Dakar assault

Audi Sport announces its stellar driver line-up for the Dakar 2022 campaign.

Audi Sport has revealed its all-star driver line-up for the eagerly anticipated Dakar assault next year – and to call it impressive really doesn’t do it justice.

1 June, 2021

Wanting to be ‘first’ is the name of the game in motorsport, but Audi has always taken that very idea further

The countdown to Dakar 2022 is on in earnest, with just over six months remaining before teams head to the desert and the next instalment of the toughest off-road rally on earth. But this Dakar will be special, as Audi becomes the first manufacturer to take on the gruelling event with an electrified powertrain, continuing the brand’s legendary pioneering approach to motorsport. 

Wanting to be ‘first’ is the name of the game in motorsport, but Audi has always taken that very idea further, not just seeking to win, but to push the boundaries of what has been done before and be the first to successfully do so.

From completely dominating world rally through the ’80s with quattro and an extraordinary line-up of drivers, to the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Audi not only dominated, but did so using new technology time and again to become the first manufacturer to win the race with diesel technology and then again with hybrid technology.

Taking on the extremes of the Dakar off-road rally is challenging enough in itself, but Audi is aiming to tackle the race with a new, electric drivetrain with the aim of once again revolutionising motorsport.

While the first look at the race vehicle is still a number of weeks away, Audi Sport has announced an all-star driver line-up to tackle Dakar for the brand next year. Three driver pairings will present Audi, with 14-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel, dual World Rally Champion and three-time Dakar winner Carlos and dual DTM champion and World Rallycross Champion, Mattias Ekström spearheading the assault. “It’s no exaggeration to speak of a ‘dream team’,” says Julius Seebach, Managing Director of Audi Sport GmbH and responsible for motorsport. 

(left to right) Mattias Ekström, Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel.

“Stéphane is the most successful Dakar driver of all time. Carlos is a multiple Dakar winner and World Rally champion. With Mattias, we already celebrated many Audi successes in the past. He is one of the world’s most versatile drivers. In addition to a lot of speed, they are all adding an extreme amount of expertise and motivation to our team. The same goes for their co-drivers, who play an increasingly important role in the Dakar Rally.”

Joining these three legends of motorsport will be Frenchman Edouard Boulanger, Spain’s Lucas Cruz and Swede Emil Bergkvist – each bringing a wealth of experience and expertise to the team and a desire to be a part of motorsport history in the making.

With a total of 14 Dakar victories to his name (six on motorcycles and eight in cars), Frenchman  Stéphane Peterhansel (55) is the most successful racer in Dakar history and is rightly known as ‘Mister Dakar’. 

“The Dakar is one of the last adventures in this world,” says Peterhansel, “and it is on the verge of a radical change – the future is electric. In 10 years, everyone will be driving electric cars. The Dakar is an extreme test for this technology. We want to be the first team to win the Dakar Rally with an electric powertrain. I’m looking forward to tackling this very ambitious project with Audi.”

He will be joined in the Audi by 42-year-old engineer, Edouard Boulanger, who has been associated with Dakar for many years and partnered with Stéphane Peterhansel for the first time this year to win the event.

“Audi brings a lot of experience from Le Mans and Formula E and is not starting from zero,” he says.

“History has shown that when Audi does something in motorsport, it does it right. Being allowed to be a part of the Audi squad is another important step in my career and a big responsibility. I don’t want to disappoint.”

“The Dakar is one of the last adventures in this world,” says Peterhansel, “and it is on the verge of a radical change – the future is electric"

Stéphane Peterhansel – Mister Dakar

The French duo, Edouard Boulanger and Mister Dakar, Stéphane Peterhansel.

"The Dakar is the ultimate challenge for an electric powertrain. It is a fantastic, extreme project”

Carlos Sainz

With two World Rally Championships and three Dakar victories to his name, Spaniard Carlos Sainz is a motorsport giant who brings some 40 years of top level international competition to the Audi Sport team.

“Even at 59, I’m still hungry, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken on this new challenge,” says Sainz, who is simply incapable of slowing down.

The Audi quattro changed the World Rally Championship forever, now we are trying something similar at the Dakar Rally. The engineers have much more freedom in the Dakar Rally than in other racing series. I have full confidence in the Audi engineers and will try to help them with my experience to develop a fast and successful car. The Dakar is the ultimate challenge for an electric powertrain. It is a fantastic, extreme project.”

Sainz will share the cockpit with Lucas Cruz (46), who brings 20 years of cross-country rally under his belt.

“I have competed in the Dakar Rally with different drivers before Carlos asked me to work with him at Volkswagen in 2009. I would never have dreamed of doing that. A year later, we won the Dakar together for the first time and three times since then.”

Cruz is also intrigued by the idea of tackling the Dakar Rally with an electrified powertrain. “Audi is the first manufacturer to enter such a car,” says the Spaniard. “It’s important and positive for our sport to take this step and rely on new energies in the world’s toughest motorsport event. It’s very complicated in the Dakar Rally. Audi is daring to do something that no one has done before.”

Carlos Sainz (behind the wheel) and co-driver, Lucas Cruz, bring a wealth of experience and victories at Dakar.

The final pairing sees long-time Audi works driver, Mattias Ekström behind the wheel of yet another different type of race car – but variety has been a feature of the Swede’s racing career to date. He was twice won the coveted DTM crown for Audi as well as winning the World Rallycross Championship in 2016, also driving an Audi. Along the way he has successfully driven in numerous other disciplines and currently competes in the Extreme E electric off-road series.

“The Dakar will definitely be one of the most exciting adventures of my career,” says Ekström. “To be able to tackle this exciting project together with the team, with which I celebrated my greatest successes, is fantastic.”

Mattias Ekström’s co-driver is his compatriot Emil Bergkvist (26), who is a former rally driver himself. “I come from the same region as Mattias. He has always been an idol for me, every motorsport enthusiast in Sweden knows him,” says Bergkvist. “When I stopped driving, I called him and asked if I could work for his team. Now, I am his co-driver. It’s an honour for me to be able to work with Mattias and be part of this great project at Audi.” 

There is obviously a great deal to do in preparation for January’s epic race, but the announcement of the dream driver team shows just how committed Audi is to its next great motorsport challenge. Dakar is an event quite unlike anything else on the planet, and one that makes tremendous demands on teams, vehicles and individuals alike. To win the Dakar Rally is a supreme achievement in itself. To be the first to take the challenge with a new drivetrain – well, that’s just the way Audi likes to do things.

History has shown that when Audi does something in motorsport, it does it right

Mr versatile, Mattias Ekström and co-driver, Emil Bergkvist are no strangers to rally.
The Dream Team.