When Audi’s Carlos Sainz’s Audi RS Q e-tron ground to a halt between the fourth and fifth waypoints of Thursday’s fifth stage of the 2022 Dakar Rally, team-mate Stéphane Peterhansel could have pursued his own glory. But instead he played the team game, which meant donating his rear suspension so Sainz could complete the stage.
Up on the splits and right in the mix with eventual stage winner, Toyota’s Henk Lategan, Peterhansel sacrificed his own time to ensure Sainz reached the finish.
Proof, if any was needed, that the Dakar is so much more than individual triumphs.
Peterhansel’s act of generosity is far from unique on an event such as the Dakar. Throughout the years, teams have supported each other just like Monsieur Dakar did on stage five. It’s part of the game; if one goes down, the other is there to bring you back up.
“We have had certain problems with the dampers of the car; [on Wednesday] Stéphane had a problem, today it was my turn,” explained Sainz on Audi’s Inside the Dakar broadcast.
“So, everything was going smoothly and then we broke the rear damper, and we waited for Stéphane to appear. Thanks to him, he gave us the damper so that we could continue, it was great [of him].”
For Peterhansel, there was no question he wouldn’t stop. The 14-time Dakar winner endured a miserable start to the rally, in which he required the assistance truck three times in five days.
A broken rear axle on the opening stage of the 44th edition all but extinguished his chances of a record-extending 15th victory, while a damper issue – the same which befell Sainz as well as the third Audi RS Q e-tron of Mattias Ekström – cost yet more time on SS4.
“We accepted really quickly that there was no problem [to stop and assist Sainz] but it was fun to drive, I must say,” said Peterhansel.
“I started a little bit late in the order; the speed was good, and I really took a lot of pleasure driving the car, the feeling was really nice.
“But for sure, when I saw that Carlos had stopped, I said: ‘OK, I know what happened!’ so it was clear that I needed to stop and to help him. But it’s not a problem for me, we work together for Audi, and we need to do our best for the team. And if we can help, it’s really a pleasure.”
Dakar drivers and navigators are known as much for their skills in the car during the special stages as they are for their ability to spanner on the fly.
Stéphane has had very bad luck so far, but this is a year where we are working altogether to learn as much as possibleCarlos Sainz
But who was doing the lion’s share of the repair work on Thursday?
“Edouard [Boulanger] and Lucas [Cruz], they were doing the main work,” said Sainz.
“Stéphane was hammering certain things and I also helped out a little bit!
“I know Stéphane very well and he has had very bad luck so far, but this is a year where we are working altogether to learn as much as possible.”
It’s the sort of teamwork that you might only see at regroups or on the road sections between stages in conventional stage rallying such as the World Rally Championship. Such is the short, sharp nature of the WRC, rarely do opportunities for this sort of chivalry arise.
The task facing Audi since it announced its participation in the Dakar last year has been a mammoth one. Fast-tracking almost a two years’ worth of development and testing into the space of months is no mean feat, even for a brand as large as Audi.
Its managing director Julius Seebach knows just how big the challenge is, which is why he is more than satisfied with the promise shown by his team as the Dakar reaches the half-time break in 2022.
“We are really happy because we have achieved even more than we expected so far,” said Seebach.
“The first challenge was to get the car race ready; we have had two 12 months put onto a white sheet of paper into the desert, this was the first milestone. Then we had the historic first stage win for Carlos on the longest stage, this was really a great moment and, up until now, there have been six stages and in four of them we have been in the top three with Audi Sport.
“It is really good to see because the concept works, the team spirit is good, so we are very happy up until now.
“We always talk about winning and being competitive, to go for being the fastest – Stéphane was flying through the desert – but to see this when Carlos had the incident with the damper that Stéphane stopped to help him, not thinking about the stage victory, this is team spirit.”
The teamwork was in force again on Friday’s final stage before the rest day in Riyadh as Peterhansel again came to the rescue to help out Sainz, but Ekström stayed out of trouble to take his best stage result of the Dakar so far.
The 2016 World Rallycross Champion finished second to stage winner Orlando Terranova, having been just 24s adrift of the Bahrain Raid Xtreme Hunter at the penultimate waypoint, only for a slight mistake to drop them time by the finish.
It highlighted the Audi’s strong raw pace, even if Ekström was left ‘positively surprised’ after initially ending the special disappointed.
“We had no idea during the stage that it was looking that good because already at the first corner we had an alarm and the car switched off,” said Ekström.
“So, we had to reboot the car and we lost one position and maybe two minutes. From that moment on, we were in the dust of competitors, but we had a clean stage, good navigation, Emil was pushing me super hard in the dunes which were super nice, but then at the last bit we made a mistake and lost 1m20s.
“We were a bit disappointed crossing the line, but we thought that it had been a decent day. And then we came to the time control and saw the time, and we were very positively surprised!”
The Dakar has always been something of a public testing ground for innovation and engineering, and this year is no different. Come the end of the 12-day event, we might just be seeing a clearer picture of Audi’s true potential for years to come.