Peugeot's return in 2015 was the start of a new chapter in the history of the Dakar. Fans in the 1980s already knew what it was like to be kept on the edge of their seats by the lions, which at the time roared with the Finnish accent of Vatanen and Kankkunen. Fast-forward a few decades and the lions are again kings of the jungle. After just one false start, Stéphane Peterhansel took the 3008 to victory in 2016 and, one year later, successfully defended his title against teammates Sébastien Loeb and Cyril Despres in a 1-2-3 that showed the crushing superiority of the French maker. Peugeot's announcement that it will not be participating in future editions has made the favourites determined to go out with a bang with their upgraded 3008 Maxi car. The rumours swirling about "Peter" retiring after 30 years of racing in the Dakar have only hardened the resolve of the fiercely competitive defending champion. Teammate Sébastien Loeb may be relatively inexperienced, but he has shown the talent of a future Dakar champion, claiming nine specials in two editions and, most importantly, finishing in second place last year, just five minutes behind his captain. Cyril Despres, with a wholly different driving style, has also shown an amazing ability to adapt, finishing third in 2017 in his third shot at the car category after five overall wins on a motorcycle. Finally, Carlos Sainz's glory days are slowly fading into the distance after failing to finish five consecutive editions, but he remains as aggressive as ever and it would be a mistake to write him off. The Dream Team is looking good!
However, their rivals do not intend to go down without a fight. After a rock-solid 2017 campaign, Nasser Al-Attiyah can no longer be considered a mere. The Qatari driver was leading last year's Dakar when a mechanical failure knocked him out of the race in stage 3, but he has since won seven out of eight races, with a third Cross-Country Rally World Cup to boot and an important psychological victory over Loeb in his latest outing at the Rally of Morocco. Al-Attiyah's confidence rests on his intricate knowledge of the race and the substantial upgrades Toyota Gazoo Racing have made to their Hiluxes, from which 2009 champion Giniel De Villiers also stands to benefit. X-Raid, which are fielding three two-wheel drive buggies with Mikko Hirvonen, rookie Bryce Menzies and Yazeed Al-Rajhi at the wheels, could also take a great leap forward. The German team's boss, Sven Qandt, has reserved his ace 4×4 Mini (a 4-time winner of the Dakar between 2012 and…) for star signing Joan "Nani" Roma and Orly Terranova. The entire X-Raid roster has what it takes to aim for a podium spot… or higher.