Audi’s intentions compete in the toughest rally in the world with an electric car started 15 months ago with a blank sheet of paper. The company closed its former rally division in the late 1980s and, by its own admission, thanks to staff attrition, has lost almost all the knowledge it gained during a period in which Audi won the World Championship. of Rallies in 1982 and 1984.
The Dakar Rally is a ridiculously large off-road endurance event. The distances of each stage can run up to 900 kilometers (560 miles) per day. The terrain traversed is much harder than is seen in conventional rallies, so vehicles have to be built specifically for the task; simple modified road vehicles will not cut it.
The race originated in December 1977, following an incident in which Thierry Sabine got lost in the Ténéré desert while competing in the 1975 “Cote-Cote” Abidjan-Nice rally. deciding that the desert would be a good location for a regular competition. About 182 vehicles took off from the inaugural rally in Paris. Only 74 made the 10,000-kilometer (6,200-mile) journey across the Sahara to the Senegalese capital Dakar.
As a result of the pandemic, with no possibility of fully testing any team in racing conditions, Audi’s goal this first year of returning to the sport of rallying was just to finish the Dakar. However, in the middle of the event, all three cars are still in motion, and the team has even secured a victory in the third stage of 636 km with rally veteran Carlos Sainz at the wheel, in the 59 years old. “It simply came to our notice then. is underway, “a team spokesman told WIRED.
At first glance, the Audi competitor in the 2022 Dakar has little in common with your average family car. The RS Q e-tron is a giant Tonka Toy, 4.5 meters long and two meters high. Under Darth Vader’s bodywork is a tubular frame, reinforced with carbon panels and housing a battery, three electric motors and a gasoline engine. It’s safe to assume that nothing like this will ever drive down a nearby street.
So why is Audi doing this? It is partly the prestige of the Dakar, of course: since its inception, this event has been synonymous with adventure and desert romance. After traveling from Paris to Dakar, the event moved to South America in 2008 following a terrorist attack in North Africa. Despite being geographically displaced, the name remained, and in 2019 the Dakar moved again, this time to Saudi Arabia, to try to evoke the desert origins of the event. Winning the Dakar is still prestigious, and 2022 is Audi’s first attempt.
But next to that, Audi is determined to become a premium electric brand and wants to win the Dakar with the battery. This is extremely difficult, as competitors have to complete up to 600 miles a day, driving through some of the most remote and inhospitable landscapes on Earth. They barely see a camel, no matter an electric vehicle charger.
But what Audi sees is an opportunity: an opportunity to experiment with an old idea that is coming back: the range expander. It is a battery-powered electric car that also has a gasoline engine on board, which acts as a power source. The engine never moves the wheels, it only keeps the batteries charged while driving. Ten years ago, range extenders were “the future”: Vauxhall (Buick in the US) and BMW offered them, while Audi developed a concept car.