Friday, July 19, 2024

Audi ending Dakar Rally programme after 2024

After three years, Team Audi Sport is pulling the plug on their Dakar Rally effort. On Tuesday, Audi Motorsport head Rolf Michl confirmed to that as the German manufacturer prepares to enter Formula One in 2026 as an engine supplier for Sauber, they will cut back multiple racing divisions including the rally raid programme and factory support for customer teams in DTM and GT3.

2024 was already set to be Audi’s final Dakar on their current three-year deal, which includes a partnership with Q Motorsport run by X-raid Team boss Sven Quandt. At the team’s début in 2022, Mattias Ekström, Stéphane Peterhansel, and Carlos Sainz each won a stage and Ekström notched a top ten in the overall. Audi built upon this by winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with Peterhansel, followed by Sainz setting the fastest total time among all cars at the Rallye du Maroc despite not being eligible for the traditional T1 category.

The successes of 2022 led to an upgraded car, the RS Q e-tron E2, being introduced for 2023 and competing in the T1.U “Ultimate” subcategory for electric T1 vehicles. However, despite much fanfare and Sainz winning Stage #1 at Dakar, the team struggled to keep pace with the T1+ entries of Prodrive and Toyota even after a power increase from the FIA’s Equivalence of Technology. Sainz and Peterhansel subsequently crashed out while Ekström finished a distant fourteenth.

Save for a demo at the Race of Champions, the e-tron E2 has not raced since the Dakar debacle. In May, the team regrouped for testing to determine what went wrong at Dakar. Although there was initial hesitation to return for 2024, the team has since committed to entering the event, which appears to be their last pending a surprise renewal.

Audi’s Board of Management came to the decision on Monday. Teams that race Audis in DTM and the Fanatec GT World Challenge will continue to do so beyond 2024, albeit with less support from the marque such as engineering assistance.

Every factory driver on both the pavement and off-road fronts will be free to head elsewhere. Despite Sainz’s seniority, he has stressed that he hopes to win a fourth Dakar before retiring, while Ekström races in the World Rally-Raid Championship‘s T3 category for South Racing. Peterhansel has not given any indication on his future plans, but ran the Morocco Desert Challenge in March on a bike.

The 2024 Dakar Rally begins on 5 January.