Cars

Dakar Peterhansel: “A car with a combustion engine cannot do something like that”

Stéphane Peterhansel (56) took part in the Dakar Rally for the first time in 1988. With 14 wins he is the lone record holder at the famous desert rally. Before his 34th start in the off-road classic, the French Audi driver gives an insight into the preparation.

Monsieur Peterhansel, what would you have thought if someone had predicted you at the beginning of your career that you would one day contest the Dakar with an electric drive?
Stéphane Peterhansel: I would hardly have believed it. And the best thing about our tests so far is that this drive is an enormous driving pleasure that I would hardly have thought possible. This idea paves the way for electric drives to win more and more friends in everyday life. In the RS Q e-tron, we have an enormous amount of power and torque available at all times. No car with a conventional internal combustion engine drive train can do that. Since there is no transmission and I don’t have to change gears, I can concentrate fully on steering off-road. The acoustics are still unfamiliar to me. The energy converter (the engine from the DTM Audi continuously feeds the battery while driving; d. Red.) Does not follow the accelerator pedal commands directly with its speed and with its noise development like an internal combustion engine.
What advice did you give the engineering team when developing the Audi RS Q e-tron?
Audi is very familiar with electric drive through its previous projects, be it with the hybrid drive in Le Mans or the battery-electric drive in Formula E. We drivers know exactly what demands the Dakar Rally places on the chassis, wheel suspensions and other components. In addition to many ideas in detail that were incorporated, our general advice was: It’s not about the last tenths of a second, but about reliability.
Almost everything is new in the project – the area of ​​application for Audi, the innovative drive, the car. You and your driver colleague Carlos Sainz, but also the Q Motorsport team, know the Dakar Rally very well. An advantage?
The nice thing is: everyone knows what to do. Nobody can fool Audi when it comes to developing competitive racing cars. We drivers have decades of motorsport experience, and Sven Quandt’s team has been extremely successful in off-road rallying for around a quarter of a century. I have already won the Dakar Rally with him three times. With Carlos Sainz, I have built up a good relationship of trust over the past few years. We share many views, which makes us work well together. Mattias Ekström is new to off-road rallying, but has had an exceptional career on the racetrack and was already world rallycross champion. He also knows Audi Sport inside and out. It’s a good mix that everyone benefits from.

The Dakar Rally 2022 marks the premiere for Audi. What do you think is realistic?
After many thousands of kilometers of desert, it is important to reach the finish line without major setbacks. If we can do that, I would be happy about a result in the top five.

To what extent does the route in Saudi Arabia change the character of the rally?
In 2021 we were still on very rocky ground. The dunes in the Empty Quarter await us next January. I’m really looking forward to the desert. It reminds me of the times of the Dakar Rally in Africa. As motorsport enthusiasts, for us it is by no means all about speed. For me, the landscapes, which have their own challenges, are at least as important. In my life I have been to the deserts of Africa, South America, Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. I think we have a nice, classic desert rally ahead of us.

Probably no other motor sportsman has contested the Dakar Rally as often as you, and you are the most successful. Where do you keep getting your motivation from?
It’s not very difficult: It’s just my passion, and I want to rediscover our sport and its diverse routes and landscapes over and over again. I don’t need extra motivation to return to the Dakar Rally year after year.

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