Peterhansel at the Dakar with Audi’s electric SUV: “A first step in the right direction”

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Stéphane Peterhansel, “Mr Dakar”, officially made his debut in front of the public as an Audi official driver in Trento, on the occasion of the Sport Festival. Last August he turned 56, over 30 of which he spent preparing and competing in the toughest rally raid in the world which, after leaving Africa, had landed in South America before landing in Saudi Arabia. The rider has won 6 Dakars on motorcycles, with Yamaha, and another 8 in cars with Mitsubishi (3), Puegeot (2) and Mini (3), but he is still hungry for adventure (“I always train outdoors, I don’t I can do it indoors “) and of successes.

“I don’t know what Audi’s communication strategy is – admits Peterhansel – but in the first year with the new car I consider a place in the top five to be a good result. In 2023 we can also think of winning “. The prudence of the transalpine champion is not one of those of circumstance. The German manufacturer has decided to entrust three crews (the other two are led by Carlos Sainz, 57 years old so far the oldest winner of a Dakar, and Mattias Ekström) the new Audi RS Q e-tron, the battery-powered suv extended autonomy that mounts two electric motors derived from Formula E and the four-cylinder turbo petrol used in the DTM of Germany which is used to recharge the 50 kWh accumulator.

Compared to a vehicle weighing over two tons, Peterhansel estimates a reduction in fuel consumption between 30 and 40%, which means a saving of a hundred liters in the tank. “Some will say it’s not much, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he adds. The availability of power and torque linked to the electric thrust (the conventional engine works exclusively to power the battery) and the braking system are among the elements that positively surprised Peterhansel. Which, on the other hand, did not hide the problems related to both high temperatures (in the tests in Morocco the external ones reached 47 ° in the shade) and sand infiltrations. On the safety front, the crews had to adapt to the same provisions adopted in Formula E, where it is forbidden to disassemble by touching the car and the ground at the same time.

The Frenchman does not say if after the last success, obtained in January, he really intended to quit. However, he says that “Audi’s project is not one to which one can say no”. In Trento he also remembers that fear is among the reasons that led him to leave the bikes: “I realized that after ten years I was already the one who had won the most on the saddle and I was still healthy. Before each race, however, my stomach was in turmoil at least half an hour before the start: with the cars I no longer have this feeling ”. Peterhansel makes no secret of the psychological strain of always running alone. “Motivation is fundamental, but to win you also need experience and perseverance: arriving at the front in many stages and then finishing last in a stage doesn’t make you win the Dakar,” he explains.

That of Audi, which downloaded Formula E to invest in the Dakar, is an operation of perspective. Electrification is inevitable, at least in the opinion of the whole group, which does not even believe in hydrogen. The RS Q e-tron (up to 680 HP of power, although not all of them can be used in the race) is an SUV with which the manufacturer aims to make a traditional competition emotional with an innovative solution. Audi’s rivals compete on conventional power supplies and compete in the same ranking. “It would be okay for me to win in 2023,” smiles Peterhansel.

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