What is it about French people driving in the dirt? True, they invented motor racing back in 1894 when all of the roads were dirt. It is also true that the French swept the podium at that first race since it was in France (Paris to Rouen). But that was all a long time ago, and none of it explains the collective championships of three particular Frenchmen.
Championship number 5 in the bike division was claimed by Cyril Despres in the 2013 Dakar last weekend. He did not have arch rival Marc Coma as he did last year, but he had a field of worthy contenders and young guns nipping at his heels. Even if luck has been on his side occasionally, you don’t win 5 of these that way. If any of you have ridden off road for even a few hours standing on the pegs, you know what an ordeal a multi-week ride must be. Now try that almost flat out every day. Oh, and read from a road book while doing it. A road book is to a GPS, as an Abacus is to a scientific calculator. Oh, and vary altitude from the top of the Andes to riding on the beach. Oh, and a mistake can mean death.
Sebastian Loeb just announced his retirement from the World Rally Championship after racking up his 9th consecutive championship…..In case you missed that, it was his 9th Con-sec-u-tive WRC championship. Let me put this another way, nobody else has won the WRC championship since 2003. He has beaten seasoned champions and young challengers. Even when others put in stellar performances rating 10 out of 10, Loeb turned his dial up to 11. Readers of this blog know that we feel the WRC is the ultimate championship for a driver, as you must win or do well on all surfaces in all climates from snow to gravel to mud to tarmac. A misjudgement can mean death. Therefore Loeb is among the greatest drivers ever.
Stephane Peterhansel has 11 Dakar championships. 6 on a motorcycle, and 5 in a car. They call him Mr Dakar, and for good reason. He has won the event in Africa, and in South America. He has won on a Yamaha motorcycle, in a Mitsubishi car, and two consecutive victories most recently in a BMW Mini Countryman. When he has not won, he has usually been on the podium or in the top 10. He can probably go to trucks next if he wants. He was also world enduro champion twice. If you need to get from point A to point B fast, and there are no roads, go with Mr Peterhansel and buckle up s’il vous plait !