Audi made substantial upgrades to ensure a victory in the toughest off-road race of them all.
Earlier this year, Audi scored a world-first victory for EVs at the 2022 Dakar Rally. Even though an overall win was out of the question after Stephane Peterhansel hit a rock and had to wait four hours for the repair truck. It's impossible to fight back from a four-hour delay, but at least Audi scored a stage win with Carlos Sainz Sr. behind the wheel.
Audi learned a lot of lessons from that first Dakar and made some significant upgrades to its racer, revealing an upgrade in the form of this: the RS Q e-tron E2 Rally Car. Set to make its debut at the annual Morocco Rally in early October, that will be a mere warm-up for the most demanding off-road race of them all, the Dakar Rally in January 2023.
The first thing you'll notice is the completely new body. "The Audi RS Q e-tron E2 does not adopt a single body part from its predecessor," says Axel Loffler, chief designer of the RS Q e-tron.
The cockpit is much broader than before, and the front and rear hoods have also been redesigned. "We are now doing away with the underflow of the rear hood to the left and right of the B-pillars. In conjunction with modified lay-ups, for example, the optimized fabric layers of the composite materials, this solution reduces weight," explains Loffler.
Audi completely changed the aerodynamics below the hood. This area now resembles the bow of a boat. The widest portion is currently the top of the roof above the cockpit, and the design tapers off to the front and rear. As a result, the aerodynamic drag has been reduced by 15%. The top speed is still limited to 106 mph (170 km/h), but the car should get there quicker.
The RS Q e-tron E2 Rally Car is not strictly an EV but more of a hybrid. There aren't any charging points in the desert, so Audi uses a DTM-sourced 2.0-liter turbocharged internal combustion engine as a generator, a high-voltage battery, and two electric motors on the front and rear axle. The combined output, however, seems rather paltry at just 386 horsepower.
This power unit proved to be more effective than Audi thought and resulted in some unique phenomena during the race. The drivers noted short bursts of surplus power gained when the wheels made less contact with the ground, such as while jumping or driving on uneven terrain.
The FIA wrote regulations specifically for this car and set a threshold of two kilojoules of excess energy before imposing sporting penalties. The unexpected gains Audi experienced resulted in penalties, but the power controllers have been fine-tuned. As a result, it operates precisely along the permissible limit.
Audi will be fielding three cars, all driven and navigated by legends. Mattias Ekstrom/Emil Bergkvist, Stephane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger, and Carlos Sainz Sr./Lucas Cruz will be the driver/navigator combinations doing their best to score a first overall EV win for Audi.
Audi revamped the interior to make life easier for the driver and navigator. The display with all the vital information remains in the center console, still within the driver's sightline.
However, the engineers have restructured the displays and controls. There are four themes to choose from. While drivers are hustling through a stage, Stage mode showcases all the vital functions, but between stages, the Road theme essentially turns the interior into something you'll find on a typical EV Audi like the Audi Q6 e-tron.
The Error option helps track problems with the vehicle, while Settings mode let the engineers do their stuff between stages at the bivouac - or temporary camp between each stage.
That snafu that cost Peterhansel the race also inspired Audi. The new racer has simple, flat, and easily removable body components, granting easier wheel access. "We have combined all the important lessons in a very short time. The result of our ideas is the E2 evolution," says Uwe Breuling, head of vehicle operations at Audi Sport. "Our development team's determined and cost-efficient work has prepared us perfectly for our second Dakar Rally."
It is fantastic to see Audi back competing in the highest forms of motorsport. A little over a week ago, it finally confirmed that it will return to F1 in 2026, and this redesigned rally racer looks to be a strong contender at the Dakar.
Competing in the two pinnacles of motorsport will undoubtedly help convince naysayers that the future is electric, especially if the Audis manage to beat the mighty ICE-powered Gazoo Racing Hiluxes.