Sainz: “With Audi the most difficult challenge of the career. It will be a Dakar full of surprises …”

The two-time world rally champion has accepted Audi’s bet: he will race the Dakar at the wheel of the RS Q e-tron, the first electric car in the most famous raid on the planet. “Every year I ask myself if at my age I can be with the best. So far the answer has always been yes … “

Paolo Ianieri

Thirty-one years ago he climbed Mount Olympus at the wheel of the Toyota Celica, the first of two World Championships won in rallies. The third faded 300 meters from the arrival of the last special of the 1998 Rally of Great Britain due to the failure of the Toyota Corolla engine. But like every time, a disappointment has simply strengthened his desire to get up, start again and win again. After all, it is enough to look Carlos Sainz in the eyes to see, inside that noble look at times hard and at other times of an intelligent and ironic smile, that competitive ferocity that belongs only to the great champions, that of those who are used to being the first in many challenges. : the first Spaniard to win a race (and then the World Championship) in rallies, the first non-Nordic driver to win the 1000 Laghi, the prince race of Finland.

sainz e le tre dakar

In over thirty years of career The matador he won a lot and everywhere, because after the rallies, his hunting ground became the raids, and even there, after a little study, he became one of the best: in the trophy room of his house in Madrid, they are beautiful shows the three statuettes reserved for the winner of the Dakar. The first, won in 2010 upon arriving in Buenos Aires at the wheel of the Volkswagen Touareg. Eight years and a long series of retirements later, here is the one he won with the Peugeot 3008 Dkr Maxi and then, two years ago, he signed the trio with the Mini John Cooper Works buggy in what represented the debut of the Dakar in Arabia. And now, because in life the important thing is never to stop, here he is at the wheel of the Audi RS Q e-tron the new bet launched by the German house, the Dakar with an electric vehicle. “Dreams can sometimes come true. But if you don’t believe it can happen, then it becomes very difficult to fight for things, ”says Sainz at one point. live to compete, Living to compete, the documentary that Amazon Prime Video made about his life and which recently aired in Spain. Three words that could not have better summarized the story of one of the greatest drivers that the off-road world has seen in action.

Sainz, but where do you find all this enthusiasm?

“I started racing when I still didn’t have a driving license, and that very strong passion that I had then, is what still pushed me to accept this new challenge from Audi, this new challenge of a crazy car with which to win, or try to win, the Dakar. There are no other words to explain all this, if not using the word passion itself. I still enjoy myself, I have the desire to prepare myself, to go to the gym every day to be ready “.

A bit like Valentino Rossi, who forgot his age as long as he had fun. Because then, in the end, it is above all a challenge against oneself.

“At the end of each Dakar I ask myself whether or not I will come back the following year. I try to understand if the speed is acceptable, enough to try to win, if I did all the things right, since in any case I know I can’t go as fast as everyone else. Up until now, the balance has said yes, that I’m still competitive, but I keep asking myself that question at every Dakar ”.

Which is the smart question one should always ask.

“First comes the desire, the first question you have to ask yourself is whether you are willing to do whatever it takes to win. But, afterwards, you need to have the objectivity to tell yourself if you can really do it, are they at the level of the best, or not? These are the two most important questions you need to answer ”.

Is this Audi the biggest challenge you have faced?

“On a technological level, certainly yes. Already at the beginning this seemed like a complicated, difficult challenge, but when we started working, doing tests, understanding the machine, trying to guess the things that had to be done and fixed, we realized that it was something even bigger than what we thought at the beginning “.

How many kilometers have you covered?

“I don’t know exactly, but we’ve done enough for the time we’ve had and the problems we’ve faced. I think the engineering team did a really good job to have the cars ready to line up at the start ”.

What fascinates you the most about this project?

“The novelty and the difficulty. In life you always need a challenge to move forward and at this point in my career the challenge has to be important, otherwise you can no longer move forward. We have four engines, a combustion engine, an electric one that acts as a generator and then two more electric ones mounted on each axle. Putting everything together and making a car autonomous with lots of software and sensors, with a virtual differential, with electric motor braking and energy recovery and try to win … and we’re not even talking about going to the track, but about do it in the desert, push hard for four or five hours, jump and resist the many Gs that the batteries have to face upon landing. It is not a small challenge ”.

It is easier to be a pilot than an engineer …

What if they told you thirty years ago that one day he would go for a run in the desert in an electric car?

“I would have found it hard to believe. At the beginning of December, in presenting the car, we had an exhibition in Madrid with all the cars I raced with: from a small Seat Panda to this one that is the most modern of all, passing through the Toyota to the Audi 4. See them all one next to the other shows you the history, the evolution, and it is something incredible. Many years ago, thinking that I would have raced a Dakar with this type of technology was unthinkable, but I also know that in another 30 years, what is spectacular today will be a museum car ”.

The best thing about driving is …

“The engine has an immediate response, then you don’t have to change gears, you don’t have to think about which ratios to use to climb over a dune or take a bend. Here you brake, take the right line and gas. Then the center of gravity is very low and I like it, but we are a hundred kilos above the minimum weight and this will penalize us a little. And in this sense, what bothers me a little is that at the level of FIA and Aso (the company that organizes the Dakar; ed) at the beginning they said that those who would take this path of electric motorization would have a small advantage of power, while instead we are all at the same level, also as regards the minimum weight and the stroke of the shock absorbers. This doesn’t seem fair to me. Audi had the courage to face a commitment of this type with very high costs, and not having even a small advantage of even 20-30 horsepower seems unfair to me ”.

What doesn’t convince you instead?

“To date I would say the complexity, there are many things that can lead you to stop, just a sensor that has an incorrect reading and the machine stops. So go on a satellite phone and listen to what they tell you. In the tests we have seen that there are always new problems that the machine must self-manage to correct them ”.

Nobody asks you to win in the first year, but honestly, what do you think you can aspire to?

“We want to be at an acceptable level of competitiveness, and then finish the race, gain experience to understand what we are missing and understand how the car is doing in all conditions and on various types of terrain.”

But since she doesn’t just go to participate, this will be a year of study, but then in 2023 with a more reliable car we come back to win.

“My deal with Audi is for three years, but I also told them that every year I have to be honest with myself and figure out if I can physically do it. The day I feel I’m pushing hard, yet I’m not there with the first, is the day to stop. But in the meantime, being with Audi in such a project is a great pride, this is a manufacturer that has made history in rallies and now wants to do it again in raids “.

It’s the third year you’ve been to Arabia, do you like the route?

“I like. We had to say goodbye to Africa to go to South America and it was very nice, and very hot. Now with Arabia we have found a fantastic place, because there is a bit of everything and I liked these first two editions a lot. And there is also less heat ”.

What is the biggest pitfall?

“I think it will be like the first two years, it’s not easy, there are places with lots of stones and others with lots of sand. In the end, the dunes are difficult, but they are not so soft and complicated, I would say it is a nice track because there is a bit of everything ”.

Ride. “The. I would say that there are three teams that are very strong: there are Sebastien Loeb, Nani Roma and Orlando Terranova with the Bahrain Raid Extreme team, Nasser Al Attiyah and Giniel De Villiers with Toyota and then there are Stephane Peterhansel, Mattias Ekström and myself with the Audi team. I think that the driver of one of these three teams will be able to win, but it is also true that they are all new cars and there may be surprises, since no one has done too many kilometers and tests ”.

This year the Dakar also joins the FIA ​​World Championship, will it also run the other races?

“Audi hasn’t decided on the program yet, I’d like to do it, I think it’s a good World Championship, five races, Abu Dhabi, Kazakhstan, Andalusia and Morocco”.

Will your son Carlito come to see you this year?

“I don’t think so, I don’t know his plans yet, but maybe if everything goes well he’ll come on arrival.”

Did you like your first season at Ferrari?

“I’m happy, I don’t know how much my opinion counts, but I think he had a great first season, with a very strong teammate, the new car and few tests. I think in the end he took someone by surprise ”.

At the last race in Abu Dhabi he took the fourth podium and the final 5th place.

“It was great”.

Many thought that he would come to make the second of Leclerc, instead …

“Leclerc and Carlos are a very strong team, I think that if Ferrari makes a step forward in terms of cars next year, they will have a team to fight with with the best. That is the most important thing. Number one, number two … the championship decides that, who goes faster, who has more luck, but the level of the grid today is very high “.

Who is the Carlos Sainz, meaning the senior, of Formula 1?

Ride. “Junior. I don’t know, I think it’s difficult to say, each rider has his own personality, his own way of seeing and facing races, his own character. But, honestly, I would say that it is difficult to say that someone looks like me “.

who is carlos sainz

Carlos Sainz Cenamor was born in Madrid (Spain) on April 12, 1962. He began with rallying in the late seventies, and made his debut in the World Championship in 1987 with Ford. He wins his first rally in 1990, when he is 1st at the Acropolis with the Toyota Celica. At the end of the season he is World Champion, a world title which he will repeat in 1992 with the same car. He has been vice-champion four times, with Celica, Corolla and Subaru Impreza. Leaving the WRC in 2005, the following year he made his debut in the Dakar with the VW Touareg, finishing 11th. He won the rally raid in 2010 with Volkswagen, in 2018 with Peugeot 3008 Dkr and in 2020 with the Mini Jcw buggy. In 2021 he finished third in the Dakar and fifth in the Extreme E championship run with compatriot Laia Sanz. His son Carlos jr is an F1 driver with Ferrari.

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Sainz: “With Audi the most difficult challenge of the career. It will be a Dakar full of surprises …”