The lightning starter
It wasn’t until 2014 that off-road motorcyclist Edouard Boulanger became a co-pilot after a career of his own as a rider. The Frenchman took over this role alongside Stéphane Peterhansel from his wife Andrea. The new driver pairing won the 2021 Dakar Rally on their first attempt.
The Dakar victory was the second unexpected big surprise for Edouard Boulanger: “To be able to drive alongside Stéphane and assist him was already a dream. But to win the Dakar with him in their first year together was something I never dared to dream of.”
A third dream has meanwhile also become reality for Edouard Boulanger: “Not only do I get to continue working with Stéphane, but I’m also a team member of Audi with its great motorsport history.” The Frenchman sees this as another important career step. After all, “If Audi enters motorsport anywhere, it’s never to finish second. They use every ounce of energy and all of their resources and expertise to beat everyone else.”
For Boulanger, this means: “I’m here in a team with huge expectations. So, I have a lot to learn, because the use of electric drivetrain technology in the Dakar Rally, this transformation process, is probably one of the most important moments in the world of motorsport.” That’s the experienced and enthusiastic mechanical engineer talking.
The Frenchman quantifies how great the progress has already been in the debut season as follows: “If we are at 100 percent this year, we were at 10 percent a year earlier. The experience of the team, the reliability of the car in testing and in rallying – it’s completely different from when we started.” He draws a number of positive conclusions from this, from which the entire team benefits: “Everyone has now experienced the Dakar at least once. There is no longer any need to explain the rally to everyone, because it has become part of their working life. And for many it was a big step. I would say there are no organizational issues that come up now. Everyone can concentrate on their work. That makes for a more relaxed atmosphere, but one that is still highly professional. That’s the right condition to be able to perform.”
A co-driver is much more than just the navigator, especially at the Dakar Rally. “We co-drivers are multi-skilled people,” the Frenchman says in summary. “We have to help our driver in every situation. Not only do we have to give him the latest information about the course of the route and the condition of the track briefly, accurately and clearly, but we also have to describe our impressions of the car’s current condition as precisely as possible.”
On a motorcycle, he was drawn out onto the world’s great rally raid tracks. “But I never had the talent and skills that Stéphane has,” admits Edouard Boulanger frankly. Nevertheless, the two got along particularly well when they were still competitors on two wheels. Like Peterhansel, Boulanger is fascinated not only by driving and technology, but also by what nature has to offer along the marathon routes. “No matter where the Dakar Rally takes place, it takes you to fascinating places that you don't get to see with your own eyes as a tourist and usually not as a local either.”
Edouard Boulanger earned a good reputation in the marathon industry, particularly as a coach for young motorcycle riders in the service of a factory team. “I taught them how to use a wide variety of navigation systems, but also how to use a roadbook correctly and effectively.” Background: the route information distributed by the organizers at rally raids must be read selectively, according to Boulanger. “Especially as a motorcyclist, who is after all completely on his own in such a rally, you don’t have any time at all to study the information.”
In 2021, the Dakar Rally was run for the first time with a digital roadbook instead of an analog one, i.e. printed on paper. “Unlike in the past, you will receive the detailed information about the upcoming stage via upload just fifteen minutes before the beginning of the new day of rallying,” explains Boulanger.
And what’s it like working with the racer who has left his mark on the Dakar Rally like no other? “It's really easy with Stéphane,” answers Edouard Boulanger. “I have zero doubts about his abilities. What makes our collaboration so much easier is our common mother tongue. This also applies to Audi’s other two Dakar crews. In the race, decisions often have to be made within milliseconds. All it takes is one misunderstood word, a mistake happens and you lose time.”
“But, even if that happens, Stéphane never gets stressed out, doesn’t start yelling. He always remains relaxed and tries to help me. I appreciate this character trait in him even more than all of his skills and successes as a racing driver.”