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Stage report

Dakar 2024: Ekstrom fastest for Audi in Prologue, Al-Attiyah misses top 10

DTM and World Rallycross champion Mattias Ekstrom led the way for Audi in the 2024 Dakar Rally Prologue, as last year’s winner Nasser Al-Attiyah finished outside the top 10.

#207 Team Audi Sport Audi RS Q e-tron E2: Mattias Ekstrom, Emil Bergkvist

Red Bull Content Pool

The 46th edition of the world’s most prestigious rally-raid kicked off with a short 27km timed run in Al’Ula in the western part of Saudi Arabia on Friday, with the entire section run on sandy terrain.

The Prologue, a common feature of Dakar over the years, once again served as a qualifying session of sorts, with the top 10 finishers getting to choose the starting positions of their own choice for the opening stage.

In a category comprising 70 cars, Ekstrom drew first blood as he set an impressive time of 16m30s in his Audi RS Q e-tron, even going faster than the top RallyGP entry in the bikes class.

The Swede, competing in Dakar for a fourth year in succession following his 2021 bow with Yamaha, beat the factory Toyota Hilux of Seth Quintero by 23 seconds. 

Quintero, who won the T3 class of the World Rally-Raid Championship last year, led the Toyota contingent on a day his works team-mates lacked the pace to break inside the top 10.

Third place in Prologue went to nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb, who finished another three seconds adrift in the Prodrive Hunter run under the Bahrain Raid Xtreme banner.

Loeb, who is still searching for a maiden overall victory in Dakar after seven previous attempts, set an identical time to fourth-placed Marcos Baumgart in his Team X-entered Hunter.

#203 Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive Hunter: Sebastien Loeb, Fabian Lurquin

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

#203 Bahrain Raid Xtreme Prodrive Hunter: Sebastien Loeb, Fabian Lurquin

Baumgart’s brother Cristian was classified another six seconds behind in fifth, as Prodrive secured three spots inside the top five.

In a return of form for the X-Raid Mini team, once a giant of the Dakar Rally, Polish driver Krzysztof Holowczyc was a promising sixth in the outfit’s John Cooper Work 4x4, setting the same time as Cristian Baumgart.

Finishing just behind in seventh was 14-time winner Stephane Peterhansel in the second of the three electric-powered Audis, with Lionel Baud next up in the lead Overdrive-entered customer Toyota.

Martin Propok, now driving a Ford Raptor for MP Sports/Benzina team, and Century Racing’s Brian Baragwanath rounded out the top 10.

Five-time Dakar winner Al-Attiyah made a relatively low-key start to his title defence as he ended up 12th in Prologue, just behind the second-best Overdrive Toyota of Guerlain Chicherit.

However, the Qatari driver, who has joined Prodrive this year following a long stint with Toyota, lost just a shade over a minute to Ekstrom, despite being first on the road in today’s 27km test.

Further back, 2014 winner Nani Roma kicked off Ford’s maiden Dakar entry with a respectable 17th-place finish in the Prologue with a time of 17m52s. Gareth Woolridge in the other factory Ranger was another minute behind in 31st place.

Two prior Dakar champions made relatively underwhelming starts to their 2024 outings. Carlos Sainz was provisionally 34th for Audi, losing two minutes to his team-mate Ekstrom in the process, while Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers was even further behind in 44th on a day Quintero finished second in his debut showing in the top class.

With the Prologue now complete, drivers will head from Al-’Ula to Al Henakiyah on Saturday for a 414km test, passing through many volcanoes on a previously unexplored terrain.

Dakar 2024 - Prologue results:

Pos
Driver
Car
Time/gap
1
Mattias Ekstrom
 Audi
16m30s 
2
Seth Quintero 
 Toyota
+0:23s  
3
Sebastien Loeb
 Prodrive
+0:38s 
4
Marcos Baumgart 
 Prodrive
+0:38s
5
Cristian Baumgart
 Prodrive
+0:44s
6
Krzysztof Holowczyc
 Mini
+0:44s  
7
Stephane Peterhansel
 Audi
+0:45s 
8
Lionel Baud
 Toyota
+0:47s  
9
Martin Prokop
 Ford
+0:49s 
10
Brian Baragwanath
 Century
+0:55s

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