Electrified Audi RS Q e-tron rally car prepares to disrupt Dakar
Pushing the boundaries of electrified powertrain technology, Audi has developed the range-extended electric rally car it will run in Dakar 2022. The 671-hp RS Q e-tron will launch forward on dual electric axles, using a high-efficiency turbo engine-generator to maintain drive power through the gruelling, remote legs of off-road competition. The prototype will be out testing between now and the start of Dakar in January.
In its first-ever Dakar campaign, Audi hopes to compound the electrified racing successes it's had at Le Mans with its past all-wheel-drive rallying prowess to take on and beat the conventionally engined Dakar competition for an overall victory.
Its front and rear drive motors are directly adapted from the 2021 e-tron FE07 Formula E car. The pair teams for up to 671 hp, though Audi admits it may need to dial that back depending upon max output limit imposed by Dakar organizers. The motors draw power from a 50-kWh battery pack.
Recognizing that battery power alone won't be sufficient for tackling the extreme weather and terrain of Dakar for stretches up to 500 miles (800 km) at a time, Audi adds in a range-extending energy conversion package centered around a TFSI turbo engine adapted from DTM. The engine operates efficiently between 4,500 and 6,000 rpm, creating electricity to charge the battery and keep the RS Q e-tron grinding through Dakar's longest stages. Recuperative braking also contributes to the battery charging equation.
The battery lumps on about 816 lb (370 kg), but Audi is also able to save weight through other systems and components. The motors rely on software-driven electronic torque control, eliminating the driveshafts and mechanical center differential that a conventional 4WD would carry. The single forward gear also cuts some bulk and weight over a full gear set.
As far as bodywork goes, the RS Q e-tron looks every bit as large and aggressive as we've come to expect from the latest cutting-edge Dakar cars, starting with the air-vacuuming roof scoop and high front fenders that stand at hood level. The body was designed to accommodate the massive tires, and subtly styled to tie into Audi's production design language while exemplifying "Vorsprung durch Technik " (progress through technology). Visible carbon fiber cuts weight and adds to the high-performance aesthetic, while independent front and rear suspensions bring loads of travel for chewing up and spitting out all grades of bump and drop.
Audi has teamed with newly founded Q Motorsport on the Dakar campaign. Q was established by Sven Quandt, founder of the X-Raid team that's won six Dakar rallies, including the 2020 and 2021 events, and 11 FIA World Cups. According to an announcement released last December, Q will take a more sustainable approach to rally competition, starting with its team-up on the RS Q e-tron, a first mission that will not be an easy one.
"Audi has always chosen new and bold paths in racing, but I think this is one of the most complex cars that I have ever seen," says Quandt. "The electric drivetrain means that a lot of different systems have to communicate with each other. Besides reliability, which is paramount in the Dakar Rally, that’s our biggest challenge in the coming months. If we finish the first Dakar event, that’s already a success."
Unmatchable experience will be on the team's side, however. Dakar icons Stéphane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz will join Dakar sophomore and former FIA World Rallycross champion Mattias Ekström in taking the RS Q e-tron wheel.
The RS Q e-tron prototype rolled out earlier this month in Neuburg, Germany and will be testing privately and at cross country rallies throughout the remainder of 2021. You can put eyes on some of the first test runs cut with info about the challenges and developments of the project in the video below.