We had to check the date on this one, because five-time Dakar Rally winner Cyril Despres has announced that he will not be on two-wheels for this year’s rally raid, and instead will campaign in the car class with Peugeot. The announcement comes as a bit of a shock, after Despres rocked the Dakar Rally world last year, announcing his switch from KTM to Yamaha.
After a difficult race in 2014, where Cyril still managed to finish fourth overall, it seems Despres is content with his five rally wins, though one cannot count the Frenchman out from future motorcycle engagements.
Signing a contract with Peugeot Sport, Despres will be leading the return of the marquee’s re-entry into rally racing, after taking a 25-year hiatus from the sport. Despres will be following in the footsteps of another French motorcycle rally raid racer, Stéphane Peterhansel, who like Despres moved from Yamaha Racing’s motorcycles into racing cars.
Peterhansel has been a mentor to Despres, and was part of his fellow Frenchman’s move from KTM to Yamaha Racing. Despres had been chasing Peterhansel’s record of Dakar Rally motorcycle wins (six), and now seems to be chasing Peterhansel’s five car victories (arguably six victories after 2014’s team orders fiasco).
Fortunately for Despres, Yamaha Racing is letting the Frenchman out of his two-year contract with the manufacturer, in order to go race with Peugeot. Despres will still be involved with Yamaha’s rally raid program, and will still compete in several races this year.
“Peugeot Sport offered me a place as a driver on their new rally-raid project,” said Despres. “Such an opportunity only comes once in a career. However, because I made a commitment with Yamaha and Eric de Seynes, I will make sure I continue to share my knowledge and experience with the young Yamaha rally-raid riders. Peugeot have allowed me the possibility to train on a motorcycle and to take part in two or three races per year with a Yamaha enduro bike.”
“We can but respect the interest that a large car manufacturer like Peugeot takes in a motorcycle rider like Cyril Despres,” said Eric de Seynes, who is the Operational Director of Yamaha Motor Europe. “For sure, we had some shared ambitions with Cyril, who is a great competitor, so this opportunity of his means we will have to adapt our plans moving forward.”
“But we have a strong rally team, a very competitive motorcycle, professional assistance and we will have competitive riders with the objective for victory in 2014/15,” he continued. “Cyril will remain in the world of motorcycles as a motorcycle ambassador of Yamaha, and will bring us his support as we continue to challenge for off-road glory with our rally-raid development program.”