Team Audi Sports is ready for the Dakar Rally 2024
Audi RS Q e-tron is optimised for the rally
The Audi RS Q e-tron is set for its third Dakar Rally, the latest edition of which takes place from January 5-19, 2024, in Saudi Arabia. Team Audi Sport has optimised the rally prototype, which has an electric drivetrain, a high-voltage battery and an energy converter, for the world’s toughest rally.
The Audi RS Q e-tron will be driven at the Dakar 2024 by three crews of Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist, Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger, and Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz.
A total of 343 participants have registered for the 46th edition of the Dakar Rally. They will start with 72 cars in the T1 and T2 classes, 42 additional models in the T3 class, 36 smaller SSV vehicles, 46 trucks, 137 motorcycles, and ten quads.
First T1U model
Audi was the first manufacturer to develop a T1U model for the Dakar Rally. The electrically powered prototype aims to prove that a low-emission vehicle can master one of the most challenging motorsport events and be competitive simultaneously.
“The Audi RS Q e-tron has already caused quite a stir in its first two Dakar appearances,” says Rolf Michl, Head of Audi Motorsport.
“Audi was once again a technological pioneer in its outstanding motorsport history. We have initiated a paradigm shift. Combining an electric drivetrain and a reFuel-powered energy converter is unique and very efficient. We know what we have already achieved. At the same time, we are looking forward to the next Dakar Rally with respect. It represents a major challenge.”
As was the case the past two years, Audi relies on the Q Motorsport team of experienced team principal Sven Quandt. The drivers, co-drivers, and management of Team Audi Sport agree: A particularly challenging edition of the Dakar Rally lies ahead of all participants. Twelve special stages during 14 days in Saudi Arabia cover 4,727km.
Including all of the liaison stages, the route results in a total distance of 7,891km. The teams often must complete more than 400km daily on the special stages. “That’s why it’s important not to lose your stamina during the rally,” emphasises Stéphane Peterhansel.
The Audi development team led by Dr. Leonardo Pascali has improved the RS Q e-tron in many areas.
“The new set-up improves comfort and is also very efficient,” emphasises Carlos Sainz, who has optimised many rally cars in his almost 40 years as a professional driver.
Mattias Ekström adds: “For me, it is all about how we use the car perfectly in the sand. It helps us drive over the dunes without needing to change gears.”
Edouard Boulanger notes a shift in the emphasis on individual topics: “At the beginning of the project, the focus was on the fundamental development of the complex drivetrain technology and the car. In the meantime, we have also found the time to improve many aspects of the cockpit. We can better control the noise levels and the effects thereof, and the driver and co-driver are also better protected against the effects of hard impacts and extreme loads. The technicians have worked hard during the past year and made real progress. A big compliment for that.”
The electric drivetrain of the RS Q e-tron with a high-voltage battery draws its power from an energy converter. Audi has been relying on residue-based reFuel since the last Dakar Rally. This saves 60% of carbon dioxide emissions. The regulations limit the output of the electric drivetrain to 286 kW in January 2024, distributed between the front and rear axles. Many other new details reduce maintenance times for the team and make the prototype safer, more reliable, and more comfortable.
“We are up against very strong and experienced competitors,” Rolf Michl is sure. “As every year, we expect that the relative strengths of the competition will only really become apparent during the rally.”
Carlos Sainz recognises the intense competition: “Definitely Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah and world rally champion Sébastien Loeb in the Prodrive Hunters are among them. Toyota also has a former winner in Giniel de Villiers and several good younger drivers in its line-up. And we certainly will not underestimate our new opponent, Ford, with former winner Nani Roma.”
Team Audi Sport enters the Dakar Rally for the third year in a row with its unchanged driver line-up. As a DTM champion, World Rallycross champion, 24-hour race winner, and electric touring car series champion, Mattias Ekström brings the most incredible variety of experience and success.
“I’ve learned a lot since I first competed as a rookie in 2020,” says Ekström.
“Our rivals are experienced and fast. I have been training and competing as much as possible to be ready. My co-driver and I have continued increasing our speed and understanding of the sport.”
His navigator is fellow Swede Emil Bergkvist, who has quickly adapted to the Dakar Rally.
“I’m already looking forward to the next edition because our learning curve continues to point upwards,” says the co-driver, who only switched from the driver’s to the co-driver’s seat since working with Mattias Ekström.
As a 14-time winner, Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel is the lone record holder at the Dakar Rally. He relies on the guidance of his compatriot Edouard Boulanger, who has already accompanied him to victory. Two-time World Rally champion Carlos Sainz is a giant of his sport. He first drove with Lucas Cruz as his co-driver in 2009, and the two Spaniards have won the Dakar Rally three times together. They are the longest-standing driver and co-driver combination at Audi.
“The upcoming Dakar will be tough, but we have prepared thoroughly for it,” says Lucas Cruz confidently. “Physically, my program included cycling, jogging in the mountains, and exercising in the gym. Mentally, I prepared myself with a sports psychologist. This helps my reaction times and with multitasking.”
The foundation of such a complex, varied, high-stress environment as the Dakar Rally is a reliable team.
Team Audi Sport has cooperated with Q Motorsport from Trebur, Germany, since day one. Sven Quandt, who won the T1 Marathon Cup in cross-country rallying as a driver in 1998, has long been a successful team principal. He has won the Dakar Rally six times with his X-raid team and the World Cup for cross-country rallies eleven times. “Experience is the key to success in our sport,” emphasises Stéphane Peterhansel.
“Sven Quandt and his team have shown they can overcome all challenges. With such a good team behind us, we sleep more soundly at night and confidently go into the stages.”
His co-driver Edouard Boulanger adds: “We have a lot of new members who have joined Team Audi Sport. They have done an excellent job in familiarising themselves with the subject matter over this year and have driven the project forward in a good direction with their contributions. That gives me confidence.”
Nevertheless, Mattias Ekström speaks for everyone when he says: “I have learned to remain humble in this sport. There are incredibly long days, and so many of them …”
With the combined experience of drivers, co-drivers, the entire team, and the further developed RS Q e-tron, Rolf Michl has one wish: “We want to experience the Dakar Rally as smoothly as possible to show what we can do.”
Featured image: Team Audi Sport is fielding Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist, Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger, and Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz for the Dakar Rally 2024. Image: Team Audi Sport