Audi will be chasing Dakar glory later this year with a highly-revised RS Q e-tron.
Audi's current motorsport operation, including the all-new F1 venture, is located in the regions around Ingolstadt and Neckarsulm. The region is famous for not being near a desert, which puts the Audi Dakar team at a slight disadvantage when it comes to testing the updated Audi RS Q e-tron E2 rally car. Finding a quiet road to test an Audi RS3 is easy, but a desert in Germany is a tough ask.
That's why the brand has gone to Morocco with the RS Q e-tron E2 to put it through the hot, dusty hell of the Rallye du Maroc ahead of the 2023 Dakar Rally, which starts on 31 December 2022.
Before we go any further, we need to clarify something. People have asked how Audi charges its EV buggy in the Saudi Arabian desert. The answer is that it doesn't; the Audi RS Q e-tron rally car is equipped with a 2.0-liter TFSI engine from Audi's roadgoing cars which acts as a generator for the battery pack, which feeds power to the electric motors. It's more of a complex plug-in hybrid than a true EV.
The three electric buggies already comply with the Dakar Rally regulations, which means Audi was forced to enter the Morocco Rally's Open Class. The idea was not to win, however, so the classification mattered little.
"Even though we didn't appear in the classification, every kilometer and every single day of the rally was as valuable for us as it was for the regular participants," says Head of Audi Motorsport Rolf Michl.
"On demanding stages and varied terrain, we were able to test the abilities of the driver teams and the cars in every situation. For us, the rally, with its extreme dunes and stony landscapes, was an essential element in the preparation for the Dakar Rally."
The three cars, piloted by Mattias Ekstrom/Emil Bergkvist, Stephane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger, and Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz faced rough surfaces, brutal heat, poor visibility in dense dust, and many navigation errors. Several tires were also lost to the harsh conditions, but all three finished the grueling 1,429-mile race.
"The tire failures and a few navigation errors kept reminding us of the difficulties in the competition. But our engineers did a good job because I'm really very happy with the set-up of the car," reports Mattias Ekstrom. "A race is and remains the best race preparation."
In the 2022 Dakar Rally, Ekstrom was the only driver to make it into the top 10, even though he also got lost a few times. The others suffered, with Peterhansel falling behind early on after losing a tire and part of the car's suspension, while Carlos Sainz got lost a few times despite managing a stage win.
In short, the Morocco Rally was the perfect preparation for the infamous Dakar Rally, which is much longer and a lot tougher.
"The race was very important for us to verify the results from our previous test," says Sven Quandt, Managing Director and Team Principal of Q Motorsport. "We saw that we still have to improve some points, which we will work off until the Dakar. Overall, though, I'm very positive that we'll have a well-prepared car in January.
Why go racing with an EV at all? For the same reason Audi is entering F1. From 2026, F1 power units have to be 50% electric and 50% internal combustion.
These two vastly different motorsports allow Audi to demonstrate its battery technology and dispel common myths about EVs. The temperatures in the Saudi Arabian desert easily reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit, which is way beyond the optimal temperature for an EV battery (59-95 degrees Fahrenheit).
If the battery can complete 4,400 miles over 12 days in the Saudi Arabian desert, people will finally stop worrying that their RS e-tron GT might spontaneously combust in an Ohio parking lot while they enjoy an organic smoothie.