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Road to Dakar 2024: Learning from the desert

Road to Dakar 2024: Learning from the desert

In January 2024, Audi will compete in the Dakar Rally for the third time. Driver Mattias Ekström and the entire Audi Sport Team begin their intensive preparations for the world’s toughest endurance rally in the Saudi Arabian desert.

Copy: Patrick Morda – Photo: Julian Rausche – Film: Alexander Triebel Lesezeit: 3 min

Portrait shot of Mattias Ekström.Portrait shot of Mattias Ekström.

It takes a moment for the dust to settle. With a loud rumble, the Audi RS Q e-tron* has come to a halt on the stony sandy gravel. When the doors open, an exhausted but clearly satisfied Mattias Ekström steps out of his Dakar race car. “It is funny,” he says. “I was on a hiatus since January, drove a lot of other cars. But with the Audi RS Q e-tron* I instantly feel at home, it seems as if I have been in it all year long.” 

The last Dakar Rally was tough for Ekström and the whole Audi Team. “We went there with high expectations, but we didn’t get the results we wanted,” he admits. While the electric drive concept of the Audi RS Q e-tron* worked flawlessly, tyre failures and accident-related retirements clearly set back the Audi driver teams and put an overall victory out of reach.

You can’t win the Dakar, you can't even get to the finish line, by sheer luck.

Mattias Ekström

Tyres and vehicles at the Audi base camp during the test phase in Saudi Arabia.Tyres and vehicles at the Audi base camp during the test phase in Saudi Arabia.

For the rally in January 2024, all three drivers – Ekström, Peterhansel and Sainz – are back on the grid. There are months of testing and learning ahead of all three of them. “You can’t win, you can’t even get to the finish line, by sheer luck. You win by skill, experience and attitude. You need the right mindset,” knows the Swede with the long Audi motorsport record. 

Mattias Ekström was an Audi factory driver from 1999 to 2017. A versatile racing driver who is ready for any challenge, he is a former World Rallycross champion, two-time DTM champion and the winner of four Race of Champions titles. In 2021, Ekström joined one of Audi Sport’s trio of driver teams competing in the Dakar Rally. “Still, being a part of the Dakar project is the biggest challenge of my career. I think anyone would like to win there. But once you know all the hard work you need to put in to get there, I am sure many would give up before they even tried.” 

The entire team has the potential to drive at the very front. So, it was all the more annoying that tyre failures and other problems set Audi back in January. “We need to find out why we got punctures in places we didn’t expect. What do we have to change about the way we are driving, about the set-up of the car and, most importantly, is there a tyre that can handle it better?” To find explanations and solutions, the Audi Sport Team spends several days in Saudi Arabia. Using two different types of tyres from BF Goodrich, the official tyre supplier of the Dakar Rally, the team compares the performance and attempts to recreate the conditions that caused the damage back in January – to develop countermeasures. Also on the agenda are improved shock absorbers, as the chassis must behave reliably but also consistently and efficiently on the rough surfaces. Measurement sensors in the chassis for loads and accelerations support the team in their work.

Audi Dakar

It's not about improving our best days. We strive to comprehend our weakest point in the chain.

Mattias Ekström

The Audi RS Q e-tron* completed the test without complaint. This reliable run over a distance of 2,568 kilometres not only confirms the maturity of the innovative concept. In addition to technical insights, engineers and drivers also benefit from the productive testing in Saudi Arabia in terms of decision-making and driving style. 

After the return from testing in Saudi Arabia, a comprehensive analysis of all recorded data is scheduled. The Dakar Rally, Ekström is certain, doesn’t forgive any negligence. “There is always something to learn. Success in motorsports will always have different ingredients. And the majority is skill, experience and knowledge.” In this way, Audi is continuing to prepare the next steps in the development and organisation for the 2024 Dakar Rally.

Mattias Ekström looking at a detail on the Audi RS Q e-tron.Mattias Ekström looking at a detail on the Audi RS Q e-tron.
The Audi RS Q e-tron racing in the desert.The Audi RS Q e-tron racing in the desert.
Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist

Fascinating Dakar

As one of Audi Sport’s trio of driver teams Mattias Ekström is set to tackle the Dakar Rally alongside co-driver Emil Bergkvist. Discover what drives his enthusiasm for this iconic expedition, the roots of his rallying passion, and why team spirit is crucial in the desert.