Dakar Rally 2022, Stage 8: Mattias Ekstrom scores first victory on a strong day for Audi


Stage 8 of the 2022 Dakar Rally produced another first-time winner Monday — and another class “rookie” who already had gained fame in other motorsports disciplines.

Two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekstrom drove to victory as the hybrid-powered Team Audi captured three of the top four spots in the 830-kilometer segment from Al Dawadimi to Wadi Ad Dawasir, Saudi Arabia. Teammate Stephane Peterhansel finished 49 seconds behind Ekstrom in second, and Carlos Sainz took fourth.

“We didn’t even have one detail that was not perfect, so for me it was a very good day,” Ekstrom, also a winner in the World Rally Championship and Race of Champions, said after joining MotoGP veteran Danilo Petrucci as a first-time Dakar stage winner. “For (co-driver) Emil (Bergkvist) and myself, we feel like the rookies here, learning every day and trying to manage the risk and there are so many kilometers where you can have a mistake.

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“Today, I’m happy because we didn’t do any, maybe we were too conservative, but there are still many days to go. I think the car is good. We have found a setup that I like a lot. But we have to develop the car much more. It’s still a very young car in its lifetime”.

The Audi RS Q e-tron has had mixed results in its Dakar Rally debut, starting with a poor opening stage for all three drivers amid complaints from Sainz that FIA regulations left his electric car underpowered. But the team seems to have sorted out mechanical gremlins and overcome suspension challenges and weight disadvantages.

“It wasn’t the perfect special for us, but in any case, we are up with the pace, which is not a bad thing,” said 14-time Dakar champion Peterhansel, who made a navigation mistake in the final 5 minutes that cost him the stage win.

“It’s also good to have fairly clean days without any major technical problems. Getting punctures or getting lost is normal on this rally, but the first week was very complicated, so I hope the second week will be better. In theory, we’ve sorted out the problem with the suspension, but you can never be 100% certain, even if things seem OK for the moment.”

Sebastien Loeb finished third and cut several minutes off the lead of Nasser Al-Attiyah, who was 11th in the stage. Al-Attiyah still is in first by nearly 38 minutes with four stages remaining. Loeb and Al-Attiyah both overcame tire punctures during the stage Monday.

“For 350 kilometers we had one puncture, and then we only had front-wheel drive because we broke the rear,” Al-Attiyah said. “I was really scared all the way. On the last part, I said, ‘I don’t care, on the last 50 kilometers, I will try to push a little bit.’ But it was not easy with just the front-wheel drive. I’m really lucky to be here and we only lost seven minutes to Seb.

“For the speed, we needed to go slow, but there was a small part broken inside and a lot of noise. That’s what we had to manage all the way, but we are lucky to be here. Of course, I was scared, because we have done a very good job from the beginning and now if we start to have problems … The Dakar is never finished, you know? We’ll try to respect the Dakar. The Dakar is the Dakar”.

Said Loeb, who started first after winning Stage 7: “It was not easy. We pushed really hard from the start until the end because we were opening the road, so we just wanted to stay ahead and not have Nasser following. We tried really hard from the start, but I had a puncture. We changed the wheel quickly and finally we continued like that until the neutralization point when we saw that we had lost our spare wheel and it was the only one we had left, so I was a bit careful at the end, but I think in the end I drove a good stage.”

Swedish driver Mattias Ekstrom drove his Audi to a Stage 8 victory in the Dakar Rally (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images).

In the bike category, Sam Sunderland retook the overall lead, moving up from fourth with a victory in Stage 8 of the 2022 Dakar Rally.

“Looks like the race is really close this year, and it’s cool for everybody at home watching,” Sunderland said. “Difficult for us as riders, it’s a little bit like an emotional roller coaster. But with the glory of winning you have the punishment the next day to open the stage. But if you want to win the race you need to win some stages, I guess.”

In light prototype, Seth Quintero scored his sixth consecutive stage victory. The American has eight stage victories and can break the Dakar Rally record (10 by Pierre Lartigue during a 17-stage Dakar in 1994) for single-rally stage wins by winning three of the final four. Because of a Stage 2 differential failure, Quintero is more than 16 hours behind and out of overall class title contention.

“Today went great,” said Quintero, who broke a tie for Sainz for the third-most stage victories in a single Dakar. “We really feel no pressure, so we’re just out there having a good time. We knew that there was going to be a lot of sand and a lot of dunes and that’s where I feel the most comfortable, in the dunes. No mistakes, no issues all day. (Co-driver) Dennis (Zenz) did a great job and we drove it home. An awesome day. No trouble today. Yesterday was definitely a wild drive, and it was nice to kind of relax a little bit today.

“When we got to refueling, we knew we had a pretty good lead. We didn’t see anyone, so we were thinking, ‘All right, we can probably bring it home at a nice steady pace’. But of course, that wasn’t my style, so we charged the whole way back. We’re really having a good time and hoping to break that record. We’re one step closer.

NEVER GIVE UP: Seth Quintero focused on breaking Dakar Rally stage win record

“It’s mind-blowing that we can win eight out of nine Dakar stages and still not be in the match for the overall. You never know, we could make up 16 hours … we’ve made up a few hours by now, but we’ve just got to keep on having fun. It’s definitely possible to at least tie the record if not break the record.”

Here are the stage winners and the top three overall in each category after Stage 8 of the 2022 Dakar Rally:


Stage 8 winner: Mattias Ekstrom (SWE) 3:43:21. Overall: 1. Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT), Toyota Gazoo Racing, 27:45:52; 2. Sebastien Loeb (FRA), Bahrain Raid Extreme, 28:23:50; 3. Yazeed Al Rajhi (SAU), Overdrive Toyota, 28:39:05.


Stage 8 winner: Sam Sunderland (GBR), 3:48:02. Overall: 1. Sam Sunderland (GBR), GasGas Factory Racing, 27:38:42; 2. Matthias Walkner (AUS), Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, 27:42:27; 3. Adrien Van Beveren (FRA), Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team, 27:43:25. Other U.S. notables: 10. Mason Klein, BAS Dakar KTM Racing Team, 28:14:08; 11. Andrew Short, Monster Energy Yamaha Rally Team, 28:15:36; 13. Ricky Brabec, Monster Energy Honda, 28:18:40. Withdrew: Skyler Howes, Husqvarna Factory Racing.


Stage 8 winner: Dmitry Sotnikov (RAF), 3:56:42. Overall: 1. Dmitry Sotnikov (RAF), Kamaz-Master 30:02:36; 2. Eduard Nikolaev (RAF), Kamaz-Master, 30:14:01; 3. Anton Shibalov (RAF), Kamaz-Master, 30:42:59.

Light prototype

Stage 8 winner: Seth Quintero (USA), 4:17:14. Overall: 1. Francisco Lopez Contardo (CHL), EKS — South Racing, 32:51:39; 2. Sebastian Eriksson (SWE), EKS — South Racing, 34:10:40; 3. Fernando Alvarez (ESP), South Racing Can-Am, 35:47:09. Notable: 8. Seth Quintero (USA), Red Bull Off-Road Junior Team USA, 48:30:18.


Stage 8 winner: Marek Goczal (POL), 4:36:14. Overall: 1. Austin Jones (USA), Can-Am Factory South Racing, 34:12:38; 2. Gerard Farres Guell (ESP), Can-Am Factory South Racing, 34:19:16; 3. Michal Goczal (POL), Cobant-Energylandia Rally Team, 34:27:27.


Stage 8 winner: Alexandre Giroud (FRA), 5:02:08. Overall: 1. Alexandre Giroud (FRA), Yamaha Racing – SMX -Drag’on, 34:41:02; 2. Pablo Copetti (USA), Del Amo Motorsports/Yamaha Rally Team, 35:11:49; 3. Kamil Wisniewski (POL), Orlen Team, 36:53:13.


DAY 1: Nasser Al-Attiyah takes overall lead as Audi drivers struggle

DAY 2: Sebastien Loeb wins; Austin Jones takes SSV lead

DAY 3: Led by Seth Quintero’s rebound victory, U.S. drivers and riders shine

DAY 4: Overall leader Nasser Al-Attiyah wins stage after penalty

DAY 5: Petrucci becomes first MotoGP veteran to win bike stage at Dakar

DAY 6: Quintero continues impressive win streak in lightweight prototype

DAY 7: Loeb wins in overall; Jones retakes SSV lead

A deep dive into the new GR Cup as Toyota branches into single-make sports car racing

Toyota GR Cup
Swikar Patel/Toyota Racing Development

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Inside this former textile mill, a retro building built in 1892 with massive floor-to-ceiling windows and sturdy brick, Toyota has planted a future seed with the GR Cup.

Once a hub for making cotton dye, the first floor has been turned into a factory that churned out spec sports cars for the past year as Toyota Racing Development prepares to launch its first single-make series.

The inaugural season of the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Cup will begin this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the first of seven SRO-sanctioned events (each with two races) featuring a field of homologated GR86 production models that have been modified for racing with stock engines.

Under the banner of its Gazoo Racing (a high-performance brand relatively new to North America but synonymous with Dakar Rally champion Nasser Al-Attiyah), Toyota will join Mazda, Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini as the latest automaker to run a single-make U.S. series (with Ford recently announcing plans for its own in the near future).

It’s grassroots-level amateur racing for manufacturers that are accustomed to racing at motorsports’ highest levels, but there are many benefits through competition, driver development and marketing despite the lower profile.

“It’s not the easiest thing or cheapest thing to do,” TRD executive commercial director Jack Irving told NBC Sports. “But there’s massive value to be a part of it and have our DNA in the cars. You get to race a bunch and get a bunch of data. You get to engage directly in feedback from the people beating those cars up.”

The GR86s being raced are very similar to the street versions that retail for about $35,000 at dealerships that annually sell several thousand.

“It’s a test of the car and your design,” Irving said. “We take an engineered vehicle designed to spec for the road and then apply our resources to make it race ready. Some of those things cross over.

The first floor of Toyota Racing Development’s Mooresville facility that finished the vehicles for the new GR Cup (Swikar Patel/TRD).

“Everyone approaches it differently. It’s a marketing piece for us. It’s a development piece for drivers. We’re supporting grass roots racing. This is a very long-term deal for us. This isn’t something we’re doing two years and done. It’s got a long-term vision. There’s big value in it, and there’s a lot of responsibility with that, too.

“You’re ultimately supporting it. You’re not just selling cars into a series and hoping it goes well. You have to be involved in a very material way to make sure it goes off well and has your fingerprints and represents the brand.”

Early indications have been solid. The GR Cup cars were rolled out on iRacing in January and immediately became one of the platform’s most popular vehicles (with 212-horsepower engines, the cars handle well and are difficult to spin).

TRD’s GR86 factory floor (Swikar Patel/TRD).

TRD has sold 33 cars for GR Cup with 31 racing in Sonoma, easily surpassing initial expectations.

“Our target was to sell 20 cars in the first year, and we could have sold 50 if not for supply chain issues with some vendors,” TRD president David Wilson told NBC Sports. “We basically came up with the idea of taking the GR86 and looking at what it would take to turn that into a little race car and do it affordably and competitively, and what’s come along with that is just a tremendous interest level. It seems like a market that perhaps has been underserved right now.”

Here’s a deeper look at the Toyota Gazoo Racing GR Cup and how the manufacturer built the new series:


The race cars start as production models that are shipped directly from the factory in Japan to a port in Charleston, South Carolina. After being trucked to the Mooresville facility, they are stripped and sent to Joe Gibbs Racing to be outfitted with a roll cage.

Upon return to TRD, the transmission and stock engine is added. The body remains virtually the same as the street version with a slightly altered hood, decklid and splitter for ride height and aerodynamics.

Jack Irving (Swikar Patel/TRD)

The cars mostly are customized to help manage the heat – the stock versions aren’t designed to handle the oil that sloshes around in the high-speed left- and right-hand turns on the road and street courses of the GR Cup schedule. TRD puts about two dozen parts on the cars, using Stratasys 3-D Printers to manufacture many on site (which allows flexibility for adjusting on the fly during R&D). In addition to help with cooling, many of the tweaks focus on allowing a limited number of setup changes.

“You don’t have a lot of ability to adjust these cars,” Irving said. “It was done on purpose. The intent was you have three spring sets, and you can adjust the shocks and do air pressure. That’s it. We seal the engine and components of it. We dyno everything. Everyone is within range to create as consistent a series as we can.

“Some of that is to mimic what Mazda did. They’ve done a really good job with their series. Porsche, Ferrari and other OEMs have done it very well. We had a learning that was easier to go through their book and see the Cliffs Notes version to get where we are.”

After taking delivery, GR Cup teams are responsible for transporting the cars to each track (and can buy up to three sets of Continental tires per event). Toyota brings two parts trucks to each track


After Sonoma, the GR Cup will visit Circuit of the Americas (May 5-7), Virginia International Raceway (June 16-18), the streets of Nashville (Aug. 4-6), Road America (Aug. 25-27), Sebring International Raceway (Sept. 22-24) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Oct. 6-8).

Though Nashville (IndyCar’s Music City Grand Prix) and Indy (SRO’s eight-hour Intercontinental Challenge) are part of weekends with bigger headliners, the GR Cup mostly will be the second-billed series (behind SRO’s Fanatech GT World Challenge) for events that will draw a few thousand. Sonoma had a crowd of about 4,000 last year, and SRO Motorsports America president Greg Gill said its events draw a maximum of about 13,000 over three days.

“There are some iconic venues, and the SRO it’s not IMSA,” Wilson said. “It’s got a different feel to it. It’s not the show. IMSA is kind of the show. I actually think it’s a good place for us to start, because it’s a little bit under the radar relatively speaking. It’s not a venue where you see the grandstands full of fans. It’s very much racers and their families. It’s got a neat vibe to it because it’s kind of small. So for our first effort as a single-make series, it’s the right place for us.”

Toyota GR Cup
The interior of the GR86 that will be raced in the GR Cup (Swikar Patel/TRD).

Though the attendance will be much smaller, Toyota still is bringing a large hospitality and marketing activation area with two 56-foot trucks that will provide a central gathering area for the series.

Teams’ entry fees will include meals there and provide a place to connect with Toyota engineers and other officials.

“I think we have a very different way of engaging with our group of drivers, and this series is similar to that,” Irving said. “Knowing that this isn’t going to get 100K people watching, but we want to have a direct connection with the drivers and understand their feelings about car, how do we make it better and empower them to be brand ambassadors for GR.”


Toyota has positioned the GR Cup as filling a price gap between the Mazda MX-5 Cup (a spec Miata Series known for high-quality racing at very low costs) and the Porsche Carrera Cup

“If you look at the ladder of MX5 to Porsche Cup, the difference in cost is massive,” TRD general manager Tyler Gibbs told NBC Sports. “We slot in closer to Miata than Porsche. We’ll slot another car in potentially in the future above that. It’s a good place for us from a price point perspective. Our road car is slightly more expensive than a Miata, so it makes sense our performance on the car is higher than Miata.”

A GR Cup car will cost $125,000. Full-season costs will vary depending on how much teams spend on equipment and transportation with estimates from $15-35K per event. So a competitive full season probably could be accomplished in the $250,000-$300,000 range.

Toyota GR Cup

“The goal was if you can ‘Six Pack’ it like Kenny Rogers and throw it in the back of a trailer, that would be amazing for us,” said Irving, referencing a movie about being an independent racer in NASCAR. “That would make it more of what we hoped it would turn into, just being as accessible as we possibly can make it.”

Toyota has tried to bridge the gap by posting a purse of $1 million for the season. Each race pays $12,000 to win (through $5,000 for eighth) with the season champion earning $50,000.

“Our hope was if you won, the prize money would cover the cost of that weekend,” Gibbs said. “We’re not all the way there. But almost there.”

Toyota also has posted an additional $5,000 (on top of prize money) to the highest-finishing woman in every race (which dovetails with SRO’s 50 percent female-led executive team structure).

GR86 Manufacturing at GRG before the first 3 cars are picked up.
—Swikar Patel/TRD

“If you’re a female driver who wins, you could get very close to sustainable” and cover a team’s race weekend costs, Irving said.

There are four women (Mia Lovell, Toni Breidinger, Cat Lauren and Isabella Robusto) slated for the full schedule.

The 31 cars will be fielded across more than a dozen teams including Smooge Racing (which fields GT4 Supras in SRO) and Copeland Motorsports (with Tyler Gonzalez, a four-time winner in MX-5 Cup). After a test last month at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, teams began taking delivery on Feb. 24.


Toyota fields Lexus in the GT categories of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship but elected to go with the SRO Motorsports Group (“SRO” stands for Stephane Ratel Organization; Ratel is the founder and CEO) as the sanctioning body for the GR Cup.

With a heavy focus on GT racing, SRO’s marquee events are 24-hour races at the Nurburgring in Germany and Spa in Belgium. In the United States, SRO primarily is focused on GT3 sprint racing, and Gill said it’s viewed as a “gateway to IMSA” and its endurance events.

In choosing SRO, Gibbs said “the schedule was a big part of it.” GR Cup races will be held almost exclusively on Saturday and Sunday mornings in a consistency that would have been difficult with IMSA (which runs a greater volume of bigger series).

“Our people can show up Friday, race Saturday and Sunday and be on the way home Sunday afternoon,” Gibbs said. “For our customer for this car, that was important. They still have jobs and particularly the younger drivers have to go to school. The SRO really fit us. They were very interested.”

Irving also was drawn to SRO’s flexibility with digital media right and free livestreams of races that Toyota can use on its platforms.

Toyota GR Cup
The SR86 in testing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (TRD).

Said Irving: “It’s hard to get a schedule that made sense and having a break between races so an amateur can repair their cars and have a month to regroup was a big deal. The long-term vision of SRO was a big part of that. IMSA runs a lot of classes. How we fit in was difficult. Would they have done things to make it work, yeah. But they just didn’t work for the vision we were doing. This is its own thing for us.”

Gill said the SRO is focused on “customer racing” that balances individual interests against factory programs – while still putting an emphasis on the importance of manufacturers such as Toyota.

“We were very impressed with the development of sports car racing at Toyota and what they wanted to do for the brand and the very strategic way they looked at things,” Gill told NBC Sports. “We had enjoyed real success and had a lot of admiration for the programs that Honda and Mazda developed with sports car racing at the grass roots and entry level. We thought they’d done an excellent job. Toyota has taken it to another level and should be commended because it’s good for the entire industry.”


Irving said Toyota has set a goal of turning Gazoo Racing into the premier performance brand in the United States within a decade, and the GR Cup is part of that thrust.

Gazoo Racing is the baby of Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda, who founded a separate company called “Garage Racing” while racing under a pseudonym for many years.

Toyoda, who eventually would race a Lexus LFA at Nurburgring, eventually transitioned the program into Gazoo Racing (Gazoo translates to photographs in Japanese; Toyoda often took pictures of vehicles he wanted to build and race) as he rose through the ranks of Toyota.

Toyota GR Cup

“The concept of the brand is we’re going to build cars that are fun to drive, not just for accountants,” Gibbs said.
Irving said the intent of GR is “the car is born on track and not the boardroom.” In order to be certified by Toyota for Gazoo Racing, the GR86 had to decrease its lap time by a certain percentage over its street model.

In the long-term, Irving said Toyota could work with another series to adapt the GR86 to endurance races. But in the short-term, there are plans to roll out a “dealer class,” possibly by its COTA round in May.

“That’s our version of a softball league with dealership principals who purchase cars and race against each other,” Wilson said with a laugh. “As competitive as dealers are, we’ll sell a lot of spare parts. It becomes a way to generate competition amongst our dealer body, and we’re going to have some fun with it.”

Toyota GR Cup
Toyota Racing Development’s fleet of GR86s shortly before GR Cup teams began taking delivery (Swikar Patel/TRD).