Ekström wants more cross-country running in Audi

Audi is doing a part-time W2RC campaign, but its top Dakar finisher wants to enter more events

Dakar Rally 2023

Audi Sport’s Dakar Rally pairing Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist have called for more competitive running in the World Rally-Raid Championship this year.

The Swedish duo ended the Dakar Rally last month as the highest-placed Audi crew following a difficult event for the three hybrid RS Q e-tron E2s.

Audi’s T1-Ultimate class machine had looked like one of the favorites for victory, with Ekström winning the Prologue, but electrical issues on his car followed by crashes for team-mates Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel extinguished any hopes of a strong result.

For Ekström and Bergkvist, however, reaching the finish in Dammam was useful competitive experience in cross-country rallying, something the pair have lacked during Audi’s development regime since it entered the discipline last year.

“It’s fair to say that the region we were driving was a lot of sand and I had never been in the Empty Quarter which is very similar to the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge race,” Ekström said at the end of the Dakar last month.

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“And I remember one year ago, I asked if I could do the race and Stéphane did it [in the end].

“To be fast, you need to train more and if you don’t train you will not get faster, so I was quite happy with our first time in the Empty Quarter.”

Like last year, Audi is not competing in the full World Rally-Raid Championship season this season but could instead take part in selected events.

The second round of the season is the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which Peterhansel won in 2022 to give Audi its first-ever cross-country victory.

Ekström’s desire for more competitive running in Dakar-like conditions is also shared by navigator Bergkvist.

“I am not worried about the pace for the future, and this is really good,” Bergkvist said. “The second week of the Dakar was very good, with a lot of top-three stage finishes, for sure the first week destroyed our chances with punctures and some technical issues.

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“We learned a lot on the Dakar, to not be stressed in the beginning and we were not so stressed because the rally is also very long, and you learn a lot in navigation when the rally is two weeks long.

“But it’s also not enough to only do one rally in a year to compete at this level, you need to do more. It’s like everything else; the more you train, the better you get. And we want more training.”

The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, round two of the W2RC, runs from February 25-March 3. Having picked up valuable stage win points during the Dakar, Bahrain Raid Xtreme’s Sébastien Loeb and Fabian Lurquin lead the championship standings by two points from Toyota’s Dakar winners Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mathieu Baumel going into the vent.

Ekström and Bergkvist will be in attendance, but not in their Audi. Instead, they will be competing in one of South Racing’s Can-Am Maverick buggies and will be scoring W2RC points in the T3 class.