Dakar – Ekström: From McDonalds to stage victory

The employee at the McDonald’s drive-in in Riyadh was amazed: Suddenly Mattias Ekström (43) was standing in his Audi RS Q e-tron in front of his window and asked for two ice creams. The Swede was on his way back from a Dakar rally stage back to the bivouac and was in the mood for some refreshment.

He did a few laps through the capital of Saudi Arabia, where the mother of all rallies is currently taking place. Then he finally found the drive-in. “The height was perfect for ordering,” says Ekström to AUTO BILD. “I think the boy at the cash register had a heart attack. And do you know what he asked then? ‘Do you drive Formula 1?’ So I thought to myself: He’s well informed … It’s the only motorsport I’ve never made it into. So I explained to him that it was a Dakar car, and that’s cool too! “

Ekström was on the way back from a Dakar Rally stage back to the bivouac and was in the mood for some refreshment.

The double DTM champion is currently completing his first marathon rally in the Audi RS Q e-tron. Today (Monday) he took his first victory on the eighth stage. And typically Ekström: fun shouldn’t be missing. On the transfer stages, he and his co-driver Emil Bergkvist listen to music by Ed Sheeran. “That puts us in the right mood,” explains the Swede. “If you’re too excited, it will be dangerous for you, your passenger and the car here at the Dakar. If you are too relaxed, you are driving too slowly. “

After his success, the rallycross, Extreme-E and Dakar driver is eleventh overall and is therefore the best Audi driver. Team-mate Carlos Sainz is in 18th place, Stéphane Peterhansel’s third Audi is in 33rd place.

For Audi it is a first in the desert. With two wins (number one went to Carlos Sainz) and various podium places, you are very satisfied. And there was even more in it. But the German works team first suffered from an alleged error in the road book (Sainz couldn’t find a geo point and lost around two hours) and then from unexpected damper damage.

The highly complex drive (system output 500 kW / 680 PS) consisting of three electric motors (one per axle and one as a generator) and an energy converter (2-liter four-cylinder turbo from the DTM) withstood all loads. Even the fine desert sand , which the DTM engine technicians in particular warned against. Ekström: “Without the problems with the shock absorbers and the navigation, we would be there with the music.”
The Audi is the only top vehicle that whistles instead of roaring through the dunes. The pilots only hear the traditional engine noise in their backs when the energy converter is producing electricity for the electric motors. A 300 liter petrol tank is on board for this purpose. The classic combustion racers sometimes need more than 500 liters. Two of them are in the lead: Nasser Al-Attiyah in the Toyota Hilux is 38 minutes ahead of Sébastien Loeb in the BRX-Hunter. In the desert it is not yet possible to go completely without fuel, but thanks to electric power, the Audi is more efficient on the road.

Mattias Ekström clinched the second stage win for Audi in the Dakar Rally.

Just like the Ingolstadt engineers, desert newcomer Ekström learns every meter, including from his experienced teammates Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel. “I sometimes watch videos of their stages,” he reveals. With success: only one navigation error prevented his first Dakar victory on stage six. The Swede missed the last geo point shortly before the finish on Friday and had to turn around. “I had to hold my finger against the wind,” he laughs. The reason for the mishap that led to second place on the stage: “Where there are many spectators, I may still have a little too much respect and have been a little distracted. Overall, I’m still far too cautious in the dunes. But a lot can happen there. If you are too fast on the comb, you roll off. Every day you have a moment when you say: Oops, that was tight. “

But even the Swede is increasingly finding the right flow when surfing through the dunes. “With the electric motor through the sand – that’s gigantic,” he enthuses. “Because it only has advantages: We don’t have to switch gears and can therefore concentrate fully on the dunes. In addition, the torque is always there, even if you lose momentum for a short time. “

Ekström’s most important finding: “You have to think differently here. Here you don’t count tenths of a second, but minutes. I’m enjoying this.”

Team-mate Carlos Sainz (59), on the other hand, is still annoyed about the navigation problems of stage five. “Today I know: There was a mistake in the road book,” he says to AUTO BILD. “I’m not a navigator, but I’m smart enough to see that it was a mistake. And the organizers should have responded to it. It doesn’t matter today because then we also had the damper problems. But losing a year’s work due to a mistake in the road book is not acceptable. “

After all, Audi then demonstrated perfect teamwork. Mister Dakar, Stéphane Peterhansel (14 wins), stopped twice to let Sainz, who was further ahead in the overall standings, take his toll. “During my entire career I have had many teammates who have helped me,” emphasizes the noble helper. “I can give that back now. It is a pleasure for me to help my teammates. We’re all in the same boat and want to move Audi forward. “

The French can now even joke that it was used as a rolling spare parts store. Peterhansel: “Carlos apologized to me, so I said: Thank you for giving me a nice vacation in the sand. Now all I’m missing is sunscreen. ”

The Dakar caravan will roll through Saudi Arabia until Friday. Right in the middle of it all are the three Whisper Audis, the drivers of which have had many new experiences in the desert over the past few days – including how to order an ice cream from a McDonalds with a racing car.

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