Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist (Sweden), Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger (France) and Carlos Sainz / Lucas Cruz (Spain) will drive for Audi in the world's toughest rally on 2-14 January 2022. "It is not an overstatement to talk about a "dream team", "says Julius Seebach, head of Audi Sport GmbH and responsible for motorsport. "Stéphane is the most victorious driver in Dakar ever. Carlos is a multiple Dakar winner and rally world champion. With Mattias, we have already celebrated many successes. He is one of the world's most talented drivers. In addition to speed, everyone contributes very much know-how and impulse to our team. The same goes for their map readers, who are playing an increasingly significant role in the Dakar Rally."
"Ultimately, it's the drivers and their map readers who make the difference in the Dakar Rally," says Andreas Roos, who is responsible for the factory involvement in Audi Sport. "It is encouraging that we will have three driver teams at the highest level. We can tick it off. Now it is up to us to complete the development of our innovative car and start the energy revolution in the off-road rally in January."
"During the Dakar Rally, teamwork and reliability are crucial," says Sven Quandt, team manager for Q Motorsport. "You need a tight team, a super-strong car and a solid driving team. You can not drive on the border all the time during the Dakar Rally. The right strategy is crucial. I am very happy that we will have three well-known and strong teams fighting for us. We know their qualities very well."
Mattias Ekström (42) has spent almost his entire career with the four rings and took home the championship title in DTM twice (2004 and 2007). In 2016, Ekström won World Championship gold in rallycross with his own team EKS, and he is also a four-time champion in the Race of Champions. In 2021, he will race for CUPRA in the new electric off-road series Extreme E and also made his debut in the Dakar Rally this year.
"Dakar will unquestionably be one of the most exciting adventures of my career," says Ekström. "Tackling this exciting project with the team, with whom I celebrated my most prominent successes, is fantastic. Even though I will be 43 this year, I feel like a junior compared to Carlos and Stéphane. In this sport, you need lots of experience in all areas. I still have a lot to learn, but I'm really looking forward to it."
Map reader will be Emil Bergkvist (26), himself junior world champion in rally 2018. "Mattias has always been an idol for me, and all motorsport lovers in Sweden know him," says Bergkvist. "When I stopped driving myself, I called him and asked if I could work in his team. Now I'm his map reader. It is an honour for me to be able to serve with Mattias and be a part of this wonderful project with Audi."
Stéphane Peterhansel (55) is "Mister Dakar" and a living legend in his sport. The Frenchman has won the world's toughest desert rally 14 times, with six victories on the motorcycle and eight by car. "I love nature and the beautiful panorama," says Peterhansel. "During the Dakar Rally, we travel to fascinating places you would never see otherwise. Dakar is one of the last adventures in the world. And it is heading for a radical change: the future is electric. In almost ten years, everyone will drive electric cars. Dakar is an extreme test of the technology. We want to be the first team to win the Dakar Rally with an electric driveline. I look forward to tackling this very ambitious project with Audi."
"It's a new era. The whole world is moving towards electric mobility, and motorsport must do the same," says Peterhansel's map reader Edouard Boulanger (42). "Audi takes a lot of expertise from Le Mans and Formula E and does not start from scratch. History has shown that when Audi does something in motorsport, they do it the right way. Being part of the Audi team is another important step in my career and a great responsibility. I do not want to disappoint expectations. "
Boulanger has gotten to know the Dakar Rally for many years in various functions. In 2021, he started together with Stéphane Peterhansel for the first time and won the rally immediately. "I have admired Stéphane since I was a child," says Boulanger. He is the best in the sport".
Carlos Sainz (59) is also a living legend. The Spaniard is a two-time world rally champion (1990 and 1992) and has won the Dakar Rally three times so far: 2010, 2018 and 2020. "At 59, I am still hungry; otherwise, I would not have taken this new trial," says Sainz. "Even as a teenager, it was my dream to become a rally driver. My passion is unchanged."
Audi has always been something very special for "El Matador". "The Audi quattro changed the World Rally Championship forever," says Sainz. "Now we are trying something similar for the Dakar Rally. The engineers have much greater freedom in the Dakar Rally than in other racing series. I have full confidence in the Audi engineers and, with my experience, will try to help them develop a fast and successful car. Dakar is the most difficult challenge for an electric car. It's a fantastic, extreme project. I look forward to testing the car for the first time. What I have seen so far inspires confidence."
Sainz will share a car with Lucas Cruz (46). "2021 is my 20th year in the sport," says Cruz. "I competed in the Dakar Rally with different drivers before Carlos asked me if I wanted to work with him at Volkswagen in 2009. A year later, we won Dakar together for the first time and three more times since."
"Carlos is super professional," says Cruz. "He has only one goal: to win. He demands that everyone else be as focused as he is: mechanics, engineers, map readers. We have a good relationship. I have a calming influence in the car. Working with him is a great pleasure."
Cruz is also fascinated by the idea of driving the Dakar Rally with an electrified driveline. "Audi is the first company to start with such a car," says the Spaniard. "It is important and positive for our sport to take the step and rely on new energy in the world's toughest motorsport event.
It is very complicated in the Dakar Rally. Audi dares to do something that no one else has done before. That is the future."