Audi Sport and Mattias Ekström secure three Stage podiums in a row | Top Gear
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Thursday 2nd February
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Audi Sport and Mattias Ekström secure three Stage podiums in a row

Even sandy motion sickness can’t stop Audi’s super Swede climbing the overall rankings table

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The 2023 Dakar Rally really hasn’t hesitated to throw curveballs at the Team Audi Sport crew. But Mattias Ekström didn’t flinch as the second week of the event came to an end with him scoring another stage podium despite the wholly unfamiliar terrain.

The Swede is a two-time DTM champion and landed the World Rallycross crown in 2016, so is no stranger to asphalt and a bit of gravel. But prior to visiting the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia this week, he was much less accustomed to traversing massive dunes. Yet that didn’t show in the slightest.

Ekström and co-driver Emil Bergkvist set the second-fastest time on day 14 as they completed the second Marathon Stage – which meant camping overnight and having to service the electrified RS Q e-tron themselves while the Audi engineering crew had to sit tight at the Shaybah bivouac across Thursday and Friday.

The 185km competitive element to Stage 12 was dominated by dunes, which pose a real challenge when it comes to navigation. As per the rally-raid format, Bergkvist was only supplied with the route guide 15 minutes before the duo set off. With so little time to learn the way, the constant rise and falls of the landscape mean it’s easy to lose your bearings while trying to find each checkpoint. It’s also ensures that motion sickness poses a real threat in the hot conditions.

Just imagine the scene. You’re in the middle of an uninhabited, scorching desert. Naturally, you're surrounded by sand and pass through a dried-up lakebed. So, which ailment poses the biggest risk to your day? Er, sea sickness, of course.

But the occupants of the #211 car were unfazed, as they completed the stage in just under two hours to finish only three minutes behind pacesetter Sébastien Loeb. That completed a hat-trick of consecutive stage podiums and helped the pair to keep climbing to 18th in the overall order with two days of the Dakar Rally remaining.

“It’s for sure a nice result,” said Ekström. “But when I finished the first stage, I said to Emil I feel so bad. Firstly, physically, you feel strange going up and down so much. You lose your reference points, and you don’t feel great. But with the result, I had no idea what to expect. We could have been P10 but then when we saw we were P3 [on Thursday] and then P2 [today], we were pleased.”

The impressive result came despite Ekström not pushing flat out in a bid to complete the famous off-road enduro without further incident. He added: “If we would take more risks, maybe we would go faster but you don’t know if you will finish! In this region, I must admit I am a real rookie. I’ve never been in this part of the world before and driving in these types of dunes.”

For Stage 13, competitors will say goodbye to the Empty Quarter and the dunes as they battle for 154km on the leg from Shaybah to the penultimate bivouac at Al-Hofuf.

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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