Dakar test Morocco, October 2023

For its third Dakar Rally, Audi Sport continues to rely on the three driver-co-driver combinations that have characterized the project from the very beginning.

Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist (Sweden), Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger (France) and Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (Spain) are Audi’s driver teams of the first hour. They are among the best in their field, which they also demonstrate at the wheel of the RS Q e-tron. “Carlos Sainz, who I admired in the World Rally Championship and with whom we are now working, Stéphane Peterhansel, who has remained relaxed and modest even after 14 Dakar victories, a guarantee of success like Mattias Ekström, with whom I have had a good relationship for years – simply great drivers!” says Head of Audi Motorsport Rolf Michl. “And with Lucas Cruz, Edouard Boulanger and Emil Bergkvist we have equally strong and first-class co-drivers.”

“Teamwork and reliability are crucial at the Dakar,” says Sven Quandt, Team Principal of Q Motorsport. “You need a well-coordinated team, a super-reliable car and reliable driver teams. You can’t drive at the limit all the time at the Dakar. The right strategy is crucial. Our three strong teams have proven their qualities right from the start.”

Mattias Ekström (45) has spent almost his entire career under the banner of the four rings, particularly in the DTM, where he won the title twice with Audi (2004 and 2007). The Swede underlined his versatility by winning the World Rallycross Championship (2016), successfully competing in the World Rally Championship, the NASCAR series and the Supercars in Australia. In 2021, he won the Pure ETCR electric touring car racing series. Finishing ninth in 2022 and 14th in 2023, he was the best Audi driver at the Dakar in both cases. In 2022, his team CUPRA EKS also won the FIA eTouring Car World Cup with Adrien Tambay. In 2023, Ekström finished second in the Extreme E racing series with teammate Laia Sanz for the Acciona Sainz XE Team.

“I’ve learned something from all my teammates,” says Ekström. “Carlos is extremely ambitious, emotional and full of energy. I learn everything else from Stéphane: He has just as much success, but is much more composed and calm and strategic. They are the two coolest teammates of my career with completely different characters.”

Mattias Ekström’s co-driver is his fellow countryman Emil Bergkvist (29), who used to be a rally driver himself. “I come from the same area as Mattias. He was always an idol for me, every motorsport enthusiast in Sweden knows him,” says Bergkvist. “When I stopped rallying, I called him and asked if I could work for his team. I’ve been his co-driver ever since. We never stop learning, every day. It clicked at the 2022 Morocco Rally. We have covered maybe 20,000 kilometers in this project. In Morocco, we understood better what those who create the roadbook think. Now it’s really fun.”

Stéphane Peterhansel (58) is “Mister Dakar” and a living legend in his sport. The Frenchman has won the world’s toughest cross-country rally 14 times – six times on a motorcycle and eight times in the car category. He was also the first to achieve an overall victory with the RS Q e-tron – in March 2022 at the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. “Year after year, our engineers have improved the concept,” says Peterhansel. “We feel more comfortable in the car than ever before because the overall handling is better than before.”

Peterhansel’s co-driver Edouard Boulanger (44) is going into the next edition of the desert classic with renewed vigor: “I’ve changed my entire training. Instead of cardio and endurance training, I have focused on muscle building and feel well prepared.”

The trained engineer has gotten to know the Dakar Rally over many years in various roles. In 2021, he started together with Stéphane Peterhansel for the first time and won the rally straight away. “I’ve admired Stéphane since I was a child,” says Boulanger. “We’ve known each other personally for 14 years and we’ve been working together in the cockpit for three years. He is the best in this sport.”

Carlos Sainz (61) is also a living legend. The Spaniard contested the World Rally Championship for several decades and won it twice (1990, 1992). He has celebrated three victories at the Dakar Rally so far: in 2010, 2018 and most recently in 2020 at the premiere in Saudi Arabia. “We are facing an interesting edition of the Dakar Rally with a lot of competition,” says Sainz. “We have developed as a team. The long-standing collaboration with Lucas Cruz is very important to me.”

The Audi brand has always been something very special for “El Matador”. “The Audi quattro changed the World Rally Championship forever,” says Sainz. “Now we’re trying something similar at the Dakar Rally. The engineers have much more freedom in the Dakar than in other racing series. I have full confidence in Audi. When I joined Audi, I said don’t underestimate the Dakar. And they didn’t underestimate it. They trusted the direction in which we wanted to develop the project. It was the right approach from both parties.”

Sainz will share the cockpit with Lucas Cruz (48), who was part of a junior rally team initiated by Sainz at the start of Cruz’ career before discovering cross-country rallying for himself. “2024 is my 23rd year in this sport,” says Cruz. “I drove the Dakar with various drivers before Carlos asked me in 2009 if I would like to work with him at Volkswagen. I would never have dreamed of that. A year later, we won the Dakar together for the first time and then two more times.”