It then made a very good first impression by immediately winning 4 stages, with the Spanish champion the first driver that year to give shape to such an ambitious technological revolution. Perhaps it was a sign of destiny, even when the RS Q e-Tron cars went through lean times, specifically on the 2023 vintage, when only one of the three vehicles, driven by Ekström, made it to the finish in 14th place in the general rankings. The rest of the season was not much better, despite the single Audi victory obtained by ‘Peter’ in Abu Dhabi. The trio even seemed somewhat down in the dumps on arriving in AlUla. Everything changed in the Empty Quarter, which Carlos Sainz approached without having made the slightest mistake before resisting the difficulties of the 48 HR Chrono stage while all his rivals were scattered all over the place: Yazeed Al Rajhi rolled his car and exited the race, Nasser Al Attiyah plummeted out of the reckoning on his favourite terrain, though Sébastien Loeb breathed new life into his quest for overall victory and represented a genuine threat for week two.
The promised duel indeed took place and both El Matador and the hunter from Alsace hit stumbling blocks, especially on stage 10. While Carlos was able to take advantage of support from his two teammates, who were distanced in the general rankings but still able to provide a reassuring convoy for their team leader, Seb, forced to embark on a risky high-speed chase, eventually failed in his comeback, yet he did manage to save a place (3rd) on the final podium in extremis, the 5th of his career in eight participations. Arriving in Yanbu as the four-ringed brand’s hero, Sainz sealed a fourth victory on the Dakar, putting him on par with Ari Vatanen in the history books, but having won with four different constructors (Volkswagen, Mini, Peugeot and Audi) over a 14-year period!
Between Sainz’s Audi and Loeb’s Prodrive Hunter, a third brand climbed onto the podium (a first since 2019), but it was not driven by the most expected pretender at this level. Following the departure of Al Attiyah, Toyota were considerably counting on Yazeed Al Rajhi to pick up the torch, but that came to nothing. Instead, Guerlain Chicherit was among those best placed to finally achieve consecration, though a poor start with a time loss of 1 hour and 30 minutes on stage 4 put paid to his chances. Nevertheless, the man from Savoy managed to bounce back in a battling manner to obtain the best finish of his career, at the foot of the podium, with two stage wins under his belt. Above all, Chicherit can be delighted that his team recruited their own prodigal son, young Belgian driver Guillaume de Mevius, who, also behind the wheel of a Hilux, reached the second step of the final podium on his first participation in the queen category. In the Toyota clan (combining Overdrive and Gazoo Racing) this will have helped to swallow the rather bitter pill of Seth Quintero’s lukewarm debut (40th) or the tumble down the general rankings from 3rd to 9th place suffered by Lucas Moraes two days from the finish.
The top ten places were at a premium at the end of this week, because behind Martin Prokop, the 3rd former WRC driver in the top 5, the five other members of the elite were all within a 25-minute time bracket and all changed positions during the last three days: for better for Guy Boterill (6th), Giniel de Villiers (7th) and Benediktas Vanagas (8th), but for worse for Moraes (9th) and Mathieu Serradori (10th). For the third best placed Frenchman, it will be scant consolation that he finished with the title for two-wheel drive cars, given that he was still in 6th place at the start of stage 11.