Two generations of quattro: an interview with Stig Blomqvist and Mattias Ekström
The Audi Driving Experience Center in Neuburg an der Donau in Bavaria. Tires screech on the test track, an e-tron S drifts around the curves with mind-blowing speed. A gentleman with white hair and a friendly smile is behind the wheel. May we introduce: Stig “Master” Blomqvist, participant in 122 world championship rallies with 11 victories and 1 World Rally Championship drivers' title. And he still has his foot on the gas pedal. As he steps out of the car, he greets Mattias Ekström, who is 30 years his junior and a long-time DTM driver and World Rallycross Champion. The two are meeting for the 40-year anniversary of the quattro — and they have a few anecdotes about the legendary 4-wheel drive ready and waiting.
When did you each sit behind the wheel of an Audi with quattro drive for the first time?
Blomqvist: That was in 1982, and it was also my first visit to Audi in Ingolstadt. The Audi premises were a little smaller back then [laughs]. Freddy Kottulinsky [race car driver and Dakar winner (1932 – 2010); editor’s note] took me out in the original quattro [Audi A2 quattro; editor’s note] and I drove the car there for the first time. Driving with all-wheel drive was a whole new feeling. I loved the power of that car from the very beginning.
Ekström: The first time I sat in a quattro was in the early 1990s. I was 14 or 15 years old and I was driving with my sister’s boyfriend at the time. He had bought a broken down original Audi quattro from my father and repaired it. I can still remember: the acceleration was absolutely crazy and the sound was just incredible!
The first time I drove one myself, it was an Audi A4 quattro at the Swedish Touring Car Championship (STCC) in 1999. That was really fun. The car was wild — it had loads of grip and it accelerated incredibly quickly. In the quattro, I felt more courageous and better than I actually was at the time.
Which experiences with the all-wheel drive Audi do you think back on most fondly? Which moment with the quattro was most special?
Blomqvist: It was definitely the race in Monte Carlo in 1984. It had snowed and the race track was slick and slippery. And my team colleagues Walter Röhrl and Hannu Mikkola and I were in the original quattro — the only car at the time with all-wheel drive. The other drivers were really struggling. They skidded and it even threw them out of the curves at times. We managed a triple victory [Röhrl in front of Blomqvist and Mikkola; editor’s note] 25 minutes ahead of the fourth-place driver. No one could beat the quattro in those kinds of conditions. That was really an amazing time back then, and I also became world champion. That was one of the greatest moments of my life. I had a real connection to the original quattro.
World Rally Championship 1984
Ekström: My strongest connection is to the Audi S1 EKS RX quattro that I won the 2014 World Rallycross Championship in. That was the best quattro I ever drove. I also grew as a person with that race car. It was incredibly fun. I sold the original car. But I know the owner and I got to drive it one more time last year. Maybe I’ll buy it back again in a few years. [laughs]
World Rally Championship 2016
The new Audi e-tron S also has a quattro drive. How does that feel in an electric car?
Blomqvist: It’s fantastic. I never would have thought that the e-tron S would feel like a quattro. But other than that, a combustion engine and an electric car are very different. The e-tron S is much smoother and noticeably easier to drive than the quattro models back then with combustion engines. And, of course, it’s quieter. [grins]
Ekström: There is a world of difference between a combustion engine and an electric car. The electric cars, for example, are considerably heavier. As a racecar driver I always say: the lighter the car, the more fun it is to drive! But I’m sure there will be a lot of progress in the development of the batteries over the next few years. Aside from that, I grew up with a five-cylinder engine, and I just miss the sound. But maybe I’ll get a playlist with five-cylinder sounds that I can listen to while I’m driving. [laughs]
The e-tron S has a dynamic torque distribution between the two e-motors on the rear axle — the new torque vectoring. What makes it stand out?
Blomqvist: The torque vectoring is fantastic. The handling is perfect and the car stays stable in the curves. You are always in control. The car implements all the driving maneuvers very quickly. The power is right there, immediately! In summary: the feeling of a sports car packaged in an SUV.
Ekström: I absolutely agree with you, Stig. It’s hard to imagine, but you really feel the balance between the wheels. The software [torque vectoring combines a differential lock and sports differential in a system with software-based control without a mechanical connection; editor’s note] does something magical to the car. You hardly notice the heavier weight of the electric car because it is so perfectly designed.
You two have known each other for a few decades now. What connects you?
Blomqvist: We’re both from Sweden and we’re both rally world champions. [grins]
Ekström: Stig is a role model for me. He is a living racing legend and I already watched him drive on TV when I was a kid. When I saw Stig drifting through the curves today, I thought: I hope I can still do that at his age. [laughs]
One more question about the beginnings of all-wheel drive: which of the two of you would win a theoretical race in an original quattro?
Blomqvist: We did actually race against each other one time. But we were both disqualified because of an accident. [laughs] But Mattias would definitely win. He is so talented and he also knows the cars perfectly from a technical perspective.
Ekström: [Laughs] In his best years I wouldn’t have had a chance against Stig. He knows his original quattro inside and out. It’s like riding a bike to him. And they had a different driving style back then: it was harder, drivers could make a lot more mistakes. You had to know your car perfectly and have experience. In a modern quattro I might be able to beat him. [grins]
Mattias, that almost sounds like you would rather have been a driver in the 1980s?
Ekström: I definitely would have loved to drive in the 80s. It was all a little more raw. You needed totally different skills. Talent was more important than discipline and technique. These days, you have to be in incredible shape and eat a balanced diet. Back then you could still party and drink and smoke... [laughs] Now the cars are almost more important than the drivers.