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How does the King of Dakar prepare for his *thirty-sixth* event?

Stéphane Peterhansel has won Dakar more times than anyone, with victories on two wheels and four. Can he lead Audi to victory in 2024?

“It was great fun to explore Paris with our RS Q e-tron,” said Stéphane Peterhansel back in September. “With electric drive we rolled almost silently through this wonderful city and inspired many people.”

When you’ve got the King of Dakar on your team, why would you not let him sightsee around the French capital in his rather boisterous company car? While drifting in view of the Arc de Triomphe is one way to put a smile on one of your driver’s face, it was all wonderfully symbolic, too. Peterhansel’s unconventional city tour culminated with a visit to the start line of the very first Paris-Dakar event in 1979 – where else but the Eiffel Tower. It sure does beat sightseeing from an open-top bus.

Peterhansel has raced Dakar 35 times during which he’s stood upon the podium’s top step on a jaw-dropping 14 occasions – eight times on a motorbike and six behind the wheel of a car. This is a man of many skills.

He’s also been runner-up three times and finished third twice, which means he’s bothered the podium in more than half the Dakar Rallies he’s entered. And spent over half his life entering them.

The apple never falls to far from the tree and his father, a motocross racer, gave Stéphane his first motorcycle at the age of eight. A decade later, aged 18, he competed in his first enduro championship and, setting the tone for the decades to come, won straight away. No wonder he made his Dakar debut in 1988 – at the tender age of 22 – with his first victory arriving with just his fourth foray into the desert.

How does he do it? Well, ‘disciplined’ and ‘methodical’ are two words that represent his driving style. To win this many rallies in the baking desert heat it’s vital that one keeps their cool, something that Peterhansel has seemingly mastered. He can handle a car with aplomb, of course, but the backbone beneath that is a mental ability to plan well ahead in making proactive moves amid the tumultuous terrain. “Whoever tackles this race should not be crazy,” the King of Dakar admits, “otherwise you won’t make it to the finish.”

Edouard Boulanger

Of course every great rally driver needs an equally great – and equally measured – co-driver. So meet Edouard Boulanger. If he were from UK shores, he’d be called Edward Baker in our comparatively romance-free language. But as the fates would have it, he’s every bit as French as Peterhansel, another Paris resident who got to revisit his birthplace from the lofty seat of the RS Q e-tron. We doubt he needed pace notes for this particular stage...

As well as being a skilled co-driver and properly handy off-road rider, Boulanger is a trained and experienced mechanical engineer. Which means he not only understands Peterhansel but can even make sense of the wizardry going on in the prototype hybrid racer they’re piloting. Crucial on those late bivouac nights when the day’s meticulously written script has since been torn asunder.

Yet despite a CV that’d get him a seat in plentiful racecars, Boulanger remains particularly modest. “I never had the talent that Stéphane has,” he reckons. You, us and most of the world, Eddie, but do go on. “Stéphane never gets stressed out,” he says. “I have zero doubts about his abilities.”

Neither do we. On the RS Q e-tron’s Dakar debut in 2022 the pair managed a stage win (Peterhansel’s 49th overall) with an entirely new drivetrain setup to master. 2023 proved a less rosy as Peterhansel and Boulanger crashed out, but it’s not stalled their passion. Quite the opposite; becoming the first Dakar winner with an electrified car remains Stéphane’s target as the hot Arabian sun starts to set on his rally raid career. “This is probably the last step I can take as a professional driver,” he admits. “It would be perfect for me.”

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.

Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger

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