In the lead

Carlos Sainz continues to lead Dakar 2024 as the race takes its toll on the other front runners.

The only Audi still in contention this year, Carlos Sainz is looking to build on his lead with the finish line just a matter of days away.

16 January, 2024

Significant rear suspension damage put an end to Ekström's overall race chances but he bounced back with a win in the next stage

With the halfway point of this year’s Dakar now behind them, Audi Sport remains out in front with Carlos Sainz and Lucas Crus leading the way, while their teammates have slipped from contention after technical troubles and the resultant time delays cost them dearly.

After sitting comfortably in second outright during the time in the Empty Quarter, Swedish driving pair Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist slipped right out of contention for this year’s race after significant damage to their left rear suspension just 47 kilometres into Stage 7 cost them an eye-watering four hours. Teammates Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger stopped to render assistance, effectively ending their own stage with a delay of 40 minutes, but the damage was such that Ekström and Bergkvist were forced to wait for the Audi Sport support truck to arrive and help them get back on the road.

Despite defending their lead, Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz didn’t have the running all their way, suffering a puncture which cost them over 10 minutes and numerous minor navigation problems which saw backtracking to find the current route. Nevertheless, they finished Stage 7 in fourth position which was more than enough to keep them in the outright lead.

Disappointment for Ekström, but still fighting nonetheless.

Stage 8 represented a new day and a new opportunity to make up for what was largely a forgettable previous day for Audi Sport. Held over a two timed legs joined by a long transport stage, the 678 kilometre stage proved to be a complete reversal of fortune, showing once again what a fickle race the Dakar can be.

Despite the damage of the previous day and the fact that a podium finish is now beyond their grasp, the Swedish pair showed a never say die attitude in Stage 8, coming out and winning the stage. 

Ekström was philosophical after his stage win though, saying that with the chance of an outright victory now out of his reach, the day’s performance was more frustrating than anything else.

“Today I woke up with zero motivation, but once I was on the stage I felt back in the groove and the brain was focused again,” he said. “Seeing that we won makes me more frustrated than happy … the target was to come here [Dakar] and to fight for the win and when that is not anymore the case it feels very different to go racing.”

Also making up for a disappointing result the previous day that saw them finish outside the top 20, French duo of Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger showed their spirit coming in in second place for the stage.

“Today I woke up with zero motivation, but once I was on the stage I felt back in the groove and the brain was focused again”

Sainz and Cruz now sit nearly 25 minutes in front of their nearest rivals with four days to do

“Yes P2 it’s a good day,” Peterhansel said of the result. “I started this morning a little too slow, too safe, and after 150km I saw Mattias [Ekström] in the rearview mirror and thought I’m not fast enough … he was fast. So after that we tried to stay with him but it was too dusty and I lost the contact. But to be honest I’m happy with the result.”

Narrowly missing out on making it an Audi Sport 1-2-3 result for the stage, race leader Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz came home in fourth position for the day after navigation again caused the Spanish driver pairing some issues.

“It was again not easy in the navigation, especially in the last part,” Sainz said after the stage. “The fist part in the dunes was also very tricky and this compounded the navigation [issues], but ultimately it all went fine, so no complaints.”

Their result saw them add another six minutes to their lead in the overall standings and at the end of Stage 8, Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz remain out in front with nearly 25 minutes between them and the nearest competitor. Their second place in Stage 8 sees Stephane Peterhansel and Ed Boulanger sitting in 16th position overall while Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist remain well back in 21st. Just four days of competition remain in this year’s Dakar.

Sainz leads with four stages to go.