In the early 1980s, the Audi Quattro dominated rallying with game-changing four-wheel-drive technology for rally cars and production vehicles. Audi was the first automaker to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a diesel-powered car, in 2006, and then with a hybrid powertrain, in 2012. Now the German company aims to add another first by entering its RS Q e-tron Hybrid rally car at the January Dakar rally.
“We still have a lot to do before the Dakar Rally” – Andrea Roos of Audi Sport
Prepare the RS Q e-tron Dakar
The extraordinary RS Q e-tron is a newly developed creation designed to test and prove technology that is expected to eventually trickle down to Audi production models. To this end, it will participate in the 2022 edition of the famous Dakar (which, despite its name, now takes place entirely in Saudi Arabia).
“We want to usher in a new era in the Dakar Rally, while testing and further developing our e-tron technology under extreme conditions,” Julius Seebach, CEO of Audi Sport GmbH, said in a July press release. “Our RS Q e-tron was created on a blank sheet of paper in record time and stands for Vorsprung durch Technik. “
Audi intends to be the first automaker to use an electrified transmission in combination with an efficient power converter against conventionally powered competitors in what is widely recognized as the world’s toughest rally.
But before this final test of what looks like a high-tech testing laboratory on wheels, Audi Sport GmbH – the high-performance car manufacturing subsidiary of Audi (itself a subsidiary of the Volkswagen group) – did Putting the RS Q e-tron to the test paced the scorching temperatures and withered sandstorms of the Moroccan desert last month.
What is the Audi RS Q e-tron?
Audi unveiled the futuristic RS Q e-tron in July. It is an off-road racing offshoot of its long-standing e-tron sub-brand of premium electric and hybrid cars. Development of the RS Q e-tron has been incredibly rapid, fully realized during the COVID-19 pandemic and still with the initial goal of participating in the Dakar Rally 2022.
The RS Q e-tron combines two slightly modified electric motors from the Audi e-tron FE07 Formula E car, one on each axle, for a combined output of 671 hp. The same turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 found in the Audi RS5 Turbo DTM Class 1 passenger car acts as a generator, charging the battery while driving by running a third electric motor. This third electric motor also serves as a generator during braking, partially recovering energy that would otherwise be lost in the form of heat.
The RS Q e-tron’s 815-pound, 50-kWh high-voltage battery, developed specifically by Audi for the Dakar rally, has come under special scrutiny in recent tests in Germany, Spain and, more recently, in Morocco.
“This is about optimal temperature management and the ability to call for maximum battery performance,” said Andreas Roos, head of factory motorsport projects at Audi Sport. “This is where we learn with every test. And that’s exactly why we go into the desert with an electrified transmission: we gain an incredible experience that we share with our colleagues in the development of road cars.
Conditions in Morocco during the RS Q e-tron tests were even warmer than expected in Saudi Arabia for the Dakar rally itself – well above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) at times. And then there were severe sandstorms. But that was the point: to push the RS Q e-tron and its driver crews through the most extreme conditions to make sure they are more than ready for the rally itself.
“Components such as the MGU [motor-generator units], for example, have basically not been developed for use at such high ambient temperatures, ”said Roos. “But the transmission and other components have also been pushed to their limits or even beyond by the heat.”
The three Dakar driver crews took part in testing in Morocco, with Dakar record holder Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz and Mattias Ekström taking turns at the wheel of the very complex RS Q e-tron prototype, alongside their co-drivers Edouard Boulanger, Lucas Cruz and Emil Bergkvist.
A hot topic during testing was cockpit comfort, as Dakar rally stages can reach 560 miles in incredibly deadly conditions.
“For the tests in Morocco, we have made changes so that the pilot and co-pilot have more space in the narrow cockpit and can also communicate better with each other,” Roos continued. “The feedback has been positive. “
What is happening now?
In parallel with the tests in Morocco, Audi Sport has already started building the first RS Q e-tron intended for competition at its high-tech headquarters in the German city of Neuburg an der Donau. This vehicle will almost certainly display refinements inspired by lessons learned in the Moroccan desert.
“The test car is a prototype in which everything was not yet perfectly suited,” says Benedikt Brunninger, Audi Sport project manager for the Dakar rally. “In the case of today’s competition cars, we aim for absolute perfection in terms of precise fit.”
Audi’s e-tron FE07 has already achieved an efficiency rate of over 95% for the entire powertrain and 97% for the MGU inverter alone.
Audi Sport will share what it learned in Morocco with colleagues from the company’s road car development teams. But before the technology of the RS Q e-tron approaches a production car or a public road, there remains the small question of the Dakar Rally 2022. Further intensive testing, including entry into other off-road rallies are all part of Audi’s plan before Dakar.
Reliability will be paramount during the Dakar event, where conditions will test the crucial communication between the multiple systems that make up an electric transmission. Just finishing the rally will be a remarkable achievement for the RS Q e-tron team. Like the Dakar Rally itself, testing of the RS Q e-tron in Morocco lasted two weeks. Audi will implement the information from the tests and the event in its future production models.
“What we’re trying to do has never been done before. This is the ultimate challenge for an electric transmission, ”Roos concluded. “The knowledge we have acquired in Morocco is invaluable, but it also shows us that we still have a lot to do before the Dakar Rally and that we are running out of time. “
Find more information on the Dakar Rally 2022 here.