Everything was turned upside down at the dawn of the current decade. When Covid-19 ground everything to a halt, it gave some of us in our otherwise hectic sport a moment for pause. An opportunity to think outside the lines, rather than press on relentlessly, carried by the sweeping tide of the next deadline to hit.
Sven Quandt had been doing Dakar rallies for a long time. He’s overseen the Mitsubishi factory effort with the legendary Pajero. With his own X-Raid outfit, he won the Dakar six times as a team manager.
But Quandt also knows his portable power: Varta, the German battery manufacturer, was once the family business and he’s had multiple stints on the company’s supervisory board.
Batteries on the Dakar, where endurance is key? Surely this was a nonsensical idea.
“At the time when everything was down, we had this crazy idea,” Quandt told DirtFish.
“Audi really wanted to do it. We joined forces together and I think we made something spectacular.”
Crazy, maybe. But Quandt stops short at calling it mad.
“It was not mad. It was calculated. But yes, there are always some things that we cannot calculate,” he admits.
Years one and two were fraught with technical issues. And then there was the equalization formula: more than once Audi received technical breaks to find more power to match the petrol-powered beasts in T1+. Quandt’s lobbying after the previous edition has clearly done the trick.
“I was sure we could win, we had a good EoT and I think the EoT everyone saw was really good because it was fight until more or less the last stage.”
Only once all rally could Sainz breathe easy: the final stage, when the last of the chasing pack fell by the wayside. Sébastien Loeb’s Prodrive Hunter was quick but had finally suffered one reliability problem too many. The script had finally flipped; the Audi persevered through reliability at last.
“We had some problems in the last two years and now we have an incredible team, incredible bunch of people, one team for everybody; you could see it even on the driver’s side,” said Quandt, referencing another major strength of the Audi squadron.
As Sébastien Loeb was left to forge his path alone, without an experienced team-mate to help him in a time of need after Nasser Al-Attiyah packed up and went home early, the other RS Q e-trons of Stéphane Peterhansel and Mattias Ekström forged a protective bubble around Sainz. In the latter phase of the race the remaining crews shepherded Sainz, pulling up to help change any punctures that struck the lead car.
Teamwork helped. But so did having the 61-years-young Sainz leading the way, as Quandt admits.
“His condition was so incredible that I must say, this at the end made it,” he said, full of praise for the now four-time Dakar winner.
“His positive thinking on the first day already, he came here with a smile; he’s always normally moaning and doing this…he was so positive! That was what it was, in the end. I can tell you, his whole attitude is, I’m winning.”
Sainz clearly knew how to motivate his troops, to make Audi believe its radical project would get the send-off it so desperately craved. He preserved Audi’s long-term reputation of embarking on a new adventure and succeeding by defying convention, not following it.
But, as El Matador admits, he wasn’t entirely assured of the outcome.
“Of course, during this road you doubt,” said Sainz. “But at the end, hard work always pays off.”