“Cot­tret is a leg­end at Peu­geot”

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it­ing my tongue for the se­cond time brought gen­uine ac­cep­tance that Jean-paul Cot­tret is a hero. Like win­ning Dakar six times wasn’t enough… I was sit­ting in his seat along­side an­other French­man and an­other hero – but this one’s won Dakar 12 times: Stephane Peter­hansel. The plan was for me to get a feel for what Cot­tret does by read­ing his route notes and then get­ting out of the car and chang­ing a tyre af­ter a pre­tend punc­ture.

The notes looked pretty straight­for­ward, noth­ing I hadn’t seen be­fore: tulip di­a­gram and cu­mu­la­tive and in­terim dis­tances from junc­tion to cor­ner to ob­sta­cle. And as chang­ing a tyre… how dif­fi­cult could that be?

“The car is very com­fort­able,” as­sured Cot­tret, open­ing the door for me to get in.

Hmm. I didn’t doubt it would be very com­fort­able. What I did doubt was my abil­ity to get in it.

You know that thing when the post­man’s try­ing to push an over­sized par­cel through your let­ter­box?

And com­fort­able was ques­tion­able. I know the HANS de­vice is all very good at stop­ping me from break­ing my neck, but when you’ve al­ways been taught to make eye con­tact when talk­ing to some­body, it can al­most cause an in­jury it­self.

The test wasn’t in Dakar – not least be­cause Dakar’s no longer in Dakar. It was in France. So, Di­jon. And it was snow­ing.

That’s not so bad; I re­mem­ber watch­ing a Roth­mans-liv­er­ied Porsche 959 in the snow on the prologue stage near Paris once. I di­gress. Peter dropped the clutch and we were away. “Hair­pin right!” I shouted. “Where?” came the re­ply. What? Where what? “I need the dis­tance…” Oh yeah… “What now?” Err… “DIS­TANCE!” The in­terim gave me the dis­tances, but they were in kilo­me­tres, like 0.29. Sit­ting here, I know im­me­di­ately that means 290 me­tres. Con­fronted by a dis­tance of ‘0.09’ I sim­ply sat and stared at it. Nine hun­dred? No. Nine? Must be nine. “Jump, nine me­tres!” Then I bit my tongue. Again. Stephane was awe­some. And pa­tient. Es­pe­cially when it came to chang­ing the tyre. And me get­ting out of the car…

And the Peu­geot was some­thing else. Quite how Bruno Famin and his team turned the ab­so­lute pig that was the 2015 car into this Dakar-dom­i­nat­ing rocket ship is be­yond me. But they did.

And Jean-paul? He’s noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle-work­ing, tyre-chang­ing, math­e­mat­i­cal ge­nius in the car.

Turns out it was 90, by the way.

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