correct," said Peugeot team boss Bruno Famin.

Peugeot redistributed the weight of the 2008DKR16, creating a well-balanced car that would have the lightness and behaviour of a World Rally car. 

In addition, the engine cover and front air intake were redesigned in the search for greater aerodynamic balance, while the Peugeot engineers did an effective job of squeezing 350bhp from the car's twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, an increase of 10bhp on last year's car.

This means the 2008DKR16 has 30bhp more than the X-Raid-built Mini All4 Racing, and moreover, the French engine's response is much more efficient, reckons Al-Attiyah.

Chicherit: No one can stop Peugeot

There's still a way to go yet, but X-Raid driver Guerlain Chicherit, whose zebra-liveried buggy failed to make it to the rest day, reckons there's no stopping Peugeot now.

For him, the Mini ALL4 Racing has been overtaken, and X-Raid needs to take another step forward if they are going to come back fighting in 2017.

"While we are developing a buggy, we cannot be compared with Peugeot," Chicherit told Motorsport.com. "They have a good budget and no one can reach them, no one can be as fast as them.

"Their drivers are not only great, but the car has been the best in all conditions so far; they are extremely fast. I think they can win this Dakar."

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About this article
Series Dakar
Event Dakar 2016
Teams Peugeot Sport
Article type Analysis
Tags car