the electric 4×4 for the Dakar

After months of intrigue, after one year of development and, just starting the tests for its final set-up, Audi has revealed the definitive look of your electric 4×4 with whom you want to make history in the Dakar rally. AUTOPISTA had the opportunity to be one of the few European media to see before anyone else at the headquarters of Audi Sport near Munich, in “flesh and blood”, the imposing Audi RS Q e-tron.

A few weeks ago the pilots who will get behind the wheel of this true technological jewel of competition in the next Dakar: Carlos Sainz, Stéphane Peterhansel and Mattias Ekström They are already in charge of setting up this RS Q e-tron for a week in German lands, to continue with the development in southern Spain very soon, in the dunes of Morocco … and already in January 2022 to launch the Dakar Rally adventure.

The first impression of the Audi RS Q e-tron in person leaves you open-mouthed.

Audi RS Q e-tron: a major challenge

Audi wants to be the first brand to win the toughest rally raid on the planet with an electric car. For now the first tests have started on the right foot and both those responsible for the project and the pilots have described the AUTOPISTA as a “good start” the first contact. In fact, Carlos Sainz was the first to get in the car And, as Andreas Roose, Dakar project manager at Audi, assured us, he has already drawn up a “first list of things to improve”. But the start has been positive and the sensations have been good.

The challenge is huge And that’s how they face it at Audi Sport, aware of the complexity of the project. At Audi they even compare it to the first trip to the moon: “At that time, the engineers didn’t really know what was going to happen. This is similar for us: if we finish our first Dakar it will already be a success”. In addition, beyond sporting intentions, this challenge will serve to Audi learn and improve its technology to bring it to its street cars: “A rolling laboratory for possible future technologies”, they assure.

Audi RS Q e-tron.Aerodynamics also play a key role in the efficiency of this Audi RS Q e-tron.

Audi RS Q e-tron: a “work of art”

This is how they have been described by Audi, and they are right if we pay attention to the impression it makes the first time you have it in front of you. If you are lucky enough to see it live in a future test … get ready. Its appearance is simply spectacular, imposing, enormous: in front it looks like a spaceship and, behind, a real shark for its rear fin. The surprise also comes when seeing the contrast with the so small cockpit for pilot and copilot, and for that so particular air intake on the roof. As far as decoration is concerned, at Audi they assure us that those dark colors could be left in their final car for the Dakar.

The Audi RS Q e-tron will be the first of a new category whose regulations are being finalized: with respect to the buggies and 4x4s that we knew so far, the new prototypes for the Dakar will be wider, heavier (adjusting as much as possible to 2 tons) and with the largest possible tires and suspension travel. In parallel, the rivals (without electrification) will develop the new prototypes with very similar regulations.

In the Audi RS Q e-tron, in action.The tests with the Audi RS Q e-tron have already started.

This Audi RS Q e-tron measures 4.50 meters long and 1.95 meters high, being slightly larger than current buggies to accommodate all the mechanical framework that we will discuss in the next few paragraphs. Its wheelbase is 3.08 meters and its width is 2.30 meters, marking this last level the great difference with the current prototypes and what gives it such a beast imprint. Its maximum speed is not yet defined while waiting to know the final regulations, but it will be around the 170-180 km / h.

Audi RS Q e-tron: the entrails of the beast

To reach those speeds, that Audi RS Q e-tron hides under its brutal appearance a huge technological tangle on board just to propel it. Until 4 kilometers of wiring unite the electrical components of this 4×4 which, technically speaking, is a extended autonomy electric. That is to say: it will always move with electricity, but it has a gasoline engine to generate much of the electrical energy it needs during the long Dakar specials.

Carlos SainzAudi drivers have already gotten into the new RS Q e-tron, but Carlos Sainz was the first to test it.

It has two electric motors, one on each axis, coming directly from the Audi car in the 2021 Formula E World Championship. Each of them, with its respective inverter and an efficiency of 97 percent, will not be mechanically connected. Yes they will connect to a single gear shift and a complex software that will be in charge of distributing the motor torque between both. These engines, although in their configuration for the electric single-seater championship reach 250 kW (340 hp), in the 4×4 of the Dakar it will be less. Total, Audi announces a combined power of 500 kW (680 hp), although the official data sheet is lowered to 300 kW (408 hp) and the final figure will be adjusted depending on the “Balance of Performance” made by FIA and ASO before the Dakar between Audi and its competitors. And of course, with quattro drive.

At the rear there is more: a 2.0 TFSI engine, the same as the Audi of the DTM but modified: if in the German cars it yields to 450 kW, in the Dakar it will do it in a range of 140-220 kW of power (190-300 CV); It will also move in a shorter and lower rev range to be more efficient (4,500-6,000 rpm, versus 9,000 maximum rpm in the DTM). It will also be coupled with another electric motor identical to the previous ones, but which will be used as a generator. so that the force generated by that turbo gasoline engine is transformed into electricity.

Interior of the Audi RS Q e-tron.Interior of the Audi RS Q e-tron, tiny compared to the overall size of the car.

Audi RS Q e-tron: a battery “on demand”

The energy generated by the turbo gasoline engine, its coupled generator, as well as regeneration in the braking of the electric motors, will go to a battery located and protected by a carbon shell in the lower part of the car, with a capacity of about 52 kWh and a total weight of 375 kg (of the 2,000 kg contemplated as a minimum in the future regulation). This component, however, has not been developed as such by Audi, but unlike Formula E, where the battery is common to all teams, here the brand with the four rings has “custom-ordered” it for its RS Q e-tron.

Audi’s idea is to be able to move in one hundred percent electric mode on the links and that the gasoline engine comes into action when load needs require it. The RS Q e-tron will be charged at the bivouac before the special (at a charging station that is still under development) and will be charged while underway thanks to the action of the gasoline engine, “in the most automatic way possible so that pilot and copilot concentrate on driving ”, he assures us Stefan drier, Head of Technical Development at Audi Sport.

The TFSI thruster, however, will be able to fully charge the battery. The regulations of the current Dakar cars have a gasoline deposit 500 liters to cover a stage: thanks to electrification, Audi is now working on one of the 300 liters with the intention of lowering that figure. They do not yet require the fuel and energy consumption of this walking laboratory, which has “very complex software”.

In the Audi RS Q e-tron, in action.The first tests with the Audi RS Q e-tron, in Germany. They will soon land in Spain and, later, in Morocco.

Audi RS Q e-tron: the biggest challenges in its development

For Audi, this Dakar challenge made them starting just a year ago from a completely blank page. They did not do badly in the past this way in the rallies or in Le mans, where they have shone and have marked an era. The previous experience in their engines is an advance, since they come from their cars in Formula E and the DTM. To this is added the experience and work capacity of a man like Sven Quandt, responsible for X-Raid and now also for Q Motorsport, company that supports Audi Sport for this project and is involved in the development and testing from the beginning.

According to those responsible for the project (and as Carlos Sainz told us on the day of his presentation with Audi), the biggest challenge is making the electric 4×4 reliable. Beyond worrying about the reliability of a specific component, it will be getting all the motors, all the sensors and the electrical systems of the car (up to three different ones, 12V, 48V and one high voltage 800V) to communicate with each other. optimally, in a few conditions as difficult and uncertain as those of the Dakar Rally, will be the main objective in your first participation.

For pilots and engineers the challenge is great. Audi has experience in electrification… in circuits. An electrical problem in a closed circuit, where you can try to get into the pits to solve it, will not be the same as in the desert and totally isolated. Drivers and co-drivers will have little repair margin if there is a software problem in the car. And even less so in a competition that lasts two weeks, compared to the 24 hours of a race like Le Mans.

Mattias Ekström, Audi driver for the Dakar.Mattias Ekström, Audi driver for the Dakar.

Audi RS Q e-tron: those in charge and Mattias Ekström speak

“We want to win, but we want to be realistic and we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We want to survive in our first Dakar and go to the end ”, he assures Andreas Roose, project leader. “It is a fascinating challenge. The Audi RS Q e-tron is one of the most complex cars I have ever faced, ”he says. Sven Quandt, head of Q Motorsport who already had Sainz and Peterhansel in his ranks with the Mini and with whom he was champion.

Mattias Ekström He was the only driver present at the launch of the car to a few media in Germany and gave us his first impressions: “When I saw it, the first impression was that it was very large, and then when I started to take a closer look I saw the aerodynamic details and I was impressed, the work on the design is spectacular. It is a unique car. When I drove it for the first time I found it as manageable and agile as my Rallycross car: at first glance it is large, but actually the center of gravity is very low, it gives you the confidence and cornering acceleration you expect in rallycross. The impression after the first few laps was very good and does not give the impression of what it really is due to its size and weight ”, assured us the Swedish driver, one of the most versatile in the world of Motorsport, who also told us that the gasoline engine, once it starts working, will be heard over the buzz so peculiar to electric cars.

The Audi RS Q e-tron, on video.

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