Forty years on, Audi’s Dakar debut

Forty years on, Audi’s Dakar debut

Surely Audi Sport has done the desert race? No. But now it’s crafting an electrified game-changer

In a neater version of history, Audi Sport would have entered the 1985 Dakar Rally with the Quattro and after nearly 9000 miles – from Versailles, through the Sahara and into Senegal – they would have filled the podium. Audi had recently transformed rallying with the Quattro, scoring its first wins in 1981. And the VW/Audi all-wheel-drive system had already proved itself in the second ever Dakar, in 1981, when the VW Iltis had finished first, second, fourth and ninth. But full works entries were not the done thing in those days. So the official Audi Sport effort stayed focused on World Rally, switching to the stubbier S1 version, and the French importer was given three long-wheelbase rally Quattros.

Sponsored by real-estate company Malardeau, and prepped by ROC, the cars were given a higher seating position and extra fuel tanks, plus skid plates and bull bars similar to those used by Audi Sport in the Safari Rally.

They finished 17th and 37th – not high enough to convince Ingolstadt to commit. That left Porsche clear to finish one-two the following year with the 959.

But in 2022 Audi Sport will finally be ready to make its first official works entry into the Dakar, now based in Saudi Arabia. The prototype car will be entirely new, but will draw on Audi experience in DTM (which it left last year) and Formula E (which it’s about to leave).

The wheels will be driven by an electric powertrain, feeding from a battery, which will in turn be charged by a TFSI petrol engine. That makes Audi the first big manufacturer to tackle the Dakar with an alternative-fuel car (although many innovative green one-offs have taken part). The organisers have pledged to move in a more sustainable direction, with all four-wheelers using zero-emissions power by 2030.

Audi is clearly out for victory, employing a driver line-up that’s more than familiar with the top step. It includes Carlos Sainz, winner of two WRC crowns and three Dakars, and Stéphane Peterhansel, who has won the Dakar six times on bikes and eight in cars. The three-car team will be run by Sven Quandt, who’s successfully bossed the X-Raid team to five Dakar wins.

So this could be the much-delayed start of Audi’s Dakar dominance. Or if it doesn’t quite go to plan, meet back here in the 2060s…

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