Peugeot are entering a full works team in World Rallycross next season and need to focus their budget on this as it will be moving to full electric rallycross in 2020. They also said they were committing to Dakar for 4 years when they returned and 2018 will be the 4th event.
I can see them returning to Le Mans and Dakar again with electric/hybrid tech in the next 10 years.
From a pure logical point-of-view, I'd pick Peterhansel to win in the cars. His talent in this type of race is really unmatched - plus the Pugs have proven to be the fastest cars. You have to run a near perfect race to beat him. Although you could hope he had some rare bad luck and breaks/crashes.
From a more emotional point-of-view, I'd like to see Mikko do well and maybe finish better than Loeb for once in his career. I'd also like to see GDV get another win. I'm also interested to see if Despres can be a factor. He has improved his skills in the car a lot and could be a threat. I'm curious to see what he does once Pug goes away. Of course, I'll be cheering for Bryce to do well and hopefully keep the Dakar interest alive in the US. If Nasser can not break or crash, it could be spectacular and make for a really good race.
It feels like in the Bike race there are a number of riders that have a chance. Someone not on a KTM would be nice for a change.
In the trucks, I wouldn't bet against Kamaz. It is just a matter of which one will win. However, I'm hopeful the Renault of van den Brink keeps the Kamaz team honest. Also, I saw a video of Ales Loprais testing his Tatra and it looked fast as well.
I think the rule changes and advances in designs this year from X-Raid/Toyota should make for good competition and keep Peugeot from having it too easy.
Revisiting this thread... none of us predicted the winner for the cars or the bikes! What a race, full of lead changes and heartbreak throughout the event. Definitely the toughest Dakar in recent memory. Kudos to El Matador for driving such a great race!