100 days to go until the Dakar Rally: A race against time for Audi Sport

Audi is tackling one of the greatest challenges in international motorsport, quite deliberately using a unique concept. The Audi RS Q e-tron has an electric powertrain with two motor-generator units (MGUs) from Formula E. While the vehicle is in motion, the high-voltage battery is charged by an energy converter consisting of the efficient TFSI engine from the DTM and another MGU. 

“The prototype of the Audi RS Q e-tron was created in around twelve months,” says Julius Seebach, Managing Director of Audi Sport GmbH and responsible for motorsport at Audi. The rollout on June 30th, 2021 in Neuburg an der Donau and the start on January 1, 2022 in Ha’il (Saudi Arabia) are separated by merely six months. “That’s a very short time to prepare for such a complex project. I cannot emphasize this often enough: The Audi RS Q-e-tron is the most sophisticated vehicle in terms of technology that Audi Sport has ever deployed in racing.”

Andreas Roos, Project Leader for all factory-backed motorsport activities, can only confirm that: “The Dakar is extremely challenging – even for a conventionally powered vehicle. With our powertrain concept, the challenge is distinctly greater. The chassis and suspension do not entail major differences, but we have a lot more components in the car that have to be not only high-performing, lightweight and functioning reliably under the extreme conditions of the Dakar. They also have to be attuned to each other perfectly and work together smoothly.” 

A conventionally powered Dakar vehicle features two major components: the internal combustion engine and the transmission. “In our Audi RS Q e-tron, we have an electric motor at the front axle, an electric motor at the rear axle, the high-voltage battery and the energy converter, consisting of another MGU and the TFSI engine from the DTM,” says Roos. “And each of these components, for instance, requires a dedicated cooling system. That means we have not only one cooling system in the car but as many as six, including the intercooler and air conditioning system for the driver and co-driver.” 

Packaging is another major issue with such a complex vehicle. “We had to make use of every centimeter to accommodate all the components in the car,” says Roos. That comes at the cost of ease of service. “For instance, changing the front-axle differential still takes a lot of time at the moment. That must be achievable faster at the Dakar and is one of the issues we’re currently working on under massive time pressure.”