Dakar's Stage 6 delivers a setback for Audi Sport | Top Gear
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Dakar's Stage 6 delivers a setback for Audi Sport

Two unlucky incidents on one dune sees Mattias Ekström now lead the charge for glory

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The fearsome and unforgiving nature of the Dakar Rally has truly made itself known to Audi in 2023. Off-road legends Stéphane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz were knocked out of podium contention on a difficult seventh day to leave Mattias Ekström to front the Ingolstadt attack.

Ahead of a run from Ha’il to the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh, Team Audi Sport woke up with veteran driver Peterhansel sitting second overall while Sainz had climbed to fourth. However, a brace of incidents within moments of one another on a dune during Stage 6 has dashed the duo's hopes.

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Peterhansel, who holds the Dakar record with no fewer than 14 victories, was leading the special stage – shortened by 100km owing to flooding – when his electrified RS Q e-tron endured a hard landing off a sizeable dune after 212 of the 357km. While the car came away largely unscathed, co-driver Edouard Boulanger was injured after the impact.

He reported back pain and was duly airlifted to a nearby hospital for further examination and has been subsequently flown back to Germany for further checks. Although Boulanger is conscious, has been in contact with his team-mates and no permanent injury is anticipated, the #204 machine has accordingly been withdrawn from the rest of the event.

While the two incidents were separate, within a matter of metres of each other, Sainz endured his own costly landing. The front-left corner of his RS Q e-tron dug in to leave the suspension severely damaged. He and navigator Lucas Cruz had to wait for the high-voltage assistant to arrive in Audi's race truck as for safety reasons, a high-voltage expert monitored the roadside repairs. A full assessment of the car will take place at the bivouac overnight.

Rolf Michel, Director Audi Sport Racing, said: “Stéphane and Carlos were close. Stéphane was the first one to go there. At this spot, there is a long jump. They landed flat down with a heavy impact. This was the first incident. The second incident, at the same spot, was Carlos. He landed a bit more on the left front. The energy went through the car and the car was heavily damaged."

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That leaves double DTM champion Mattias Ekström as Audi’s best bet of securing a podium. The Swede clocked the sixth-best stage time – 11 minutes down on in-form Toyota Hilux pilot Nasser Al Attiyah – to gain three places overall as he ranks a fine fifth in the general classification.

“We had some smaller [technical] issues similar to yesterday in the beginning of the stage,” reckoned Ekström. “Then we decided to take a conservative approach and just drove the stage from start to end. At one stage, I didn’t feel so confident with the road book. I just felt that it was not my day. Then I drove carefully and maybe not at my best.

“I saw the accident of Carlos and I saw the car of Stéphane, but I didn’t know exactly what it was. But Carlos just waved at us [to carry on] so we drove to the finish and got the news once we drove to the finish line.”

The route for Stages 7 and 8 have been tweaked in response to flooding. As such, Saturday’s course – a blend of sand and pebbles – will now run for 333km and stretches from Riyadh to Al Duwadimi. And even after major setbacks, Audi is still fighting for a podium and on a mission. So stay tuned for more. 

*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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