At the half way point of the 2016 Dakar Rally there have been some unexpected surprises, and some things that are as predictable as Kyle LeDuc winning in Pro4. Even before the race even began, the ASO faced significant challenges when Chile withdrew from the race and then Peru pulled out unexpectedly in August after the route was announced, citing concerns about El Nino. This left the organization scrambling to come up with a suitable route in Argentina and Bolivia, which is evident by the three loops that start and end in the same city and consist solely to add mileage to the event. Peru’s concerns were not completely unfounded, as the Dakar Rally has experienced heavy rains that have cancelled stages and shortened stages reducing the total kilometers of special stages to date nearly 25% from 2159 km to 1626 km.
The big news this year is that the torch has been passed from the X-Raid Mini team to Peugeot’s factory effort. Every stage of the rally (with the exception of the 11 kilometer prologue) has been dominated by Peugeot. At the midway point they hold the top three spots in the race. Perhaps most telling regarding how much improved the 2008 DKR is compared to the car Peugeot raced last year is the fact that Cyril Despres is currently 14th in the standings, while last year he finished 34th overall. Some of this can be contributed to his growing familiarity with four wheels, but much of the credit goes to the car. Rather than using the proven 4WD, diesel platform that X-Raid and Volkswagen have dominated with, Peugeot chose to use the rules in their favor and apply their resources into the platform with the least restrictions. For the drivetrain, that means a diesel engine that is allowed the use of turbochargers for better performance at high elevation and less fuel consumption for a lower overall weight. Running a 2WD platform also sheds weight and gave Peugeot the opportunity to run more wheel travel and larger tires. French manufacture Michelin even designed brand new tires for the French Peugeot effort. Had they run the more common 4WD platform, Peugeot would have been obligated to create a vehicle very similar in nature to the X-Raid Minis.
Of course with the driver lineup they have, Peugeot likely still would have won. Putting Sebastian Loeb, one of the best drivers in history, and Stephane Peterhansel, arguably the most talented rally raid driver of the day, together with Carlos Sainz and Despres in the Peugeot 2008 DKR has proven to be a deadly combination. When Dakar rookie Loeb placed a respectable 11th place in the prologue we were impressed. Since that time he has won half of the special stages and currently sits in first place. This year’s route, with less dunes and open terrain, is perfectly suited to Loeb and his longtime WRC navigator, Daniel Elena. Illustrating how well this year’s course favors rally drivers, Mikko Hirvonen is currently in fifth place overall in his Mini in his first Dakar effort.
Hirvonen sits right behind his X-Raid teammate and last year’s winner Nasser Al-Attiyah, who has been outspoken regarding the speed of the Peugeot’s. “We have no chance against the Peugeots, no chance,” he claims. Despite pushing hard Al-Attiyah has experienced few mechanical issues, unlike other front runners such as Bernhard Ten Brink, Carlos Souza, and Guerlain Chicherit, who are all out of the race at the midway point. Last year’s top rookie Yazeed Al-Rajhi is not out of the race, but he is arguably out of the running in his Hallspeed Toyota. Al-Rajhi currently sits in eighth place, behind teammates Giniel De Villiers and Leeroy Poulter.
American’s Robby Gordon and Sheldon Creed have shown glimpses of greatness in the first half of the rally, but running out of fuel on Stage 5 cost Gordon nearly two hours and Creed an hour and a half. The silver lining is that the Gordinis have finally proven to be a reliable platform with minimal mechanical issues to date. Creed, who has zero rally raid experience and nearly the same amount of seat time in a Gordini, has been a bright light of the rally. The SST champion has displayed natural talent and the ability to learn quickly, improving in the rankings nearly every day. He has exceeded expectations and if he continues on this path will be a threat in the rally raid scene in the very near future.
While Peugeot has dominated in the car category, the bikes and trucks have been less predictable, and thus more interesting. With Cyril Depres in a car and Marc Coma retiring to work for the ASO, the field was left wide open. These two have won every Dakar in the past ten years, and both rode for KTM. So far this year we have seen Paolo Goncalves win on a Honda, Toby Price win stages on a KTM, and Joan Barreda Bort win on a Honda (prior to departing after Stage 5), with Goncalves holding a slim lead over Price at the half way point.
The truck category has been similarly exciting, with the MANs and Ivecos holding their own against the Russian Kamaz team, which has won the truck class 13 of the last 15 years. Peter Versluis won the first stage in his MAN truck and holds the overall lead, ahead of fellow stage winners Gerard de Rooy (Iveco), Eduard Nikolaev (Kamaz), and Hans Stacey (MAN). Mardeev (Kamaz) has not won a stage, but consistency has him currently sitting in third place.
Heading south back towards Rosario now, the rally will experience the only dunes and off piste terrain this year. In particular, look for Stage 10 in the Fiambala dunes to be a decisive factor for the winner of this year’s Dakar Rally.
About Toyo Tires®
Established in 1966, Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp. represents the innovation, quality, performance, and excellent service that Toyo Tires has delivered worldwide for 70 years.
The company offers a complete selection of premium replacement tires for nearly every make and model including light trucks, SUVs, high performance cars and luxury vehicles as well as commercial trucks. Consumer product lines include the popular Open Country® tires for light trucks and SUVs; Proxes® ultra-high performance tires; Versado® tires for luxury passenger cars; and the value line of Extensa® passenger car tires. Many of the tires are built in the United States at their state-of-the-art factory in Bartow County, Georgia.
Race-Dezert.com was created by off-road enthusiasts, giving off-roaders a place online to share information about the sport and culture of off-road racing. Based in Southern California, Race-Dezert.com highlights the off-road disciplines of desert racing, short course off-road, stadium truck racing, rally raid, rally racing and rock crawling.
Our goal is to connect the world of off-road racing globally, bringing people together through the common denominator of off-road culture. Whether you are a racer, a promoter, a chase team member, a casual fan, or just interested in learning about off-road, Race-Dezert.com is a place where you can learn about the sport and culture of off-road racing.