Stephane 'Big 10' Peterhansel casts shadow over Dakar 2013
Reaching double digits in your win column for a particular sporting discipline is a pretty special achievement. Especially since it's something that doesn't happen too often, including motorsport.
Michael Schumacher's tally of Formula 1 titles is at seven, the same as Valentino Rossi's haul of MotoGP crowns across its three classes. Sebastien Loeb will ease out of his World Rally Championship (WRC) career having racked up nine world crowns.
France's Stephane Peterhansel has them all beat with ten victories at the Dakar Rally, the most gruelling motorsport event of them all. And that total includes wins on both two wheels and four!
Forty-seven-year-old Peterhansel notched up victory number ten last year, behind the wheel of a Mini Countryman prepared by Team X-Raid.
It was his fourth win driving a car since he first triumphed 2004 in a Mitsubishi Pajero. Before that, he had won six times on a Yamaha bike from 1991 to 1998.
His wins astride bikes capable of speeds of over 200 kmh in a straightline through desert stages makes him, by far, the ultimate Dakar competitor.
In a telephone interview with HT prior to the start of the 2012 edition, Peterhansel was asked if the difficulty of his physical regimen was beyond the ordinary - much like his track record at the event that first ran through North Africa from its inaugural event in 1979 to when it was called off due to a terrorist threat in 2008.
"I am lucky because I am strong enough in my head," Peterhansel said. "I have never done any special training to drive or ride on the Dakar. I just get on the bike or in the car and drive it as much as possible to get ready."
The rally shifting from its traditional Paris-Dakar (Senegal) route to South America has also made it easier for Peterhansel to get ready for the rally. "The conditions used to be much more difficult in Africa," said Peterhansel.
"There were sections where you could push but not as much as in South America. It is much easier over there. Also the organization on the Rally is much better than it was over 20 years ago when I first started to take part."
After emphatically prevailing at the Dakar on both two wheels and four, what's next for Peterhansel who also has two off-road biking titles to his name as well?
"I am very much a fan of the World Rally Championship," says Peterhansel. "My off-road career has kept me very busy but some day I would like to try it."
This year's event kicks runs from January 5 to 20, with a total of 475 motorbikes (quad-bikes included), cars and trucks will cover a total of 8423, 8574 and 8121 km over the course of the event, respectively. Out of these aggregates; 4146, 4155 and 3541 km comprise of special stages.
One of the biggest challenges to Peterhansel could come from the Qatar-Red Bull Team comprising of former double WRC champion Carlos Sainz and former Production World Rally Championship winner Nasser Al-Attiyah. Both drivers also have Dakar wins to their name in the car section behind the wheel of Volkswagen's Touareg.
Following Volkswagen's withdrawal from the Dakar to focus on its WRC return this year, the two will pilot a modified two-wheel-drive 'buggy', which has previously been fielded in the Baja 1000, another Rally-Raid event.