Just days into the 2024 Dakar and each of the three Audi driver duos have already made their presence felt on the competition.
8 January, 2024
The 46th running of the Dakar Rally is underway and the Audi Sport team comprising three RS Q e-trons is demonstrating tremendous speed right from the outset despite some technical setbacks. Covering nearly 8000 kilometres of the harshest terrain Saudi Arabia has to offer over a two week period, all three of the Audi Sport driver pairings have ‘hit the ground running’ with each effectively taking the running for each of the three days of competition so far.
The 46th Dakar began with the Prologue on Friday (January 5th) with the Swedish duo of Mattias Ekström and co-driver Emil Bergkvist stamping their authority on proceedings, setting the fastest time by nearly half a minute (23 seconds) to the nearest competitor. This opening salvo was enough to give them the right to choose their starting order for Day 1 of the race proper, with the Swedes electing to start in 10th (no one likes to lead a stage as it effectively means clearing the way for the following competitors).
Despite getting off to a fast start, the inevitable tyre damage that caused the Audi Sport team so much trouble last year struck early and subsequent repairs cost Ekström and Bergkvist precious time that ultimately saw them finish Stage 1 in 10th place.
The stage was likewise costly for the French pairing of Mr Dakar, Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger, who were sidelined for half an hour also dealing with punctures in the rocky terrain. They finished back in 27th for the stage.
But Spaniards Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz stormed their way through, leading for a good portion of the day’s racing until they too were waylaid by tyre damage, not once but three times in the stage.
But despite having to also make running tyre repairs, Sainz and Cruz managed to get home just 1 minute and 44 seconds behind the eventual stage winner to cement second outright heading into the third day and Stage 2.
The most entertaining session so far, Stage 2 gave the driving pair of Peterhansel and Boulanger the chance to strike back in style, engaging in a spectacular duel with former rally champion Sebastian Loeb for a good deal of the 470km stage to ultimately get home 29 seconds ahead of their fellow Frenchman. Not only was it a tremendous result for the day but the stage win was Peterhansel’s 50th (in a car – he has also won 33 stages in his Dakar career racing motorcycles), equalling the record of Finnish rally great, Ari Vatanen. It also went a long way to improving the duo’s disappointing Stage 1 result, bringing them up into eight position overall.
“We took real pleasure driving today,” said the man who has won Dakar a record total of 14 times. “I am really happy to be at the same level as Ari Vatanen, but I have a chance to beat him because we continue to race,” he said.
Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist wrapped up Stage 2 improving to fifth position overall while Sainz and Cruz finished the stage in eighth, which with their finish in second the day before was enough to see them take the lead outright ahead of Stage 3.
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