Frenchmen Stephane Peterhansel and Cyril Despres won the Dakar Rally on Sunday, completing the final stage two weeks after the race began in Argentina.
Peterhansel won Dakar for a record 10th time and Despres added his fourth title.
“This is without a shadow of a doubt the toughest Dakar I’ve ever raced in,” Despres said. “It was difficult physically, but even more psychologically. Challenging yourself every morning and fighting on the course takes its toll on your mind.”
The final special stage was only 29km long and both leaders took it easy on the last day. Peterhansel in the cars category and Despres in the motorbikes nearly wrapped up the title on Saturday, needing only to avoid a major catastrophe to climb the podium.
Despres saluted fellow Frenchman Peterhansel.
“There’s only one Stephane Peterhansel in the world,” Despres said.
The 46-year-old Peterhansel has won Dakar six times on motorbikes and now four times in the car category. His last victory was in 2007 in cars and he has been racing Dakar since 1988.
Despres was unsure about making his own switch.
“I don’t know if I’m good at driving cars, I’ve never tried,” Despres said.
Peterhansel said it was a relief to be on the podium again.
“When you think of how hard it is to win a Dakar, it’s incredible that I’ve been able to win 10 of them,” Peterhansel said.
“It’s been a long time. I’ve been waiting for five years to win again,” he said. “To take the victory in South America is a huge relief. It ranks among my best triumphs. Moreover, the race was very close during the first week and there was always a lot of pressure.”
Peterhansel called his victory on a motorcycle in 1991 his best.
“But this one has something special to it,” he said. “I was starting to doubt myself, to think I was growing too old for this, that I’d lost it or that I wasn’t made for South America.”
This is the fourth straight year the Dakar has been run in South America.
The last three years it was run in a loop course from Buenos Aires to Chile and then back to the Argentine capital.
This time the rally began in Mar del Plata, Argentina, skipped Buenos Aires and worked its way across Argentina, crossed the Andes to Chile, and then headed north through the Atacama desert into Peru.
Robby Gordon of the US in a Hummer won the final stage, with Peterhansel in a Mini finishing off the pace — 3 minutes, 12 seconds behind.
In the overall standings, Peterhansel wrapped up the rally by finishing 41 minutes, 56 seconds ahead of Mini teammate Joan Roma of Spain and 1.13:45 in front of Giniel Devilliers of South Africa in a Toyota.
In the motorbikes, Pal Anders Ullevalseter of Norway won the final stage. Despres was 3:51 behind and, like Peterhansel, needed only to play it safe to guarantee victory.
Despres finished 53:20 ahead of KTM teammate Marc Coma of Spain in the overall. Helder Rodrigues of Portugal, riding a Yamaha, was third, 1.11:17 behind the Frenchman.