RÍO CUARTO, Argentina: France’s Dakar Rally legend Stephane Peterhansel celebrated his 12th title on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) as motorbike rider Toby Price became the first Australian to etch his name on the grueling event’s roll of honor.
The 50-year-old Peterhansel avoided any late drama to safely cross the finish line of the closing 13th stage at Rio Cuarto to give French manufacturer Peugeot their first win since 1990.
“It’s extraordinary. The pressure was very high, but we came through,” said the Dakar’s all-time record winner.
“Some of my wins count more than others, but this one’s definitely in the top 3.”
Price, 28, who came third last year on his debut, dominated the two-week bike race after lifting the second stage last week.
“Being the first Australian to win the Dakar is just insane,” Price said.
“I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to think… I’m in shock, I never would’ve thought I could win this race in my second participation.
“This is incredible for my family, my friends and my fans back in Australia!”
The rider from New South Wales finished fourth on the final day to wrap up the title and supply his KTM team with a 15th consecutive crown.
He had a tidy 39-minute cushion over his Slovakian teammate Stefan Svitko with Chilean Pablo Quintanilla at 48min in third.
While he was savouring opening his Dakar account, Peterhansel was adding a new chapter to his love affair with the iconic event he first competed in back in 1989.
He made what ultimately proved to be a decisive step towards the 2016 title on Thursday’s drive from Belen to La Rioja.
With his Peugeot teammate and archrival Carlos Sainz coming to a grinding halt 30 kilometres from the line, he ended the day a full one hour clear of last year’s winner Nasser Al-Attiyah behind the wheel of a Mini.
After safely coming in ninth behind final stage winner Sebastien Loeb, Peterhansel took the title with over half an hour to spare from Qatari Al-Attiyah.
For Peugeot this was a superb achievement coming just two years after their return to the iconic event following a 26-year absence.
South African Giniel De Villiers driving a Toyota took third over an hour adrift.
Peterhansel won the first of his six titles on two wheels in 1991 and his 11th victory behind the wheel of a Mini in 2013.
“It’s too early to think about the future,” he said.
“One thing’s for sure, getting the same number of victories on a bike and in a car was the last big goal in my career. Now that it’s done, I don’t think there are many things left to motivate me.”
The quads category was won for the third time by Marcos Patronelli with Dutchman Gerard de Rooy annexing his second truck title.