Mattias Ekström is set to make his Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge début, though not in the T1 category like at the Dakar Rally. Instead, he has joined South Racing and will pilot a Can-Am Maverick in T3 alongside his Dakar co-driver Emil Bergkvist.
“Sitting on sofa is not my thing, so see you at Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge next week. This time in T3 class with Can-Am from South Racing,” Ekström posted on social media Thursday.
Ekström began the 2023 World Rally-Raid Championship on a high note when he won the Dakar Rally’s Prologue. However, he and his Team Audi Sport‘s high hopes were then upended as team-mates Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel both crashed out while Ekström endured suspension problems. Ekström was the team’s lone finisher, albeit in fourteenth overall with no other stage wins.
In the month between Dakar and Abu Dhabi, Ekström competed in the Race of Champions and won the individual tournament for a record-tying fourth time. In early February, he was appointed Sporting Director of the FIA World Rallycross Championship, which he won in 2016.
Audi claimed the 2022 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with Peterhansel, the first overall international rally raid victory for an electric vehicle, but the team appears to not have any intent of defending their win as they regroup and continue development of their RS Q e-tron E2 post-Dakar.
The Audi trio is permitted to race for other outfits at Abu Dhabi, the Sonora Rally, and the Desafío Ruta 40 before returning to Audi for the Rallye du Maroc in October. X-raid Team, whose manager Sven Quandt also oversees Team Audi Sport, offered up their Mini JCW Rally Plus cars to the Audi drivers if they wish to compete in T1 at said legs.
South Racing fields Can-Ams in the T3 and T4 categories. The team and Can-Am forged a partnership with Red Bull prior to Dakar, which quickly paid off as Red Bull Can-Am drivers Austin Jones and Seth Quintero finished 1–2 in T3.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge runs from 25 February to 3 March.