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Audi has won the Dakar Rally

Victory for Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz in Audi’s RS Q e-tron proves you can electrify the desert

It’s time to rewrite the history books: Carlos Sainz and Audi have done it. After racking up almost 8,000km in his electrified Audi RS Q e-tron, stopping to replace 11 punctured tyres, and twice pitching up a tent to spend a night sleeping under the stars, the Spanish rallying legend has given Audi its first Dakar Rally victory.

Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz crossed the finish line to the welcoming embrace of the entire Audi Sport team, a scene that could not have been more fitting: not only had they won the world’s toughest rally raid with an alternative powertrain concept, but they'd done so on Audi's Dakar farewell.

Top Gear Audi Dakar 2024 Stage 12

This year's edition did not hold back; the race organisers threw everything they could at the 778-strong field that started the rally a fortnight ago. Many of which have failed to the finish. It’s arguably been the toughest route since the Dakar's move to Saudi Arabia in 2020, from the never-ending see-saw of dunes in the vast Empty Quarter to the treacherous, jagged quarries that threatened to upset the order on the penultimate day. Yet Sainz and Cruz stood firm as they clinched their fourth overall win as a pairing with a final margin of one hour and 20 minutes over Guillaume De Mévius, with Sebastien Loeb – Sainz’s closest challenger until the penultimate stage – just shy of five minutes further back.

Sainz didn't win a stage on this year's Dakar – consistency was instead his favoured currency. It was a sign of how prudent a decision that was that he ended eight of the 12 stages at the head of the order; once he'd assumed the lead for a second time after the 48h Chrono stage, held over two days at the end of week one, no other driver led the field.

That consistent approach was on full display come the final day, as Sainz and Cruz took to the road for one final stage – a loop out of and back into the Red Sea port city of Yanbu – to confirm their coronation. Knowing the hard work had been done a day before by avoiding any slip-ups on a gruelling 420km AlUla to Yanbu stage, this was a more serene affair for the pair. Though it wasn't without its challenges, the 175km route's wide-open valleys, gravel tracks and seaside escapade were the highlights of this final dash to the chequered flag.

Top Gear Audi Dakar 2024 Stage 12

Champion-elect though he was, this was not the time for any showboating from Sainz. But his sizeable advantage did mean there was no need to “rush”, as he’d put it the evening before, and in keeping with the understated way he’d gone about his march to victory he simply ticked off the final kilometres on his route back into Yanbu. The 11-minute gap to stage winner Loeb didn’t matter a jot: here he was, at the finish, having added the 2024 Dakar Rally to his 2010, 2018 and 2020 triumphs.

Audi had already broken new ground with its pioneering RS Q e-tron on its previous two attempts at the Dakar, proving its alternative drivetrain concept was up to the test. But the upgraded 2024 version of the car proved the most competitive and durable yet. Two stage wins took Audi’s tally to seven across three years, with two Prologue triumphs for good measure, and through 14 days of competition, not once did the brain-scramblingly complex RS Q e-tron’s drivetrain falter.

But the ultimate proof of concept is the one that will endure the longest: Dakar Rally 2024 victory.

Top Gear Audi Dakar 2024 Stage 12

For more Audi performance stories, head this way

*This vehicle shown here is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model. Closed course, professional driver. Do not attempt. The Audi RS Q e-tron combines an electric drivetrain with an energy converter system comprising a TFSI engine and generator.

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