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Friday favourite: The Peugeot axis that claimed Group C’s final world title

A reduced six-round calendar meant the Sports Car World Championship’s Group C went out with a whimper in 1992, but the title-winning combination of Derek Warwick and Yannick Dalmas in a Peugeot 905B was always spectacular to watch. Dalmas reflects on his single season spent alongside the driver he picks as his favourite team-mate

#1 Peugeot Talbot Sport, Peugeot 905B Evo 1 Bis LM: Derek Warwick, Yannick Dalmas, Mark Blundell

The Sports Car World Championship wasn’t in the best of health by 1992 following the withdrawals of Jaguar and Mercedes. And Group C as a world championship platform duly ceased to exist after a Magny-Cours finale that attracted a pitiful eight-car entry.

It was left to Peugeot to fight off Toyota for the honour of the final pukka world title for prototypes until the World Endurance Championship’s revival in its modern guise in 2012. The Tony Southgate-penned Toyota TS010s and Japanese rivals Mazda with the MXR-01, essentially a rebadged Jaguar XJR14, were only sporadically threatening to Jean Todt’s mighty Peugeot equipe as Derek Warwick finally scored the world championship title he’d been denied on a technicality in 1991 and had lost by the difference of one position at Fuji in 1986.

He shared the 905 Evo 1 Bis for the full 1992 season with Yannick Dalmas, a driver in his second year of sportscar racing who would go on to win the Le Mans 24 Hours a further three times after his and Warwick’s triumph that year with Mark Blundell. The impression Warwick made on Peugeot following his arrival from Jaguar was such that, despite his only being part of the programme for a single season before a one-year Formula 1 swansong with Arrows, Dalmas rates him as his favourite team-mate.

“Between Derek and me, it was a very good cooperation,” reflects Dalmas, who today works as an FIA driver adviser in the WEC.

The Frenchman had driven with Keke Rosberg when he made the switch from F1 to join Peugeot for the 1991 SWC, and went on to claim three more triumphs at the world’s most famous endurance race in 1994, 1995 and 1999 alongside such luminaries as Hurley Haywood, Mauro Baldi, JJ Lehto, Joachim Winkelhock and Pierluigi Martini.

But it’s Warwick that Dalmas holds in the highest of esteem as a key ally in the battle against the sister Peugeot of Baldi and Philippe Alliot – the latter having previously raced against Dalmas within the same team when both drove for the Larrousse F1 squad between 1987 and 1989, when Legionnaires' disease threatened to derail the 1986 French Formula 3 champion's career.

Warwick and Dalmas conquered Le Mans together with Blundell in 1992

Warwick and Dalmas conquered Le Mans together with Blundell in 1992

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“He was at this time like a brother for me,” Dalmas says of Warwick, who cited the late Patrick Tambay as his favourite team-mate. “The ambience, it was equal, it was strong. I had 100% confidence in him and the same for him in me. We did a very good job.”

Dalmas and Warwick had crossed paths in F1 but were rarely in the same fight. Warwick’s Arrows team was usually in the upper-midfield, while Larrousse was – with the exception of 1990 – habitually in the lower third of the grid. That changed in 1991, when armed with Jaguar’s XJR14 Warwick became the SWC's benchmark driver. He only lost the championship when TWR’s in-race decision to switch him to Teo Fabi’s ultimately victorious machine at Silverstone – after a throttle cable problem delayed his own car started by Martin Brundle, which went on to finish third – meant he didn’t score any points.

Race of My Life: Martin Brundle on the 1991 BRDC Empire Trophy

“I crossed paths with him of course during the briefings, but he had a better team than me, a better car than me and we didn't fight together during Formula 1 times,” Dalmas says. “After, in ’91, yes. It was with Jaguar, and yes we fought.”

"I think I got more experience and more confidence with him, about the set-up of the car" Yannick Dalmas

Dalmas was therefore familiar with the skillset Warwick would bring to the table at Peugeot and reckons his signing was a no-brainer for Todt. “At this time, he was the best driver,” he says. And with former McLaren engineer Tim Wright running their #1 car, there was no shortage of expertise to extract the maximum from their “very sensitive” mount.

PLUS: How a troubled racer became the last great Group C car 

“In the beginning, we had some bumping problems with the Peugeot, and Derek could feel that very well because he had the experience with the Jaguar,” Dalmas says. “During the corners, medium corners, the attitude to get the car fast, the direction of the car, he had a good feel for that.

“The car was very sensitive and the ride-height of the car was very sensitive. Sometimes together it was okay, sometimes we have not very perfect, but we like together the same attitude of the car. I hate an oversteering car. Derek in the beginning liked it a little bit, but later he changed his opinion.”

Dalmas says the “very aggressive” 905B was better-suited to sprint racing as it was “not very comfortable” for long-distance events. Suzuka, at 1000km, and Le Mans were the only events longer than 500km on the shortened six-race calendar, and the determined Warwick was an ideal partner to rely on in both disciplines.

Warwick signalled his intent by claiming pole for the Monza season-opener

Warwick signalled his intent by claiming pole for the Monza season-opener

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“If you are not strong and 100%, you cannot drive the car, it’s important to understand,” he says. “The car was efficient but very strong, very aggressive inside. You have to be physically strong, mentally stronger.”

Dalmas stresses that no preferential treatment was given to either car by the Peugeot management, leaving it up to the drivers and engineers on track to see who could do the better job.

“The cars were equal at this time,” he says. “[For] Andre de Cortanze, the chief engineer, and Jean Todt, the objective it was that the Peugeot won, that’s it.”

The statistics show that pole positions were shared equally between Dalmas/Warwick (Monza, Silverstone and Donington) and Baldi/Alliot (Le Mans, Suzuka and Magny-Cours) but it was the #1 car that had the crucial edge in the bulk of races even before engine failures put #2 out of the opening two rounds.

Dalmas took pole at Monza and was never troubled by the sister car – Baldi had been sidelined by engine failure while running second. In fact, Dalmas’s only real trouble was spongy brakes which caused a spectacular crash at the second chicane, although he and Warwick were still classified second behind the surviving Toyota of Geoff Lees and Hitoshi Ogawa. The greatest threat at Silverstone again came from the Toyota, which looked set to win after a return pit visit for Dalmas to tighten his belts and a pit fire delayed Warwick. But its engine failed, allowing the #1 Peugeot an unchallenged run to a two-lap victory.

But no assistance was needed to win at Le Mans, where Dalmas stormed past Baldi in the tricky early conditions and Warwick then zapped the early race-leading Mazda. Together with Blundell, they never lost the lead thereafter and opened up a two-lap lead at half distance over the #2 Peugeot, with Michelin’s wider range of wet tyres relative to Toyota’s Goodyears meaning the Japanese cars were never in the fight.

A couple of offs for Alliot, another for Baldi and a broken gear selector strengthened their position at the head of the field as the #1 Peugeot won by six laps, with an ignition system replacement after 16 hours the only issue following a scare with the electrics that caused the car to cut out.

Warwick again had pole for Donington, but Baldi and Alliot took their first win of the campaign when the latter overtook Dalmas at a restart. An early power steering failure then heavily delayed the #2 car at Suzuka, where victory clinched that long-awaited title for Warwick and Dalmas.

PLUS: Warwick's three shots at Group C glory

Warwick commanded huge respect both from Dalmas and the entire Peugeot team

Warwick commanded huge respect both from Dalmas and the entire Peugeot team

Photo by: Motorsport Images

At Magny-Cours, they focused attention on developing the Evo 2 Bis that would claim another Le Mans victory in 1993 with Geoff Brabham, Eric Helary and Christophe Bouchut. Second place behind the #2 was on the cards until an electrical problem cost five laps while a new black box was fitted.

Working with Warwick, Dalmas says, was important in his development into one of the pre-eminent sportscar racers of the 1990s.

“I think I got more experience and more confidence with him, about the set-up of the car,” he says. “Not strategy, but about the set-up. I was not confident at 100% and Derek during the season helped me on this direction. When you choose this set-up, ‘forget the other possibilities, we go with this, get confidence in yourself’. And for me, it was this attitude I have.”

Dalmas says the confidence he gained from working with Warwick helped him through the remainder of his career

Dalmas says the confidence he gained from working with Warwick helped him through the remainder of his career

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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