He was smarter than everyone

Sainz Sr led nearly the entirety of the 12-stage, two-week marathon in Saudi Arabia to score his fourth career victory in Dakar, cementing his position as one of the greatest rally drivers of all time.

Intriguingly, the Audi driver didn’t win a single stage on his 17th appearance in Dakar, with consistency, and not outright speed, helping him beat the likes of Sebastien Loeb, Nasser Al-Attiyah and own team-mates Mattias Ekstrom and Stephane Peterhansel.

Avoiding the kind of mechanical issues that beset his rivals, Sainz was also able to minimise the time loss during punctures and was 13 minutes clear of Prodrive rival Loeb when he stopped on Stage 11 after breaking the suspension of his Hunter.

Sainz Jr, who was the only non-Red Bull driver to win an F1 race in 2023, thinks the 61-year-old won the Dakar because his approach to the rally was smarter than his rivals.

After travelling to Saudi Arabia to celebrate victory in the bivouac at Yanbu, he said: «I asked him not to race [hard] every day because at the end of the day the Dakar is an endurance race and he likes to race a lot,” said the two-time grand prix winner.

“He had to race a lot to win, but he was smarter than anyone else and managed the race as only he knows how.

«The Dakar was perfect, he did the smartest Dakar I’ve ever seen him do in my life. He managed it perfectly and showed that he also has experience.”

He added: «2024 has started well, and now we have to continue like this for the Sainz family.

“You can’t imagine the pride of a father, of a husband, of everything. Here are all his best friends, not just me, and there are all the people who love him and encourage him at every moment.”

Winner #204 Team Audi Sport Audi RS Q e-tron E2: Carlos Sainz Sr., Lucas Cruz

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Winner #204 Team Audi Sport Audi RS Q e-tron E2: Carlos Sainz Sr., Lucas Cruz

Sainz Sr suffered multiple spine fractures in a hefty crash in Dakar last year, but was able to return to Saudi Arabia for his 17th straight appearance in the rally.

This year’s event, the 46th in the history of Dakar, featured a vastly different route compared to 2023, with the addition of a two-day stage in Empty Quarter the biggest talking point of the year.

Sainz Jr feels the time and resources his father devoted to prepare for this year’s rally helped him emerge as the winner.

«It has been a very long Dakar, a very hard Dakar with all kinds of terrain, all kinds of stages, some new ones like the 48-hour stage, the marathon that was there,” he said.

«There has been everything, and he has been able to get through it all. In the key stages is also where he has done the best, and that shows you that he has come very well prepared, very motivated and they have nailed it.”

Audi has faced a slew of issues with its electric-powered RS Q e-tron prototype since it joined Dakar in 2022, with many feeling it made a step back in its second year of competition in ‘23.

That’s why few had pegged the German manufacturer as the favourite for what was going to be its final outing in Dakar this year, pending official confirmation, despite the upgrades it had made over the winter.

But Sainz was able to build on the potential Audi had shown in the last two years, with team-mates Ekstrom and Peterhansel also scoring individual stage wins to round off its short, three-year tenure in Dakar.

Speaking of the job Audi had done, Sainz Jr, who has been linked with a move to its upcoming Formula 1 project in 2026, said: “It was a very ambitious project for Audi, but the third time was the charm. 

“They have nailed it, they have done a perfect Dakar, both Audi and he, and I think they deserve it because they have done an impressive race from the first day.»

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