The Dakar Rally is one of the most iconic endurance rallies in motorsports. It used to be known as the Paris-Dakar Rally when it was started in 1978 but hasn’t been actually been held in Africa or Europe since 2008 and was hosted entirely in Saudi Arabia in 2020. Audi is part of rally history itself with the introduction of the Quattro but hasn’t been a direct competitor in a long time. Now, the carmaker wants to make history yet again by being the first to use an electrified drivetrain for a possible victory at the 2022 Dakar Rally.

This is the development prototype of what Audi will be using. While it does carry the e-tron name, it’s not an all-electric racer. It’s a hybrid, using an electric drivetrain and a combustion engine to act as a range extender since there won’t be any fast chargers out there in the middle of the desert. The RS Q e-tron has a motor-generator unit on each axle from the Audi e-tron FE07 Formula E car, each needing only minor modifications to be used for the rally. There’s also a third MGU of a similar design that is part of the energy converter to recharge the battery while driving. The other part of the energy converter is the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine from Audi’s DTM racecar and is operated in the most efficient range of between 4,500-6,000rpm. It’ll also recover energy while braking. The specially-developed high-voltage 50kWh battery weighs around 370kg. Peak power of this drivetrain is rated at 670bhp but the organizers are still to decide on the top limit of the power output.

One of the advantages of an electric drivetrain is that the front and rear axles are not mechanically connected and uses software as a virtual centre differential to manage torque distribution. This creates the opportunity to save weight and space that would have been taken up by mechanical components. Since this is still a developmental prototype, we’ll have to wait to know the technical details of the final Dakar-spec race car for Q Motorsport.

Audi is serious about factory-backed cross-country rallying. Not only is the brand making its Dakar debut with an electrified prototype, but it has also assembled an impressive crew for the job. The three driver teams roped in are Mattias Ekstrom/ Emil Bergkvist (Sweden), Stephane Perhansel/ Edouard Boulanger (France) and Carlos Sainz/ Lucas Cruz (Spain).

A few details about each, in the words of Audi Sport Managing Director Julius Seebach: “Stéphane is the most successful Dakar driver of all time (14 wins, 6 on a motorcycle and 8 in cars). Carlos is a multiple Dakar winner and World Rally champion(yep, that’s the dad of the Sainz who drives for McLaren in F1). With Mattias, we already celebrated many Audi successes in the past (DTM). He is one of the world’s most versatile drivers (raced in WRC, NASCAR, Australian Supercars and World Rallycross Championship). In addition to a lot of speed, they are all adding an extreme amount of expertise and motivation to our team. The same goes for their co-drivers, who play an increasingly important role in the Dakar Rally.”

“In the end, the drivers and co-drivers make the difference at the Dakar Rally,” says Andreas Roos, who is responsible for the factory motorsport commitments at Audi Sport. “The fact that we will have three driver teams at the very highest level is reassuring. We can put a check mark behind this point. Now it’s up to us to complete the development of our innovative car and kick off the energy revolution in cross-country rallying in January.”

While Extreme-E is already trying to showcase the potential for all-electric off-road toys in motorsport, an electrified competitor in the prestigious Dakar rally could give this tech the competitive legitimacy it needs. The RS Q e-tron racing prototype is a far cry from any production-spec Audi but the livery is quite recognisable. The team still has till January to prepare and it’ll be exciting to see how this creation fares against the established competitors.

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