In January 2022, Audi will write a completely new chapter in the brand’s illustrious motorsport history, when it seeks to become the first manufacturer to win the gruelling Dakar Rally with electric drive – champion driver, Mattias Ekström will be tasked with driving one of the three Audi race vehicles.
At 42 years of age, Mattias Ekström is the junior in Audi Sport’s champion line-up of driver’s for next year’s Dakar Rally, but his experience and career to date are nothing short of exceptional. Hi long and illustrious career with Audi has seen the Swede with the World Rallycross championship, as well as two DTM championships and win the Race of Champions four times.
“It’s great that I can now tackle this new challenge with Audi Sport after our many successful years together,” says Ekström.
“With the e-drive, power and torque are instantly available at the slightest touch of the accelerator pedal. Another advantage, especially when driving in the dunes, is the single-speed transmission, which saves constant up and down shifts.”
In 2021, Ekström drove a buggy prototype at Dakar – his first taste of this tough event and of what is to come next year. His most important insight after the almost 8,000-kilometre marathon through the deserts of Saudi Arabia:
“The key factor at the Dakar Rally is that as a driver you must manage the relationship between performance and risk as well as possible.”
“In addition, in a cross-country rally like the Dakar, you can never predict the track and landscape exactly. You have to constantly feel out the conditions while driving as fast as possible. With all the sand and dust, it’s like flying blind on some stretches. That’s why you have to pay even more attention to the notes and commands of your co-driver sitting to your right.”
For the circuit specialist Ekström, this is unfamiliar territory, but not entirely new. After some rally events during his long career, he is taking part in all of the rounds of the new Extreme E off-road racing series for CUPRA in 2021. This series is open to purely electrically powered spec-SUVs, and although the the racing takes place on circuits, the wind and weather are also constantly changing the loose road surface.
The heat will also be a very special challenge for Mattias Ekström at the Dakar Rally. “Since an illness when I was 22, I tend to sweat quickly. That means losing a lot of fluids, especially in the desert. So in order not to lose performance physically and mentally as a result, you have to drink more. But then you weigh more, because of getting additional ballast packed into your car and that costs you speed,” says Ekström as he explains his special personal challenge.
Despite almost 30 years as an active racing driver, Ekström feels ‘like a junior’ in the new Audi project, with fellow Audi Sport drivers, Stéphane Peterhansel (55) and Carlos Sainz (59).
“The two of them show that you need a huge amount of experience for cross-country rallies like the Dakar. In driving, in navigating and, in an emergency, also in repairing the car. Whenever I see Carlos, I say to myself: Mattias, you’re only halfway through your racing career.”
“As long as I have the fitness necessary to drive, together with my mental prerequisites for and my eyes still working, I’ll continue to enjoy racing. Because, I love it and am also a bit addicted to it!”