Although yet to be officially announced, it is widely believed that Audi will pull the plug on its Dakar programme after the 46-edition of the rally-raid ends next week, having made its debut just three years ago in 2022 with RS Q e-tron.
Dakar was the last remaining works project for Audi Sport, but it too is expected to face the axe as the German manufacturer begins to divert all its attention and resources to competing in Formula 1 from 2026 with Sauber.
Audi’s imminent departure will leave an uncertain future for its three factory signings Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel and Mattias Ekstrom, amid a lack of options at rival brands.
Renault brand Dacia is entering Dakar next year in association with Prodrive but has already locked up its drivers, signing five-time winner Nasser Al-Attiyah, nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb and Extreme E driver Cristina Gutierrez.
Toyota could be one possibility for Sainz, who won both of his WRC titles with the Japanese manufacturer in the early 1990s.
Toyota has been left without a star driver following Al-Attiyah’s departure to Prodrive this year (and his move to the Prodrive-run Dacia project in 2025) and has instead been focusing on fostering young talent.
While 2023 Rookie of the Year Lucas Moraes and T1 graduate Seth Quintero have impressed so far, Toyota’s chances of a victory appear to be all but over at the midpoint of the rally. Moraes, Toyota’s highest-placed contender in Dakar, is already an hour down on Sainz heading into the rest-day in Riyadh, despite his victory on Stage 3.
But the Hilux has been and is still a very competitive vehicle, despite both Audi and Prodrive upping the ante in 2024, making Toyota an attractive opportunity for any driver.
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
#204 Team Audi Sport Audi RS Q e-tron E2: Carlos Sainz Sr, Lucas Cruz
In an interview with selected media outlets including Motorsport.com, Toyota’s Dakar Rally director Alain Dujardyn was asked if he would consider signing the Spaniard for next year.
He said: “We will carefully evaluate our performance in the Dakar, as well as in the W2RC but, as I said, for us, Toyota Gazoo Racing, we always look at the perspective.
“What will Carlos do after Audi? I guess that’s the question everyone is asking in the bivouac.
“He was a great brand ambassador for us, but I would say he has taught us so much that we will make sure his legacy is passed on to the next Toyota Gazoo Racing drivers.
“We have had a fantastic journey with Nasser [Al Attiyah] for two years in a row. We are very grateful to him for his victories in W2RC, but as soon as he decided to embark on a new journey, we thought about how to replace him.
“We made a conscious decision to look for the next generation. That’s why in W2RC we redoubled our efforts and hired Lucas and Seth, and I think they already made their statement.”