Audi has made massive progress since its last Dakar outing, and the team expects to turn that into a title challenge.
Team Audi Sport has set itself a challenging goal for the upcoming Dakar Rally: an overall podium finish. The first Audi RS Q e-tron suffered some reliability issues unrelated to its powertrain, yet was still able to record stage wins in its first Dakar outing. Now that the second evolution of the electrified racer has been heavily revised and dropped a lot of weight, bringing improved ergonomics and easier repairs, Audi should be able to challenge at the front. It will not be all smooth sailing, as some sections of the rally will be more challenging than before, and many other Dakar entrants have improved their racers too, but the team remains cautiously optimistic that its new package will prove even more impressive than the first attempt.
Also noteworthy is that the four-cylinder turbocharged engine that acts as a generator to power the battery will run on reFuels (renewable fuels) for the first time. Based on biogenic plant matter that does not compete with food, the reFuels "help reduce CO2 emissions by more than 60%."
70% of the Saudi Arabian route is new to the drivers, and at 350-500 kilometers (roughly 217-310 miles), the organizers have made the stages between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf longer and more difficult than last year. Sven Quandt of Q Motorsport noted that this year's route "contains really high dunes," adding that it remains to be seen how good Audi's opponents are: "None of them showed their full capabilities in 2022. Maybe we won't see who is really strong until two, three, or four days later in January."
The team boss also recounted how a year ago, the cars had to be shipped by plane because they were completed so late. This year, despite an all-new body and numerous performance and reliability improvements, the cars have already been sent by ship.
The drivers and co-drivers are also better prepared, having been thoroughly trained by the engineers to help themselves if they suffer damage between stages. An earlier rally in Morocco has also helped each member to better understand the roadbook, the changes to the RS Q e-tron, and the optimum strategies.
Three-time Dakar winner Carlos Sainz Sr. praises the remarkable development made on the car in a very short period of time: "You can't compare the current situation with that of a year ago. The experience with the new car helps a lot, so our goals are also changing. In 2022 we were cautious, and now we hope we can race for the top. The biggest challenge remains the Dakar itself. Every day holds surprises."
The upcoming Dakar Rally will take place from December 31, 2022, to January 15, 2023, with Mattias Ekstrom (Audi's best river in last year's event with a 9th place finish) will be seated alongside co-driver Emil Bergkvist. Sainz will be joined by Lucas Cruz, and Stephane Peterhansel. Peterhansel has won a record 14 Dakar Rallies and will enter the event for the 35th time. He will be joined by Edouard Boulanger as co-pilot.
While last year felt very experimental as Audi looked to find its feet with an all-new machine, this year's product looks much more rounded and seems capable of challenging the indomitable Toyota Hilux and BRX with its T1. And as Audi looks to go all-electric by 2033, the power management lessons learned here will make future versions of the RS e-tron GT and other roadgoing EVs to come.