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Carlos Sainz snr favours dune-bashing over retirement

Known as 'El Matador', veteran driver Carlos Sainz is a rallying legend. But he’s not finished yet, aiming for his fourth Dakar win

Sure, you know the name from Formula 1. But Carlos Sainz senior isn’t sat at home with his feet up, lapping up the languid life of retirement watching Carlos junior attempt to topple Max Verstappen’s dominance. Quite the opposite. Instead, he’s putting in preparation for a potential fourth Dakar win as he takes to the desert once again.

‘El Matador’ is one of the most successful motorsport athletes of all time, earning World Rally Championship trophies in 1990 and 1992, as well as breaking multiple WRC records over the course of more than two decades. His 97 podium finishes in the sport are only vanquished by a pair of speedy Sébastiens who gladly picked up his baton when he left the series. Even after two decades away from WRC he remains in the all-time top 10 for championship points, starts, event wins and stage wins.

After a career like that you’d forgive him hanging up the jumpsuit and helmet ready to watch his son carry on the good Sainz name. But Carlos snr is one of those ‘genuinely passionate’ people we keep hearing so much about, so, at 43 years old, he set off into the wild blue yonder in search of rally raid success.

He found it on his third attempt, beating none other than Stéphane Peterhansel at the 2008 Central Europe Rally, which took the place of that year’s Dakar. Beating the ‘King of Dakar’ on your third attempt at a new sporting discipline is a decent way to lay down your gauntlet. We wonder how often it pops into idle bivouac chit-chat now that both Sainz and Peterhansel are on the same team…

Actual Dakar success came in 2010, 2018 and again in 2020, backed up by an astonishing 47 Dakar stage wins. No, that’s not a misprint – forty-seven. But there’s no argument that co-driver Lucas Cruz has been instrumental to Sainz’s Dakar success, the pair having first paired up during that 2010 victory, their working relationship bounding from strength to strength since.

Lucas Cruz Dakar 2024

Regardless of the car Sainz drives or country he drives it through, Cruz’s cool head, steady hand and iron stomach (imagine reading a book on a rollercoaster and you’re barely halfway there) has ensured expert navigation across the harsh terrain and up to top spot on the podium. Given the pair have known each other since 1994 it’s safe to assume they’ve sorted out rhythms and patterns to stay on top of the fast-changing conditions they’re charging through, as well as manage any disgruntlements that arise under pressure. Cruz confidently states “you usually know exactly what’s going on in the other person’s head at any given moment.”

Throughout his WRC career, Sainz was a fearsome foe – not only for his consistent pace, but for how consistently he’d put pressure on other drivers and wait for them to make mistakes. And he was doing this at full race pace, too. “When I say I go, I go – full commitment,” Sainz has previously asserted. Having already racked up three Dakar wins, we suspect his modus operandi hasn’t changed much.

Nor, by the looks of it, have his talents. He’ll turn 62 in April 2024 but that’s not stopping him returning to the physical and mental extremes of the Dakar Rally for 2024 – and not for a delightful cameo lap in one of the classics but piloting a cutting-edge hybrid prototype in the Ultimate T1 category in his third season as an Audi Sport athlete. Clearly the dramatic crash that ended his 2023 assault hasn’t given Sainz too much of a fright.

“Challenges drive you,” he says. “They make your brain work. To think about what you need to do to achieve your dreams.” El Matador has broken plenty of records and accrued dozens of trophies – but this particular dream is a long way from over yet.

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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