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“It’s yet another revolution”

Together with his co-driver Emil Bergkvist, long-time Audi Sport companion Mattias Ekström is taking up the 2022 Dakar Rally challenge. We talked to him about this new approach to a legendary adventure, rally’s allure and the importance of team spirit.

10/13/2021 Text: AUDI AG - Photo: Julian Rausche, AUDI AG Reading Time: 7 min

Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist in the desert.
Mattias Ekström (right) and Emil Bergkvist (left) form one of three driver teams contesting the Dakar Rally under the Audi Sport banner in January 2022.

Mattias, you’re undertaking a very special adventure by driving an innovative rally vehicle, the Audi RS Q e-tron¹, in the legendary Dakar Rally. If that’s the future, what’s your first memory of rallying and Audi?

Mattias Ekström: That would be Stig Blomqvist driving an Audi rally car in the 1980s. I was six or seven years old, and Stig was a big star in Sweden. The way he mastered races had a big impact on me. Seeing how passionate all those crews were was the main reason I became a racing driver myself. I have a lot of respect for all the rally guys.

 

What in general sets rallying apart from other motorsports? 

For me, rally is the most unique, most extreme motorsport. I think it’s also the most difficult one. For example, the roads – if there are any – are often very narrow, allowing virtually no room for error. Not only are the distances covered very great, but the ground surface and conditions can change abruptly. The equipment has to stay the course – and the team even more so. Motor racing is always a team sport and that’s true above all of rallying where you rely on your co-driver. The two of you have to have an almost symbiotic relationship.

 

Speaking of co-drivers, yours is Emil Bergkvist. Why him?

Emil Bergkvist has ten years of rally driving experience and even won the Junior World Rally Championships. So he knows what it’s like to pilot a rally car. He signed on with my motorsport team EKS and performed incredibly well. That was reason enough for me to ask him to be my co-driver. He is young, motivated and hungry for success – all good qualities if we want a shot at a good result in the Dakar Rally.

¹This vehicle is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model.

¹This vehicle is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model.

You rely on your co-driver. The two of you have to have an almost symbiotic relationship.”

Mattias Ekström

The Audi RS Q e-tron in the desert
At the 2022 Dakar Rally, the newly developed Audi RS Q e-tron¹ will be used for the first time under the toughest competition conditions. According to Mattias Ekström, the tests in the run-up were promising.
Emil Bergkvist at the wheel of the Audi RS Q e-tron with Mattias Ekström in the background.
Role reversal: Emil Bergkvist at the wheel of the Audi RS Q e-tron¹. Co-drivers also need an intimate understanding of the vehicle’s characteristics. Bergkvist can rely on ten years of experience as a rally driver.

¹This vehicle is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model.

¹This vehicle is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model.

What experience have you had with the Dakar?

I have driven it once. The days are unbelievably demanding – you wake up in the mornings and face four-to-six-hour stages crossing super-rough terrain. You go from having really huge stones flying around, into the mud and then over sand and dunes. And all of it is taken at high speed, so it can get really tough in places. That’s why you need a car that can handle all that. Seeing how you react under such extreme circumstances is an adventure of its own, as you swing from happiness to disappointment and back. It’s really emotional.

 

While the other Audi Sport driver teams have competed in the Dakar several times and claimed a number of victories, you and Emil Bergkvist have only participated once before. Does that mean you face a bigger challenge or maybe have an advantage?

While motorsports is all about experience, the Dakar is different every day. Over the two weeks, you never know what to expect on any given day. Without a doubt, it’s the toughest of all motorsport competitions. And from an Audi Sport perspective, the electrified powertrain will be completely new to all of us.

The brand’s drive to stay one step ahead and to push boundaries is probably one of the Four Ring’s greatest assets.”

Mattias Ekström

You mentioned that the Audi RS Q e-tron¹ is an all-new race car developed by Audi Sport for the 2022 Dakar Rally: What do you think it will be like competing with an electric drivetrain²?

I think the electric drivetrain² will improve our performance, above all on the dunes. Since the electric drivetrain² doesn’t have a gearbox, you don’t have to worry about shifting. At the same time, the engineers face a big challenge in ensuring that the drivetrain² is immune to all the shocks and that the car can handle anything thrown at it. There’s no pit stop for quick repairs or adjustments when you’re racing through the desert.

 

Now you’re taking on the ultimate rally. What’s more, there won’t be any snow! 

Yes, the Dakar is one of the longest, hardest and most dangerous rallies. You need a truly robust car, driver, navigator and crew. Those two weeks are really a huge challenge for the car and the crew as well as the ultimate test of the drivetrain.

 

What does this new chapter mean to you personally?

When I saw the Audi RS Q e-tron¹ for the first time, I was really impressed. Everyone in motorsport is always focused on developing further and gaining a competitive edge. Being given the opportunity to be a part of another great chapter in the Four Rings’ racing history feels like going back to the future again.

¹This vehicle is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model.
²The Audi RS Q e-tron combines an electric drivetrain with an energy converter system based on the TFSI engine and a generator.

¹This vehicle is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model.
²The Audi RS Q e-tron combines an electric drivetrain with an energy converter system based on the TFSI engine and a generator.

Close-up of Mattias Ekström’s face as he sits behind the wheel of his rally car.
Mattias Ekström concentrates on what lies ahead. For him, being part of another chapter in the Four Rings’ racing history feels like going back to the future again.

This vehicle is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model.

This vehicle is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model.

Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist

A versatile racing driver who is ready for any challenge, Mattias Ekström is a former World Rallycross champion, two-time DTM champion and the winner of four Race of Champions titles. The Swede was an Audi factory driver from 1999 to 2017 and now joins one of Audi Sport’s trio of driver teams competing in the Dakar Rally.

 

Emil Bergkvist has ten years of experience as a rally driver. The 27-year-old Swede even won the Junior World Rally Championships in 2018. In 2021, he switched to the co-driver’s seat and teamed up with the sportsman he idolised in his youth – Mattias Ekström.

Audi has an impressive legacy of introducing innovation that changed motorsport. When you think of how Audi influenced rallying, what comes to mind?

Before Audi developed quattro in the 1980s, four-wheel drive wasn’t really taken seriously in motorsport. But in combination with the five-cylinder engine and the car’s looks, it was totally revolutionary. I am quite sure that if Audi hadn’t been involved in rallying at that time, quattro wouldn’t have enjoyed the same levels of acceptance and success. The brand’s drive to stay one step ahead, push boundaries and leap into the unknown is probably one of the Four Rings’ greatest assets. The Dakar Rally is a prime example. I really look forward to taking on this new challenge. 

 

Talking about the Dakar Rally again, do you need to be a bit crazy to take on that challenge? 

I don’t think it’s crazy to champion new ideas. When I learned about the new Audi Dakar concept, I understood that this is yet another revolution. So, I think what Audi is doing is pretty brave. And I’m sure the fans and everybody else is wondering whether Audi really can conquer Dakar with an electric drivetrain and a new concept. Nobody knows the answer yet, but Emil Bergkvist and I will definitely fight to the very last to get our car from the start all the way across the finish line.

The Road to Dakar | Driving the Audi RS Q e-tron¹

¹This vehicle shown here is the Rally Dakar vehicle that is not available as a production model. Closed course, professional driver. Do not attempt.

¹This 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 Sport building can be seen behind a small wall.

The World of Audi Sport

Fascination with motorsport is the beating heart of Audi Sport. Find out more and more about the Audi Sport Dakar project here.

Learn more

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