The French racing driver Cyril Despres is one of the most successful contestants in the history of Dakar Rally. Between 2005 and 2013, he clinched five victories in the motorcycle category of the world's toughest cross-country race, all five driving for KTM.
In 2015, Despres switched to car category, joining Peugeot Sport and spending four seasons as the member of Peugeot's 'Dream Team' alongside Dakar legend Stephane Peterhansel and two former WRC champions Carlos Sainz and Sebastien Loeb. His best result was third place at 2017 Dakar Rally. In 2019, after Peugeot's withdrawal from Dakar Rally, Despres joined X-Raid Mini JCW Team and finished fifth.
Enduro racing instead of restaurant business
Cyril Despres was born on January 24, 1974, in Nemours, France. His parents were restaurant owners and they wanted Cyril to follow a family tradition. But, he had another plan. In 1998, he started to run motorcycle enduro races and took the French title in the debut year.
Selling wines in 1999 for Dakar debut in 2000
In 1999, in order to race in his first Dakar rally, Cyril sold 6,000 bottles of wine to reach the necessary budget. In January 2000, he debuted in the world's famous cross-country race, running Honda. Despres finished 16th in the final classification. In 2001, he switched to BMW motorcycle and gained his first Dakar stage win. At the end of the event, he was 13th.
Maiden Dakar victory in 2005
In 2002, Cyril started to race with KTM and remained with Austrian manufacturer since 2013. His first Dakar participation with KTM was disappointing, as he retired from the race. In the next two years, Cyril finished second (2003) and third (2004). After two podiums, Despres finally reached his first Dakar victory in 2005. He won ahead of Spaniard Marc Coma.
One of the biggest rivalries in the motorsport history
The rivalry Despres - Coma became one of the biggest rivalries in the history of motorsport. From 2005 to 2015, those two drivers won ten times at Dakar Rally, five times each. Despres was the winner in 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013, while Marc Coma triumphed in 2006, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2015. Coma's last victory came in 2015 when Despres was already competing in the car category. In his last motorcycle attempt at Dakar, in 2014, Despres was driving Yamaha.
Second on the all-time list of winners
Among five wins, Despres had four second-place finishes (2003, 2006, 2009 and 2011), so on the all-time winners list, he is in the second place, behind uncatchable Stephane Peterhansel with six motorcycle and six car wins.
In 2015, Despres joined Peugeot Sport team
In 2015, Despres decided to give an 180-degree turn to his sports career. He joined Peugeot Sport team in the French marque's return to the Dakar Rally. The 2015 event in South America wasn't easy neither for Peugeot neither for Despres, who was driving along navigator Gilles Picard. After lots of problems, Cyril's #322 Peugeot 2008 DKR was classified 34th.
Seventh place at 2016 Dakar Rally
Later that year, Despres showed good performance and finished second at the 2015 China Silk Way Rally, navigated by David Castera. The duo competed together at 2016 Dakar Rally in the #321 car, the improved version of the Peugeot 2008 DKR.
Cyril's teammates Peterhansel, Sainz and Loeb took nine stage wins. Despres didn't win any stage, but he stayed out of troubles and finished the event in the seventh place. Peterhansel scored his 12th victory, Loeb finished 9th, Sainz retired. At the 2016 Silk Way Rally, Despres and Castera scored the victory at the 14-stage marathon from Moscow to Beijing.
Third place at 2017 Dakar Rally
At 2017 Dakar Rally, driving the Peugeot 3008 DKR, Despres was among the front-runners, winning one stage and finishing third in the final classification, behind two teammates Peterhansel and Loeb. A year later, in January 2018, his fourth attempt in a car category was marked by a big crash which put him down in general standings.
In January 2019, after Peugeot's withdrawal from Dakar Rally, Despres joined X-Raid Mini JCW Team, together with Carlos Sainz and Stephane Peterhansel. Despres was the best among three superstars, finishing in the fifth place.
Next year, he gets a job as an istructor of young drivers sponsored by Red Bull and competed together with some of them in the SSV class at Dakar Rally, that took place in January 2020 in Saudi Arabia.
Video : Cyril Despres' Road to 2015 Dakar Rally