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Dakar controversy over Audi power gain: ‘It’s not the right moment to change something’

Audi horsepower Dakar

Audi’s hybrid driver Stephane Peterhansel and his co-driver Edouard Boulanger compete during the Stage 4 of the Dakar 2023 around Ha’il in Saudi Arabia on January 4, 2023. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Though his Audi rivals had some extra horsepower Thursday, Nasser Al-Attiyah took the victory in Stage 5 and widened his overall lead in the 2023 Dakar Rally.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver still couldn’t help poking at this year’s biggest controversy in the world’s most prestigious rally raid event (which is being held in Saudi Arabia for the fourth consecutive year).

“We tried to really push like crazy and take a lot of risks,” said Al-Attiyah, the defending champion of the T1 cars category who also won Dakar in 2011, ’19 and ’15 (when the event was held in South America). “After the decision yesterday, the other teams have more horsepower, but I’m happy to finish without any problems.”

The FIA’s W2RC Committee announced an unusual rules change Wednesday, granting an extra 8 kilowatts for electric powertrain cars. That essentially benefits Team Audi’s championship-contending trio: RS Q e-tron E2 drivers Carlos Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel and prologue winner Mattias Ekstrom.

DEVASTATING DAY: Audi drivers crash in Stage 6

The change equates to roughly 11 extra horsepower for Audi, whose electric hybrid prototype made its debut last year. Teams had been warned by FIA that balance of performance adjustments were possible after evaluating the straight-line speeds of electric vs. internal combustion engines over the first few stages.

But the news still angered the normally mild-mannered Al-Attiyah -- perhaps because Audis already had won two stages and the prologue.

In an Instagram post that since has been deleted, the Qatari native fumed, “What a surprise to give our main rival 11 HP more!!! Thank you for killing the race early.” The caption was written underneath the FIA statement.


Toyota Nasser Al-Attiyah (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images).

AFP via Getty Images

Al-Attiyah took a more measured tone Thursday after opening a lead of more than 22 minutes over Stephane Peterhansel with his second stage victory this year in his No. 200 GR DKR Hilux.

“It’s not the right moment to change something,” he said. “To give to the other teams more horsepower. But this is my opinion. This is a motorsport. Everything gets fixed before Dakar, and everybody stays in the same level. I’m not against Audi. I’m not against BRX. But you need to keep the spirit of Dakar.”

There already had been some sniping between Al-Attiyah and his rivals about competitive advantages. Before Audi took two of the top three spots in the prologue, Sainz had grumbled about weight restrictions, and he has implied a lack of power kept Audi from winning until the second week of last year’s Dakar Rally. Al-Nattiyah responded that “Carlos always tries to complain about a lot of things.”

Tensions seemed to have simmered after Stage 5. Peterhansel said the horsepower gain helped in driving the car but hardly added speed.

“How it translates into speed, look at yesterday, we had to attack and take risks,” Peterhansel said. “That hurts your neck, hurts your head. I don’t think 11 extra horsepower would have helped us gain much more time. It’s a question of physical effort, motivation, risk-taking. That will make more difference than 11 horsepower.”

After winning Stage 5, Bahrain Raid Extreme driver Sebastien Loeb suffered a major setback Thursday with a crash that dropped him to 11th overall. He seemed nonplussed about the rule change.

“There’s 11 days rallying left, so a lot could happen,” said Loeb, who has embraced the electrification of auto racing. “There could be problems for everyone. The stages and navigation still will be complicated. Everything is possible. I try not to think about it and concentrate on my own race and we’ll see where we end up.”


Toyota’s Qatari driver Nasser Al-Attiyah and his French co-driver Mathieu Baumel compete during the Stage 5 of the Dakar 2023 around Ha’il, Saudi Arabia, on January 5, 2023. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images