Both the Audi brand and the driver Carlos Sainz are in a position today to accept only those sporting challenges that are as difficult as they are exciting. The last they have decided to face, together, is the Dakar Rally, a legendary event that in its 2022 edition will feature a pioneering vehicle, the Audi RS Q e-tron, an innovative prototype with an electrified propulsion system.
Just a year after the idea that launched this “a little crazy” project, in the words of the former world rally champion, Audi Sport started the testing phase of the spectacular RS Q e-tron, which, with nearly 700 hp, is indebted to the long experience of the German brand in the world of competition. Among its milestones we will remember only the incorporation of traction quattro and the victories in the 24 hours of Le Mans first with a TDI diesel and then with a hybrid; All technologies that ended up in their street models.
In the case of the RS Q e-tron, we are talking technically about an electric with extended autonomy, equipped with a motor-generator unit (MGU) -that is, an electric motor- on each axis, like those used by the Audi e-tron. FE07 of the 2021 Formula E season and powered by a 50 kWh battery pack and 370 kilos of weight. As is usual, this is placed on the floor of the car and provides a very low center of gravity that, logically, favors the performance In race.
Since the battery cannot be recharged in the desert, the brand with the four rings has opted for an innovative concept: installing the TFSI petrol engine from the DTM as part of an energy converter system responsible for recharging the high-voltage battery during driving. The engine runs in a particularly efficient range of 4,500 to 6,000 rpm, allowing specific consumption well below 200 grams per kWh.
In addition, the RS Q e-tron has an energy recovery system during braking, which for Carlos Sainz has been one of the great novelties contained in the Audi project. “All of this was new to me and for that reason I have found it exciting. Even at 59, I’m still hungry for success; otherwise, he would not have accepted this new challenge. I feel a mixture of pride, motivation and concern ”, joked the pilot at an event organized by Audi in Madrid in which Sainz himself and his co-driver, Lucas Cruz, drove the prototype to the stage of the presentation.
The Ingolstadt firm embarks on the Dakar not only with the brand new Spanish couple, winners of the 2010, 2018 and 2020 editions, but also with other highly prestigious drivers, such as the Swedish Mattias Ekström and Emil Bergkvist and the French Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger, all of them summoned to compete in the toughest rally in the world between the next 2 and 14 January.
The challenge acquires unusual proportions precisely because of the demands of the test, with stages of up to 800 kilometers over 12 days and numerous incursions into the dunes aboard a vehicle weighing more than two tons. “What we are going to try has never been done before; we are facing the greatest challenge for an electric propulsion system ”, said Andreas Roos, head of the Dakar Project at Audi Sport.
His colleague Stefan Dreyer, Head of Competition Project Development at Audi Sport, adds: “What we learn from the demanding Dakar project we can apply to our future road cars. As always, on this path we also work closely together with our serial production vehicle development partners. ”
The maximum output of the electric powertrain of the Audi concept car is 500 kW (680 hp). However, the Dakar Rally organization is still studying what power range it will give to the participants, as well as methods to compensate for differences in weight between the vehicles.
Virtual differential and engine brake
The Audi RS Q e-tron only needs one forward gear. As in the brand’s electric vehicles, there is no mechanical connection between the front and rear axles. The software developed here, it is responsible for distributing the torque between the axles, acting as a freely configurable virtual center differential, which has the positive secondary effect of saving the weight and space that the transmission shafts and a mechanical differential would have required.
On his impressions at the wheel, Sainz explained that the prototype, in the first place, “runs a lot and offers the pair immediately”. “It will be curious to go through dunes without worrying about which gear to engage or calculating the thrust you will need a second later, focusing only on seeing where you are taking the car.”
The driver from Madrid has highlighted as outstanding elements of the RS Q e-tron, apart from a rather narrow cabin where he will drive closer than ever to Lucas Cruz, the good compromise between the visibility he enjoys in the driving position and the aerodynamic needs of the drivers. engineers, in addition to the experience – unprecedented for him – of the engine braking intrinsic to an electric vehicle. Also the ease with which the driver and co-driver were able to determine the proper suspension setting, with a travel of 350 mm in all the participating cars and, where appropriate, a single shock absorber per wheel.
Almost everything new and exciting for a champion who at this point is only moved by great challenges such as the one that is drawn on the horizon just three months away, the Dakar 2022.