Audi has been in the news lately for the launch of the e-Tron siblings in India. It looks like Audi has taken their target of electrifying all of their products by 2025 very seriously so much so that they want to compete in the coveted Dakar Rally in January 2022. Well, this is not the first time Audi is planning to participate with an electric drivetrain in an international race. In fact, Audi was the first manufacturer to win the Le Mans 24 hours race with the RS18 e-Tron Quattro.
Audi is planning to be the first manufacturer to enter the world’s toughest rally – Dakar. They are not aiming only to participate but are gunning for overall victory over the conventionally powered rally cars. Audi Sport has started testing the new Audi RS Q e-Tron, with which Audi will take on one of the greatest challenges.
“The Quattro was a gamechanger for the World Rally Championship. Audi was the first brand to win the Le Mans 24 Hours with an electrified drivetrain. Now, we want to usher in a new era at the Dakar Rally, while testing and further developing our e-Tron technology under extreme conditions,” says Julius Seebach, Managing Director of Audi Sport GmbH and responsible for motorsport at Audi. “Our RS Q e-tron was created on a blank sheet of paper in record time and stands for Vorsprung durch Technik.”
The Dakar Rally
For the uninitiated, the Dakar Rally is an off-road endurance marathon that spans over two weeks. Most of the competitive special sections are off-road, crossing dunes, mud, camel grass, rocks, and erg among others. The distances of each stage covered vary from short distances up to 800–900 kilometres (500–560 mi) per day. The rally is conducted for both cars and motorcycles. It is a true test of skill and endurance for the drivers and riders.
One of the biggest challenge that the electric drivetrain poses is the range on the battery. The car needs to cover 800-900 km at a stretch without breaks for a charging top-up. To overcome this, there is a highly efficient TFSI engine from the DTM. It is part of an energy converter that charges the high-voltage battery while driving. Since the combustion engine is operated in the particularly efficient range of between 4,500 and 6,000 rpm, the specific consumption is well below 200 grams per kWh. However, the drivetrain of the RS Q e-Tron is pure electric. The front and rear axles are both fitted with a motor-generator unit (MGU) from the current Audi e-Tron FE07 Formula E car which has been developed by Audi Sport for the 2021 season. Only minor modifications had to be made to use the MGU in the Dakar Rally. A third MGU, of identical design, is part of the energy converter and serves to recharge the high-voltage battery while driving. In addition, energy is recuperated during braking.
The battery of the RS Q e-Tron has a capacity of 50 KWh and weighs a whopping 370 kg. “The battery is also a proprietary development that we have realized together with a partner,” says Stefan Dreyer, Head of Development at Audi Sport for motorsport projects. “As engineers, we basically see development potential in every component. But in terms of the drivetrain system, we have already achieved a system efficiency of over 97 per cent in Formula E. There’s not much more room for improvement. The situation is quite different with battery and energy management. This is where the greatest development potential lies in electromobility in general. What we learn from the extremely challenging Dakar project will flow into future production models. As always, we are also working closely with our colleagues from road car development on this project.” The maximum system power of the e-drivetrain is 500 kW. How much of this may be used during the Dakar Rally is still being finalized by the organizers. The electric drivetrain offers many advantages. The electric motors can be controlled extremely precisely and can thus ensure good drivability. In addition, braking energy can be recovered.
The prototype of the Audi RS Q e-Tron had its first roll-out in Neuburg at the beginning of July. An intensive test program and the first test entries at cross-country rallies are on the agenda from now until the end of the year.
“This project’s schedule is extremely packed and challenging,” says Andreas Roos. “Less than twelve months have passed since the project officially started. We had to begin the development while the regulations for alternatively-powered vehicles had not even been finalized yet. And all of the development took place during the Corona pandemic. You mustn’t underestimate that either. What the team has achieved so far is unique. The roll-out was a very special moment for everyone.”