The announcement of Audi’s departure from Formula E came as a bit of a shock, due to its relative success in the sport. However, the reasons were understandable; Formula E doesn’t allow for a ton of innovation, as it’s mostly homogenized. Dakar rally racing, on the flip-side, allows for a ton of innovation. Which is why Audi Sport decided to put its efforts there. Now, the fruits of its labors can be seen, in the Audi RS Q e-tron.
In January, 2022, the Audi RS Q e-tron will face one of the greatest automotive challenges of all — the Dakar Rally.
The Dakar Rally is a two-week rally race through the desert that requires up to 800 km (around 500 miles) of daily driving. It’s an incredibly rigorous test of a car’s durability, regardless of powertrain. However, Audi Sport is attempting to do so in an electric racer.
“What we are trying to do has never been done before. This is the ultimate challenge for an electric drivetrain.” said Andreas Roos, head of the Dakar project.
Obviously, charging is a big concern, as it’s not like there are DC fast charging stations in the middle of the desert. Which is why Audi converted a TFSI engine from DTM racing to act as a range extender. Through an energy converter, the TFSI engine can charge the electric powertrain’s high-voltage battery while driving.
While there’s an internal combustion engine on board to recharge the battery, the actual powertrain of the Audi RS Q e-tron is entirely electric. It uses an electric motor at each axle, each of which are the same MGUs (motor-generator unit) used by the Formula E FE07 race car.
The total system is capable of around 670 horsepower (500 kW), however, the Dakar organizers may limit the total system power. The powertrain gets its juice from a 50 kW battery pack, which weighs around 370 kilos (815 lbs).
“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 percent in Formula E. There’s not much more room for improvement. The situation is quite different with the 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.”
Of course, Audi wants to win the Dakar Rally but even Audi Sport’s expectations aren’t that high. The Audi RS Q e-tron is easily the most complex, daring race car the brand has ever built and it’s going to be tested in the most grueling and extreme environments in the world. Audi’s just hoping to finish.
“This project’s schedule is extremely packed and challenging,” says 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.”
As with all great motorsport achievements, much will be learned from the Audi RS Q e-tron that can, and likely will, be applied to road cars. Let’s hope it does well because its success can mean great things for future e-tron products.