Audi has unveiled a star-studded driver roster for its first proper assault on the Dakar Rally next year, with Mattias Ekström joining multiple winners Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel.
The factory-supported project, which will be operated by Sven Quandt’s Q Motorsport organization, will contest the classic rally raid in the new electric class next year and is due to conduct the roll-out of its in-house prototype next month.
Both Sainz and this year’s winner Peterhansel have a lot of experience with Quandt as part of the X-raid Mini JCW program which Quandt still oversees.
Peterhansel, the most successful Dakar driver in history with 14 wins across the car and bike categories, had been tipped to spearhead Audi’s foray into rally raid after collecting his eighth car victory in January.
The announcement of Peterhanser and triple Dakar winner Sainz, alongside long-time Audi affiliated driver Ekström is what Audi Sport’s managing director Julius Seebach labels as the ‘dream team’.
“It’s no exaggeration to speak of a ‘dream team’. Stéphane is the most successful Dakar driver of all time. Carlos is a multiple Dakar winner and World Rally champion. With Mattias, we already celebrated many Audi successes in the past,” Seebach said.
“[Ekström] is one of the world’s most versatile drivers. In addition to a lot of speed, they are all adding an extreme amount of expertise and motivation to our team.
“The same goes for their co-drivers, who play an increasingly important role in the Dakar Rally.”
Sainz claimed his third Dakar victory in 2020 on his first edition in the JCW buggy, while Peterhansel made back-to-back wins for Quandt’s team this year.
Ekström’s arrival to the Audi camp comes after his first outing in a buggy prototype earlier this month, on Rally Andalucía, where he claimed fifth place.
Earlier this year, Ekström made his Dakar debut in an X-raid run Lightweight Prototype, his first rally raid experience, and the Swede – partnered by his regular co-driver Emil Bergkvist – is looking forward to his T1 bow in 2022.
“The Dakar will definitely be one of the most exciting adventures of my career,” said Ekström.
“To be able to tackle this exciting project together with the team, with which I celebrated my greatest successes, is fantastic. Although I’ll be turning 43 this year, I feel like a junior compared to Carlos and Stéphane. In this sport, you need a lot of experience in all areas. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
Sainz will again be partnered by co-driver Lucas Cruz, while Swiss navigator Eduoard Boulanger – who was instrumental in Peterhansel’s 14th win this year – remains with the Frenchman.
Q Motorsport team principal Quandt described the driver line-up as a ‘well-bonded team and super reliable’.
“At the Dakar Rally, teamwork and reliability are crucial,” said Quandt. “You can’t permanently drive at the limit in the Dakar Rally. The right strategy is crucial. I’m very happy that we will have three renowned and strong teams competing for us. We know their qualities very well.”