There’s been a few off-road rallies worthy of note over the years, but the Dakar Rally seems to hold a special place in the hearts of off-road fans. The gruelling race, originally the Paris-Dakar Rally racing from Paris to Senegal, moved to South America in 2008 due to security reasons and has more recently become Saudi Arabia-based. The off-road rally occurs in January, and it’s often the summer before that we start to get a hint of what might be taking part.
Right on cue, we have the Formula E powered Audi RS Q E-tron. The lunar-looking off-roader is a result of Audi withdrawing from Formula E after 7 seasons, as well as the DTM, to concentrate entirely on the Dakar Rally and Le Mans. Testing of the E-tron is now underway and rather than trying to keep the beast under wraps any longer, Audi has chosen the summer of 2021 to reveal this high-tech electric powerhouse on oversized wheels. While the E-tron is an electric vehicle, it will still utilise a fossil-fuel engine to charge the battery. If this sounds a bit, well, self-defeating, Audi says that the 2-litre turbocharged petrol engine will spin at very efficient speeds between 4,500 and 6,000 revs per minute emitting less than 200g/km of CO2 per kWh of power introduced to the 50kWh battery as a result. The reason for this complicated way of doing things is that the Dakar Rally is made up of daily distances that can be up to 560 miles long – and if any competing driver manages to find a charging point during the race – it’s likely to be a mirage.
Audi’s Formula E technology provides twin motors at each axle; these are very similar in design to the units used in Lucas di Grassi’s Puebla win in Formula E this year. All in all, the total output of the Audi RS Q E-tron is a whopping 671bhp (any potential Dakar race restrictions for 2022 aside). Along with the petrol engine from a donor RS5 DTM race car, regenerative braking will also aid in charging the battery.
Audi has a long history of being involved in motorsport and began to concentrate on Le Mans back in 2000, going on to gain 13 incredible wins over the next 15 years – including becoming the first team to win with a hybrid vehicle. With a record like that, heavily investing in a pure Dakar-bred off-roader doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, and Audi now has set its sights on becoming the first team to win with an electric vehicle charged with a petrol engine in a field that is likely to consist entirely of standard fuelled off-roaders.
Audi plans to enter the Audi RS Q E-tron in Dakar Rally 2022, which begins early in the year in January. Three RS Q E-trons will compete, and Audi has got an impressive roster of drivers ready to go. Carlos Sainz has won the Dakar 3 times in the past as well as several other rallies. Meanwhile, Mattius Ekström has 2 DTM victories under his belt along with a World Rallycross Championship win. Though arguably the icing on the cake is Stéphane Peterhansel, world record holding Dakar Rally driver with an unprecedented 14 wins. I certainly wouldn’t be willing to bet against Audi achieving their goal over a tough 2-weeks in January 2022.
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