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Peugeot and Michelin tackle the 2015 Dakar Rally

The Peugeot 2008 DKR will take on the 2015 Dakar Rally with an automatic tire inflation system and giant Michelin tires that combine knowledge from the US and European racing scenes

by Graham Heeps

 

Working in conjunction with an external supplier, Peugeot Sport has developed and installed a system to adjust the tire inflation pressures of its 2015 Dakar Rally machine, the 2008 DKR. In this application, the system – which is not permitted on the 4WD vehicles that traditionally dominate the Dakar – helps the 2WD Peugeot cope just as easily with sand dunes as faster, harder surfaces.

“Drivers don’t want to lose time, so on stages with different types of road they are sometimes reluctant to stop to change the pressures,” explains Peugeot Sport’s director, Bruno Famin. “With this system, there is less risk of getting stuck in the dunes, and less risk of a puncture after the dunes.”

A high-pressure reservoir at the rear of the car delivers air to all four specially designed, 37in Michelin tires, whose pressure on sand dunes is reduced to as little as half the dirt-road norm. The system is activated by the co-driver, who must manually start and stop the inflation or deflation process because closed-loop, automated adjustment is not permitted. Fringe benefits of the system include the ability to top up a slow puncture and to increase pressures to maximize fuel economy if the 2008 DKR runs short of diesel toward the end of a stage.

The automatic inflation system is one of three concessions granted by the rules to level the playing field for 2WD competitors in their battle with the dominant 4WD machines, such as the MINI ALL4 Racing. The other two are longer suspension travel (identified by Famin as the most important of the three) and larger wheels and tires (which, not surprisingly, are rated most important by Nicolas Goubert, technical director of the Michelin Racing Group).

“Cars like the [Robby Gordon] Hummer are able to go much faster over the bumps than cars like the MINI because of the difference in wheel size and travel,” notes Goubert.

The Peugeot tires’ size comes from US off-road racing, where BF Goodrich (another Michelin brand) rubber in size 37/12.5 R17 is used by Baja buggies. That’s much bigger than Michelin’s tire for the 4WD MINIs, which is a 245/80 R16 with a 710mm (28.4in) outside diameter – almost 9in smaller and around 2.5in narrower than the 2WD tire.

“The car is quite a lot lighter than the US buggies, so although we’ve kept the sizes, we’ve worked on the construction to make it softer, more suited to the weight of the Peugeot,” says Goubert (right). “The compound is similar to a 4WD tire – it’s suited to the Dakar stages and works best even in the larger size.”

Dakar tires are more durable than Michelin’s regular rally tires, needing to last 10 times longer than the typical 80km that a WRC tire will endure before being changed. That’s not to say the rally-raid items are 10 times harder wearing, however, as the usage case is not as demanding, with less slip and more straightline running.

“It’s been a good exercise between the design groups in the USA and Europe,” says Goubert. “We exchanged a lot of information to make sure the tires were suitable for the Peugeot.”

The Peugeot’s tires will be built in the USA in Alabama, where all the tooling suited to the size is located. “Now that the Dakar is in South America, it makes sense to build [all] the tires there instead of in Europe. We can swap tire manufacturing depending on the availability of tooling and where it makes most sense geographically speaking. We are very flexible.”

 

TPMS comes to the Dakar
According to Nicolas Goubert, a key technical development for the 2015 Dakar will be the introduction of TPMS for both 2WD and 4WD vehicles, which has recently been permitted by the ASO/FIA. “It’s key for safety and we’ve pushed very hard for that. If you have a slow puncture when you’re driving in the desert, you don’t feel that the tire is losing air and all of a sudden you could have a failure, which could be very dangerous.” It’s unclear whether the recent decision will have given all competitors time to incorporate it for the 2015 event, but Goubert is happy that it will be in place for future years.

 

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