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The second half of the marathon stage – a long stage complete with an overnight halt in Bolivia, during which competitors are not allowed outside assistance – brought the crews back to the bivouac in Iquique, Chile, with a dramatic climax as the cars descended the mountainous sand dune overlooking the service park. The two Team Peugeot-Total crews of Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret and Cyril Despres/Gilles Picard had another productive day, with Stéphane maintaining eighth overall and Cyril gaining yet more valuable experience. Tomorrow is the traditional Dakar ‘rest day’, with no driving for the car crews, before they start the long trek back to Buenos Aires.
The Dakar is renowned for being punishing, but it doesn’t get any more punishing than the epic marathon stage. A competitive distance of 510 kilometres today added to the 321 kilometres covered yesterday, making a grand total of 831 kilometres in one stage (albeit split over two days). With only the drivers and co-drivers allowed to mechanically intervene during the marathon stage, this was the biggest test yet of every car’s durability and strength.
The crews had just a short 24-kilometre liaison section this morning, before the Salar de Uyuni: a magnificently white salt road that started the stage. This was followed by a climb through mountainous terrain close to the Chilean border, then finally a daunting number of sand dunes as they descended rapidly towards the coast. At the start of the day’s action, both cars had difficulty firing up at the Uyuni bivouac, but finally got going thanks to the help of Benediktas Vanagas and Andrei Rudnitski (#339), who were able to give them a tow.
Once underway, both examples of the PEUGEOT 2008 DKR passed the marathon test with flying colours. Peterhansel retains eighth overall by virtue of a seventh-fastest time on the stage today, while Despres was 29th-fastest despite having to battle with power steering problems.
Stéphane Peterhansel (#302): “The result is not too bad; we would have hoped for more but there are some high altitude places where the engine suffers and it’s simply a question of getting through rather than setting a time. This car is still very new, so you can’t attack in the same way that you would with a more developed car. When you look at it that way, the two marathon stage days went well for us, generally speaking. The car is in good condition and we had no major reliability issues either. It was fun to drive in Bolivia: there was a huge enthusiasm from the public and we spent more than 36 hours at altitudes of 3800 metres or higher, so it was very punishing on the body, with headaches and fatigue. But that’s the point of the marathon stage: it’s meant to be difficult.”
Cyril Despres (#322): “Today has been good, as in the end we are back at the bivouac in Iquique. Despite the bad weather we encountered yesterday, the two days we had in Bolivia were magnificent. It was fantastic to see the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat and one of those really legendary sights.”
Peugeot Sport Director Bruno Famin: “It’s very positive to have both cars back after the marathon stage with no major mechanical problems, just a few little things. The drivers are making their way back up the leaderboard, even though that’s not really the point for us here at the moment. The overall performance goes to show that our car is there or thereabouts, even in the worst conditions for us, which was the rain, hail and mud we experienced yesterday. Now we’re going to prepare the cars for the run back to Buenos Aires, with the firm objective of getting both to the finish.”