Having previously won the Dakar rally with Peugeot, Mini, and Volkswagen in his long off-road career, Carlos Sainz the elder (father of the Ferrari F1 driver) has what it takes to step into a new program and develop it into a winner in this race. In Audi’s first year running a series hybrid-electric machine in the long-distance rally raid, Sainz feels that the regulations have not been set up in a way that will allow the e-tron to compete on level ground with its all-gasoline counterparts.
The rally was planning to revamp the T1 category to not only allow hybrid machines to compete on speed, but to give them the upper hand. Audi, being the first company to jump into this new era of T1, was interested in helping develop these regs. It proposed that T1 have the same onboard tire inflation system as the 4×4 class, plus allowance for a larger chassis, wheels and tires from the buggy class, and a bit more suspension travel than the 4×4 class. If you’re looking to build a new top class that is faster than, but not that much faster than the current top class, that’s not too much of an ask.
Well, Toyota and Prodrive felt it was a bridge too far, and vetoed some of those changes. In speaking with Motorsport.com, here’s what Sainz had to say about it:
“What we can’t ignore is that a regulation that was going to give priority to these hybrid-electric engines, in the end we have the same or less power and more weight.
“We are going to see this very quickly and unfortunately it has penalised the project a lot. We will have to see how the BoP [Balance of Performance] is, but for the moment I am not very optimistic.
“What were going to be cars with a bit more power than the others, with a bit more suspension travel. In the end, [we got] neither more suspension travel nor more power. Maybe less, because of the way they measure it and with 150kg more.”
Now, obviously racing is racing and any number of things could happen out there in the dunes. It’s entirely possible that the Audi’s extra weight and lack of suspension travel could be a benefit. Hah, just kidding, that’ll be a nightmare. But it’s totally possible that luck will be on the three-car Audi squad’s side, and the Toyotas and Prodrives will have weird failures or navigational errors or something. Never count out a three-time Dakar champ, even if he’s in a car that will likely be slower.