When Audi Sport makes its historic, all-electric assault on the Dakar Rally next year, Mr Dakar himself, 14-time winner Stéphane Peterhansel, will be looking to add another Dakar victory to his tally – the first-ever with an electric vehicle.

2 July, 2021

Whether riding a motorcycle or behind the wheel of a racing car, Stéphane Peterhansel, has proved again and again he is the match of the Dakar Rally and the perfect inclusion for the Audi assault on the race next year. With six victories on two-wheels and another eight wins on four-wheels, his nickname, Mr Dakar, is well deserved – but the Frenchman’s drive is never satisfied. 

Becoming the first Dakar winner with an electrified powertrain – that and nothing less is what appeals to Stéphane Peterhansel about his first collaboration with Audi to date and becoming one of the three drivers tasked with bringing the electric Audi race car home in first place. 

“This is probably the last step I can take as a professional driver. That would be perfect for me,” says the 55-year-old Frenchman. For him, it’s about the next big challenge.

Challenges have been the linchpin for Stéphane Peterhansel since he was a child. At the age of eight, his father, a motocross racer, gave him his first motorcycle. At the age of 18, the top talent competed in his first championship with an enduro machine and won his first championship straight off the bat. In 1988, at the age of 22, he made his Dakar debut as a factory driver, and although this outing only netted him an 18th position finish, it was enough to cement the thrill of the Dakar in his soul and the burning desire to win it.

Since his first outing, many things have changed at the Dakar Rally. After its beginnings in Europe and Africa in 1979, it was staged in South America from 2009 until 2019 and has had its third stage in Saudi Arabia since 2020. 

But despite the changes, for Peterhansel one thing has never changed:

“The adventure. The permanent fight. Against the terrain, the dunes, the rocks, the sand, the dust. And of course, fighting against the clock and against the competition.” 

Mr Dakar with co-driver, Edouard Boulanger.

For the Frenchman, Audi’s first Dakar project comes at exactly the right time. “We are on the threshold of a new generation of cars. That’s why I’m really very proud and happy to be part of the entry of the first electrified vehicles at the Dakar Rally,” says Peterhansel. 

“Audi has already achieved and won so much in motorsport. Forever unforgettable for me are the rally successes of the Audi quattro in the early 1980s and the equally incredible Audi dominance in the Le Mans 24 Hours and in the World Endurance Championship in the 2000s.”

“The Dakar is really a good test for Audi and its new technology,” says Stéphane Peterhansel.

“If you can make it in the Dakar Rally with an electrified car, you can make it around the world with it.” With all the knowledge and experience of Audi’s technicians and the personnel of the Q Motorsport team, which is operationally running the Dakar entry for Audi Sport, Peterhansel says the best conditions have been created for the joint project. 

Stéphane Peterhansel is particularly looking forward to Audi’s electrified powertrain. “The electric drive responds directly to the accelerator pedal and gives a great driving experience,” says the Dakar record holder. “Especially in the dunes, this should provide advantages over the more indirectly responsive combustion engines.”

Peterhansel will work 10 to 12 hours a day in the closed Audi cockpit for two weeks during the 43rd edition of the Dakar Rally in early January 2022.” If at 55 or 56, I want to perform at the same level as I did 30 years ago, I’ll have to train twice as much as I used to,” the veteran says. His motivation, on the other hand, needs no extra effort: 

“For me, this is still the best job. More than that, it’s my total passion.”

Peterhansel and wife Andrea, who is herself an off-road racer.