Among the changes to the Dakar Rally for 2023 is a new mode on the stages: The previous neutralization zones with 15 to 20-minute breaks will now be eliminated. “Without these intermediate times on the road, we no longer know exactly where we stand compared to the competition,” emphasizes Mattias Ekström. For Carlos Sainz it’s déjà vu: “It’s like a return to the old days, because this used to be normal. Basically, we can tell the pace of our direct opponents, who are three minutes ahead or behind us, by whether or not one car catches up with the other.” Another challenge: The proportion of dune passages will increase significantly in 2023. “For me, driving in the dunes is easier,” says Edouard Boulanger. “I don’t have to give my driver as many directional indications. Navigation should also be easier. But on the other hand, the physical strain increases significantly because the car keeps bouncing in and out a lot.” His driver is also looking forward to the sand mountains: “I like returning to the Empty Quarter, and for four days. It will be a very authentic Dakar.”
Carlos Sainz highlights another aspect. “The event has changed significantly over the past three years,” observes the Spaniard. “Now the hidden waypoints are eliminated and we follow the compass direction more closely. The Empty Quarter will be difficult, but Lucas and I are prepared.” Cruz advises, “In the dunes, however, the reference lines of other competitors are also missing. And it’s not exactly easy to drive a straight line through chains of dunes as required by a given compass direction.” No matter how tough the stages get, everyone agrees on one thing. “The temperatures are easy to handle with such a powerful air conditioning system as in the Audi RS Q e-tron,” says Stéphane Peterhansel, speaking on behalf of his colleagues.