Formula 1 has moved to electric power with the Formula E segment of races, and so has MotoGP, running a MotoE series of the championship. Other forms of motorsports as well, such as the World Endurance Championship and Pikes Peak run electric and or hybrid cars. The Dakar Rally has also seen contestants running electric vehicles, and now, Audi will compete in 2022 with an electric vehicle — the RS Q e-tron.
“The quattro was a game changer for the World Rally Championship. Audi was the first brand to win the Le Mans 24 Hours with an electrified drivetrain. Now, we want to usher in a new era at the Dakar Rally, while testing and further developing our e-tron technology under extreme conditions,” says Julius Seebach, Managing Director of Audi Sport GmbH.
Audi wants to be the first carmaker to use an electrified drivetrain, in combination with an efficient energy converter to compete for the overall victory at the upcoming event. Unlike other events, the Dakar Rally runs over a period of two weeks, and some stages can be up to 800 kilometres long, while during special stages, the competitors get no help from the engineers at all.
Due to the nature of the race, the engineers have had to overcome unique challenges. Andreas Roos, responsible for the Dakar project at Audi Sport says, “What we are trying to do has never been done before. This is the ultimate challenge for an electric drivetrain.”
Because the Dakar Rally gives no room to charge electric vehicles in the middle of the desert, Audi has a unique solution — the carmaker will use a highly efficient TFSI engine onboard the car from the DTM platform, to charge the electric batteries. The engine will operate between 4,500 rpm to 6,500 rpm, making the specific consumption below 200 grams per kWh.
The Audi RS Q e-tron will use the axles from the current Audi e-tron FE07 Formula E car. Two motor-generator units (MGUs) are slightly modified compared to the Formula E car and will power each axle. A third MGU will be a part of the energy converter to charge the high-voltage batteries of the Dakar competitor. The RS Q e-tron will also harness energy through regenerative braking.
The battery in the vehicle weighs 370 kilograms and has a capacity of around 50 kWh. A maximum of 500 kWh can be drawn from the battery, but how much Audi wants to use in the Dakar Rally is not finalised. “The battery is also a proprietary development that we have realized together with a partner,” says Stefan Dreyer, Head of Development at Audi Sport for motorsport projects. “As engineers, we basically see development potential in every component. But in terms of the drivetrain system, we have already achieved a system efficiency of over 97 per cent in Formula E.”
The Audi RS Q e-tron needs one forward gear and the front and rear axles are not mechanically connected — the same as any electric vehicle. The software developed by Audi takes over the torque distribution between both axles.
“This project’s schedule is extremely packed and challenging,” says Andreas Roos. “Less than twelve months have passed since the project officially started. We had to begin the development while the regulations for alternatively-powered vehicles had not even been finalized yet. And all of the development took place during the Corona pandemic. You mustn’t underestimate that either. What the team has achieved so far is unique. The roll-out was a very special moment for everyone.”
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