Reigning Dakar Rally winner Stéphane Peterhansel has explained the first stage incident which ended his chances of securing a record-extending 15th victory.
The Audi driver started the opening test of the Saudi Arabian event 14th on the road after driving a tactical prologue on Saturday and used the advantageous road conditions to trail eventual stage winner, Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, by a mere six seconds at the first waypoint.
Peterhansel looked likely to take the lead ahead of the next waypoint, around 100 miles into the 206-mile special, but a heavy impact caused irreparable damage to the rear corner of his electric RS Q e-tron.
Speaking to French television on the stage, Peterhansel said he hadn’t been taking any risks and felt his pace was typical of a ‘first stage rhythm’.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” he said.
“We suffered an impact at the rear of the car, and we damaged a rim, which in turn blocked a wheel. And the effect of blocking the wheel broke the axle. It twisted everything and broke the rear.
“It was an impact which we saw coming, we weren’t surprised by a rock or a compression; we saw a little dip with a few rocks.
“I was going at a speed which seemed sensible, and it just broke the rear wheel. It’s something we’ve probably not come across in testing and which we couldn’t have foreseen. It wasn’t an attack mode or anything, it was just the rhythm of the first stage.”
Peterhansel was forced to wait for the Audi Sport assistance truck – which follows the crews along the route to the following bivouac – leaving the Dakar legend hours behind the rest of the field.
Despite this setback, Peterhansel remains optimistic and has turned his attention to completing what now essentially becomes a testing program for the new hybrid electric car.
“It’s not finished, we have our assistance truck and all the parts, but we’ll arrive back [at the bivouac] late tonight. The battle for the victory, for sure we can forget about it, but we can help the other Audis Carlos Sainz and Mattias Ekström,” he said.
“For the rest, we’ll try to find the maximum potential for the car, we’ll try to win some stages and make a race of it, either for ourselves, our team-mates or for the show.”
Audi team-mates Sainz and Ekström also endured a difficult day, with both crews getting lost before the hidden waypoint with around 90 miles remaining on the stage.
Ekström said: “We had mega fun in the car until after the neutralization, and then we found a small picnic place at the waypoint!
“And I think there were maybe 50 other colleagues who also stopped at this picnic spot. What is more frustrating is that before this, we were P2 and only 1m48 behind Nasser and I told [navigator] Emil [Bergkvist] that I don’t want to get lost in the desert.”
Bergkvist concurred: “We didn’t want to sleep there the first day and we will not try to do that, but it’s like that; it’s history.”
Ekström and Sainz both made it to the end of the stage and to the bivouac, with the former losing 1m22s and the latter over two hours.