Next stop Dakar

Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz make final preparations ahead of the Dakar.

In just over a week from now, legendary rally driver, Carlos Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz will take part in what is arguably the Four Rings’ toughest motorsport challenge. 

22 December, 2021

In a career full of milestone, this Dakar assault will hold a special significance for Sainz

The grand seigneur of international rallying, Carlos Sainz has been racing for over 40 years. Nicknamed El Matador, the 59-year-old Spaniard has won the Dakar Rally three times, the World Rally championship twice as well as one World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies title. Even before embarking on his racing career, Sainz was a top-class sportsman. In 1979, at the age of 16, he won the Spanish national squash championships.

Now, Sainz is chasing another milestone, returning to the Dakar as part of the Audi Sport team with the aim of writing a completely new chapter in motorsport – by winning with an electrified drivetrain for the first time.

Sitting next to him in the Audi RS Q e-tron is 46-year-old Spaniard Lucas Cruz, who also has three Dakar Rally wins to his name. Indeed for 12 years now, the duo has contested cross-country rallies together and are a strong sporting partnership going into this exciting competition.

With the race so close now and testing complete, what is now left to do personally?

Sainz: Since I’m competing in the Extreme E race series just before Christmas, I face a bit of a challenge with my personal preparation, but will, of course, do everything I can to be fit.

Cruz: I am also concentrating on raising my personal fitness levels that final few percent. Since we’ve now received the last of the pre-race route information, my role as co-pilot is mainly to familiarise myself with the terrain to the best of my ability.

In the Dakar, the exact stages are only announced just before the start of each stage – what does that mean to you?

Cruz: That’s right. We get the exact route information in the form of the road book about 15 minutes before each stage. That leaves very little time.

Sainz: In addition, every year, the philosophy behind the road book’s compilation changes. That is why we can only rely on the experience gleaned over the last few years to a very limited extent.

What do you mean by philosophy?

Sainz: I’m talking about the way it is written. We all understand things differently, which is why some road books prove easier to follow and others more difficult. I hope we do well with this year’s one.

Cruz: That’s why it’s my job to interpret and translate the available information for Carlos. We don’t want any surprises.

Considering the Dakar starts on 1 January, how do you celebrate the holidays?

Sainz: We leave for the race on 27 December, so we still get to celebrate the festive season with our families more or less normally. For New Year’s Eve, we’ll be in Saudi Arabia. That’s no big deal because I’m used to spending that time with Lucas. As is traditional in Spain, I’ll share 12 grapes with him.

Cruz: Luckily, I still get to enjoy my birthday on 26 December with my family. But honestly, for us, the race already starts on 27 December. The moment you pack your things and get on the plane, your mind is only on the Dakar.

How do your families feel about this?

Cruz: My family supports me fully. After all, the Dakar only happens once a year and this is exactly the life I’ve chosen.

Sainz: My wife and I have been together for a long time and she understands that this sport and lifestyle is what makes me happy. And she wants me to be happy. So, here we are.

We leave for the race on 27 December, so we still get to celebrate the festive season with our families more or less normally

When it comes to Dakar, lucky charms and the like won’t get you anywhere

Can your families at least visit you during the two-week-long rally?

Sainz: I think that’s possible and it would, of course, be nice to see each other in between. But we’ve neither considered nor done it before. After all, we are racing in remote areas.

Cruz: What’s more, we are always busy. Our days don’t begin and end with the stages. Before and afterwards, we work with the mechanics, prepare for the next stage and talk to the media. That leaves very little leisure time.

When you arrive in Saudi Arabia on 27 December, what do you still need to do before the race starts?

Cruz: Spain is two hours ahead Saudi Arabia, which means we have to adjust to the local time. Apart from that, it’s all about checking everything in and around the car as well as settling into the motorhome. You don’t get a second chance to do that once the rally gets underway.

Sainz: That’s why you have to plan and pack your luggage very carefully. It’s very annoying if you’ve forgotten something when you’re stuck in the middle of the desert.

Do you have any pre-race rituals?

Cruz: We have our little habits, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Our daily routines are carefully planned and we stick to the schedule unless it makes sense to change something.

Nothing that could be called ‘superstitions’?

Sainz: I have been doing this for a long time and have gained a lot of experience. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that lucky charms and the like won’t get you anywhere. Only hard work and discipline will get you through the Dakar.