With less than two weeks to go before the start in Buenos Aires of the epic Dakar Rally, Team Peugeot-Total has completed its testing in Morocco, with the three PEUGEOT 2008 DKR now en route to the Argentine capital. And the verdict of 11-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel is that he has never driven a faster car!

The objective of the latest test, held in eastern Morocco, was to assess both performance and durability with all three crews: Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret, Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz and Cyril Despres/Gilles Picard.

Just as is the case on the Dakar Rally itself, you can never tell which way nature is going to turn. Some of the worst flooding seen for decades in Morocco made many roads to Erfoud – where the test was being held – impassable, however also helping to adapt the car to the sort of rough conditions that have always characterised the event.

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With Dakar testing, the tougher it is, the more realistic it becomes. All three drivers now feel well prepared for the biggest challenge in motorsport, having had a chance to put the stunningly liveried car through its paces over a wide variety of conditions. The obstacles that the team tackled in Morocco included rocks, sand dunes, tight gravel tracks and faster flat-out sections of terrain.

“I’ve been to this place maybe 15 times before in my career and I’ve never driven here this quickly: the way the suspension works in particular on the PEUGEOT 2008 DKR is fantastic,” said Peterhansel. “Even over the dunes, it’s amazing how much grip you have with just two-wheel drive. So the car is definitely quick, although of course you never know how quick compared to everyone else. For sure, it has been born well. As it is two-wheel drive you need a nice and clean driving style – not too sideways – and this is something I was able to practise during the test.”

Despres, the team rookie, commented: “I still have a lot to learn but straight away, I felt at home in the car. The driving technique is not so different to a bike, but it’s a lot easier on your legs and knees: for the first time in many years, I have no pain anywhere after testing before the start of the Dakar. And actually, this was the first time I properly realised how complicated it was to ride and navigate at the same time. Now I wonder how I used to do it because I have learned to work with my co-driver and he is always so busy! For me the test was all about adapting my experience from bikes to the car. In some places I would have gone quicker with the bike but in most places I was quicker with the car. ”

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Sainz was also able to sample a wide variety of roads in Africa, working on the car’s set-up. He completed long loops of test roads – more than 250 kilometres at a time – to replicate the intense days that are a regular feature of life on the Dakar.

“This programme is a new challenge,” said the two-time World Rally Champion. “Building a car for the Dakar is difficult under any circumstances, but building a car that is a completely new concept is really interesting and I completely believe in it.

Now we are beginning to understand the car, so I look forward to the start of the rally. We managed to get some good kilometres at the Morocco test in representative conditions, which was the main target.”

The action gets underway on January 4 and ends on January 17, after 9,000 gruelling kilometres through three countries.

“We’ve worked non-stop to get the three cars ready,” concluded Peugeot Sport team principal Bruno Famin. “Now that our Morocco testing is over and the cars are on the way to Argentina, we can all look forward to the start of the next part of our adventure.”