Three teams of extraordinarily talented drivers and navigators are preparing to race into the desert in the Audi RS Q e-tron come January 2022 – looking to create history.

22 October, 2021

Frenchman Stéphane Peterhansel, Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Swedish driver Mattias Ekström will aim to make history next January in the world’s toughest off-road rally – The Dakar. With their co-drivers – Frenchman Edouard Boulanger, Spain’s Lucas Cruz and Swede Emil Bergkvist respectively – they will each drive the new Audi RS Q e-tron through the deserts of Saudi Arabia, flat out for two weeks, taking on not just a world class lineup of competition but the terrain and conditions themselves.

But these are not just hugely experienced racing drivers, they are a very special breed, Peterhansel already known as Mr Dakar with a record 14 wins in the event to his credit. Carlos Sainz is a rally icon, a two-time world champion in the World championship and a three-time Dakar winner, while Ekström is a dual DTM champion and World Rallycross Champion.

For these drivers, the 2022 Dakar is not just another race to add to their collections but a chance to do something that has never been done – even for Stéphane Peterhansel whose 14 wins in the event have been achieved on four and two wheels. For him, this is not just a tilt at adding number 15, but something far more significant in a career full of firsts. 

“This is a challenge to be mastered in the first place, which means finishing the event after many thousand kilometres in the desert without any major setbacks. If we managed to do that, then I’d be happy about a result in the top five,” says the Dakar champion.

Brining new technology into this environment for the time though is not something daunts the Frenchman, who is more than impressed with the RS Q e-tron after extensive testing to date.

“In the RS Q e-tron, a massive amount of power and torque are available to us at any point in time. No car using a classic powertrain with an internal combustion engine can deliver such performance,” he says.

From a driver’s perspective, the RS Q e-tron is straightforward to drive – in fact Peterhansel goes so far as to call it a pleasure, although there are certainly aspects of there vehicle he is still coming to terms with.

Mattias Ekström.
Carlos Sainz.
Stéphane Peterhansel and co-driver Edouard Boulanger.

“Because there’s no transmission and I don’t have to shift gears I can fully focus on cross-country steering,” he says “[but] the acoustics are still unusual for me.”

“Unlike an internal combustion engine, the energy converter with its rotational speeds and its noise development does not follow the commands of the accelerator pedal directly.”

As part of the vehicle evaluation program, each driver has supplied input from their owned experience in order to help refine the finished vehicle.

“Audi is intimately familiar with electric powertrains due to its previous projects, be it with hybrid drive at Le Mans or battery-electric drive in Formula E. We drivers know exactly what demands the Dakar Rally makes on the chassis, the wheel suspensions and other components. Aside from many detailed ideas that were fed into the development, our general advice was that reliability matters more than the final tenths of a second. 

And while the development and testing of the RS Q e-tron has proceeded without a hitch, so too the bonding of the team members ahead of the race.

“With Carlos Sainz, I’ve built a nice relationship of mutual trust in recent years. We share a lot of views and therefore work together well,” says Peterhansel.

Mattias Ekström is new to off-road rallying but has had an exceptional career in circuit racing and has been World Rallycross Champion. Plus, he knows Audi Sport inside out. That’s a good mix which everyone benefits from. 

It’s an exciting time for all involved and a chance to change the face of motorsport yet again for the Audi brand. For Stéphane Peterhansel who made his debut in the Dakar Rally in 1988, it will be his first with the Audi – a brand he has long admired in motorsport.

“As far back as in the days of Group B, I admired Audi in rally racing. I’m really proud to be part of the lineup now,” he says.

“There’s one thing that has always distinguished Audi – no matter where the rally and race cars competed, they were always in contention for victory and that is still the case today.”

Emil Bergkvist (left) with Mattias Ekström in the RS Q e-tron.