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Mattias Ekström wins Dakar’s eighth stage

A masterful second Dakar stage win for Ekström marks a near-perfect day for Audi

No other motorsport event can provide quite such disparate emotions from one day to the next as the Dakar Rally. After Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist plumbed the depths of despair on a deflating Sunday following a mechanical issue that knocked them out of any chance overall victory, just 24 short hours later their second Dakar stage win left Audi celebrating a landmark 1-2-4 result and a significant boost to Carlos Sainz’s overall lead.

Ekström cut an understandably crestfallen character on Monday morning, following his exit from second overall a day earlier. There, suspension woes grounded his Audi RS Q e-tron to a halt with less than 50km on the board on stage seven. He admitted motivation was in short supply when he woke up a day later and that it hadn't been replenished by the time he reached the start line in Al Duwadimi. “When I woke up I felt no adrenaline like the other days. When I sat in the car on the road section I felt very empty,” said Ekström.

But the Dakar Rally has a funny way of reversing fortunes. As crushing as events the day before had been, wiping Ekström and the second of three electrified Audi RS Q e-trons out of contention, it didn’t take long for the super Swede to get his mojo back. “As soon as we started the stage, you start to sweat; it felt like any of the days before and the pace and the concentration came back pretty fast,” he added.

Top Gear Audi Dakar 2024 Stage 8

Monday’s lengthy 458km stage was one where navigation skills had to be sharp and concentration even sharper. Featuring a unique 179km, non-competitive transfer section on asphalt that separated two different challenges, it was literally a stage of two halves. The first took the field over alternating sand tracks and dunes with some seriously steep descents. Section two was for the most part much faster, with difficult-to-navigate changes of direction, before giving way to a track peppered with puncture-hungry stones that made for a task more akin to treading on eggshells for the prototype challengers pushing for the Ha’il finish.

Ekström’s progress was solid as he placed his wheels with care through the dunes, but he later came alive, making the car dance once he was on the faster, more WRC-like stage. Having more than halved his deficit during the first 20km or so after the transfer section, he’d assumed the net stage lead by the next waypoint and was not headed thereafter, finishing 2m45s up on stablemate Stéphane Peterhansel as Audi captured its first 1-2 of the 2024 edition. Scant consolation for Ekström, who’d far prefer to be in the picture for overall victory, but proof beyond any doubt of both his credentials and those of Audi’s innovative RS Q e-tron.

Peterhansel, also out of contention for an outright win following an issue of his own on the 48h Chrono stage that ended week one, was passed on stage eight by the sister car and couldn’t quite keep touch, but nevertheless brought home a second podium of the rally following his record-equalling 50th stage win eight days earlier.

Top Gear Audi Dakar 2024 Stage 8

“He woke me up a little bit!” said Peterhansel of Ekström’s pace. “This morning I started a little bit too slow, too safe, and after 150km I saw Mattias in the mirrors so I said, ‘I'm not fast enough’. He had really good speed.”

Carlos Sainz - the rally leader – came back to the bivouac in a beneficial fourth (so he doesn’t have to open the road tomorrow) to cap off a near-perfect day for Audi. El Matador’s overall race advantage has increased to 24m47s. It looked like it might be trimmed mid-stage, but Sainz earned a reprieve - just the reward for he and his co-driver Lucas Cruz’s persistence through another tough-to-navigate stage - when an error from chief chaser Sébastien Loeb sent the French driver on a 5km detour that helped Sainz replenish his margin by the best part of an additional six minutes.

“It was again not easy, the navigation, especially the last part,” said Sainz, who moved another step closer to a fourth Dakar Rally victory with four stages remaining. “The first part in the dunes, there were some very tricky places and then in the second part the navigation over the stones was the most [significant] thing in this stage. But all went fine, so no complaints.”

Top Gear Audi Dakar 2024 Stage 8

An overnight stay in the Ha’il bivouac is the jumping-off point for a return to where it all began 11 days ago in AlUla on Tuesday. The 436km route west includes some spectacular mountain views - not that the crews will have any time to take those in - before more rocky terrain requiring laser focus. The next few days are going to be worth tuning in for.

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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