61-Year-Old Carlos Sainz Continues To Dominate Desert Racing’s Toughest Event

The 61-year-old Spaniard rally champion — Carlos Sainz, Sr. — has won his fourth (and Audi’s first) Dakar in his 17th year competing in the legendary event. This year he won the race in a unique way, without taking a single stage victory, and running a consistently quick and relatively trouble-free event. Sainz and co-driver Lucas Cruz finished the event after a total of 48 hours 15 minutes and 18 seconds of stage time, putting them an hour and twenty minutes ahead of the Overdrive Toyota of Guillaume de Mevius, while Sebastien Loeb came third in his Prodrive machine.

Sainz gained the lead of the rally at the close of stage 2, and more or less retained his lead across the 14-day desert race. He faced stiff competition from Loeb for the entirety of the event until Thursday saw Loeb lose an hour in the penultimate stage with damaged suspension, dropping him out of contention.

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Image: Dakar Rally

This victory puts Sainz among the upper echelon of Dakar competitors, securing him as the oldest victor in the rally’s history, and tying him for third overall in the list of most successful drivers at the rally with Ari Vatanen. His four victories still pales in comparison to Stéphane Peterhansel’s eight car victories and six motorcycle wins. Interestingly, this is Sainz’ fourth win with four different manufacturers, the others being Volkswagen, Peugeot, and Mini.

Audi entered the Dakar competition with its 671 horsepower RS Q E-Tron plug-in hybrid electric racer back in 2022. The car features a trio of electric motors cribbed from Audi’s now-dead Formula E program, and a two-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder gasoline-powered racing engine taken from Audi’s now-dead DTM program. That gasoline engine acts exclusively as a generator, making electricity for the axle motors to deploy. It’s a really trick system, and unique among Dakar competitors.

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Image: Dakar Rally

“That was an overwhelming team performance,” said Head of Audi Motorsport Rolf Michl. “Everyone pulled together to make this historic result possible for Audi. A big thank you to this wonderful team. Today we have written a new chapter for Audi, but also in the history of the Dakar Rally.”

Fortunately for Audi it managed to win a Dakar rally for all its effort before killing off the desert racing program (I’m sensing a pattern here) in order to focus on its Formula 1 efforts in 2026.

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Image: Audi

Sainz had a long and storied history as a world rally championship driver, winning the 1990 and 1992 titles for Toyota. When he moved to Rally Raid driving in 2006, he was already 44 years old. In 2008 he won the Central European rally, which took the place of the Dakar rally that year, moved due to the 2007 deaths of French tourists in Mauritania. In 2010 he won his first Dakar proper, down in South America, before winning again in 2018, 2020, and this year. Of his 17 attempts, seven have ended in a DNF, while another seven have ended with Sainz on the podium. Clearly he’s pretty good at this desert racing thing.

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