words: Ola Lereim of ableitet.no, Photo: Getty Images, José Lourseau of dakardantan.com
Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the Q2_2020 issue of quattro Magazine. If you would like to subscribe to quattro Magazine, please join Audi Club here.
Amongst endurance rallies, the original iteration of the Paris-Dakar Rally holds maybe the most enduring, where the contestants started off the new year in Paris, travelled across the Sahara, and turned into West-Africa, with the majority of entrants mainly privateers racing motor bikes, cars, and utility vehicles. No wonder such diversity drew approximately 80,000 spectators to the Parisian starting point in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
Back in 1985 during the advent of the Group B rally era, manufacturers were just beginning to take part. Porsche arrived, somewhat under the radar with their surfacing 959s under the ‘Jacky Ickx racing team’ entry. Audi was more officially involved, as the French Audi importer Concessionaires VAG, entered three former works quattros into the run; Nos. 199, 200, and 201. These were raced by Darniche & Mahé, Lapeyre & Lourseau, and Rigal & Dery respectively.
At the time Group B had begun in the WRC, and Audi Sport had turned its focus to the short-wheelbase Sport quattro, making any long wheelbase quattro relatively “obsolete” and more or less destined for the privateering market. This was also the case for the 1985 Paris-Dakar entries, although one of the quattros was already revised into newer Group B specifications since it had competed with Bernard Darniche in French rounds throughout the 1984 season.
Fred Stalder of ROC in France was given the task of preparing the cars. ROC has a long history working with Audi in the 80s and 90s. Retaining the long-wheelbase was perfect due the need to focus on high speed over agility for Dakar. Seating was elevated for improved visibility, giving the cars a rather noticeable roof silhouette, and shortened side windows allowed for filling fuel into the high-capacity 340 liter three-tank fuel storage. The forward-centric engine placement of the Audi coupes was a concern, so proper skid plates and cow-bar extensions similar to what Audi Sport used on the Safari Rally were also fitted.
Mechanically, they featured newer quattro A1/A2 style components, and the 10-valve engines were claimed a “lesser” 330 hp running 1.2 BAR boost and managed by the usual works dual Bosch motorsport Motronic ECUs. Such a setup also contains a manual boost regulator, like certain Porsches, and it’s likely the more conventional cast-iron blocks were used together with a reduced boost level for durability, since more recent setups from Lehmann in period were in the 420-480 hp range at the time. Unlike these cars, the Group B Sport quattro had moved to a lighter aluminium engine block.
Where the innovative 959s stole the press’ attention early on, their mechanical issues and the ever-shifting top contenders took some of the focus over to the quattros from Audi France, and Darniche had even taken the lead after the prologue. Having experience with the quattro in rally had positioned him as the mentor of the group, familiarizing the other members on the handling characteristics, even with an outing in Algeria. Skills and experiences aside, transmission issues proved a weak point for the French drivers, not unlike the Audi Sport team had experienced in the WRC.
By the end of the rally, the Audi quattros finished 17th (Lapeyre/Lorseau) and 37th (Rigal/Dery). The promising efforts of Darniche sadly ended, first slowed by a gearbox issue, then his quattro later caught fire and fell victim to the desert.
The remaining two quattros returned to France, and later would serve duty in some ice-racing at Chamonix. Since then, their whereabouts remain a mystery.