Audi and the Dakar, a traveling workshop in the desert

The house of the Four Rings surprised everyone at the Dakar 2022: for the technologies competing, for the results obtained, for the resources invested and for the future strategies of the brand, which could add another important element to the sustainable mobility of tomorrow.

Luca Frigerio

The Dakar is one of the most fascinating and toughest challenges in the world. Man and medium, face to face with the most hostile territories on planet Earth. It is a full-fledged race, so it is played against time but, unlike more traditional competitions, in the Dakar there are many variables. Navigation, the risk of getting lost, changing weather conditions, the hundreds of kilometers to travel every day, fatigue, the most unexpected event, driving error or technical problem. Yes, because it is not only the drivers who are put to the test during the race. Even the vehicles are subjected to incredible stress and breakages, more or less serious, as well as a trivial puncture, are always around the corner. The Dakar is therefore also a challenge for the engineers and for the teams, who must try to develop a two or four-wheeled vehicle that is as reliable as possible, but also easy and quick to repair, because you know, you have to take everything into account. . In this sense, the Dakar becomes a true mobile laboratory in the desert where, more than forty years after the first edition (dated 1979), companies invest to create ever more advanced means.


The real revolution, however, began in 2022 with Audi. The house of the Four Rings has chosen the competition in Saudi Arabia to embark on a new technological, environmental and economic challenge. The RS Q e-tron, the first electric car to race and, we add, to conclude the Dakar, clearly highlighted that the future is going in this direction and the surprising results of the German prototype, supported by the excellent sensations of experienced drivers. as Carlos Sainz e Stephan Peterhansel, are the clear demonstration of this.


Contrary to what one might think, racing is not just pure fun. The time and resources used are also investment and Audi Sport has extensively highlighted this in the last 20 years of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Another magical race, for the atmosphere you breathe, for the mental and physical stress it entails, for the infinite variables that could overturn the final result until the last minute. The Ingolstadt house has always been the protagonist with its prototypes, which have triumphed in 13 editions since 2000. From the magnificent R8 to the hybrid R18 e-tron quattro, passing through the R10 and R15, both marked Tdi which, for the layman, are powered by Diesel engines. To win the 24 Hours of Le Mans you need speed, reliability, consistency, precision and risk. But there is another important key point: the stops. The fewer pit stops to refuel, the less time is lost to finish first under the checkered flag. Obviously, in the race the car must also be performing, so the line that separates consumption and performance must be very thin. A challenge that Audi has won several times, however, and which was fundamental to making electrification the foundation of the range of Four Rings models on the market today, from mild hybrids to plug-in hybrids, up to the ever increasing number of electric ones.


In 2016, Audi left the Endurance World Championship to launch into Formula E, a fundamental championship for accumulating experience with zero-emission mobility. The commitment with single-seaters, however, ended in 2021 and in 2023 the Four Rings will reappear on the WEC racing fields with a prototype created in collaboration with Porsche and which will race in the new LMDh category, dedicated to cars with powertrain. electrified. The 24 Hours of Le Mans therefore returns to be an important piece for future Ingolstadt projects but, even before racing on asphalt, rally raids are decisively part of this important electrified development plan. In fact, Audi has invested a lot of resources to give life to the RS Q e-tron: 12 months to design, develop, assemble and, above all, test the first electric prototype with knobby wheels that raced the Dakar.


When one thinks of races, one also thinks of the paddock. A magical place that is crowded for about a week by trucks, staff, hospitality and support vehicles. A sort of miniature country that, at alternating periods, jumps from one circuit to another. In the Dakar, however, everything becomes even more complicated: the bivouac, from day to day and for about two consecutive weeks, has to be moved to follow the race and anticipate the participants returning from the stage. A movement of men (about 3,500 heads) and incredible metal, which requires organization and speed. On this front, thanks to the experience and support of the Q Motorsport GmbH team, Audi leaves you speechless. Like a real official team, with the monstrous support trucks perfectly in order, each well-labeled box of spare parts, the perfectly equipped workshop and, to face the Covid emergency, an area almost completely isolated and made autonomous (just think that beyond at the personal canteen, team members also had toilets, showers and washing machines for the exclusive use of the team). Small big details that confront the strength, experience and potential of an official brand that has the duty to present itself as such.


As already mentioned in many in-depth articles, the RS Q e-tron is a 100% electric car but, to tackle the problem of battery autonomy and recharging, which is impossible in the desert, it is also equipped with a range extender. This system is composed of a third electric motor set in rotation by a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine which, as a powertrain, has the sole task of generating energy. The fuel, therefore, is not used for pure motility, but to accumulate clean energy which is then used by the other two electric motors to set the prototype in motion. A solution that has already been talked about in the car world, but unprecedented in the Audi universe and which actually takes shape with this project. In an era where more and more sustainable mobility is sought but where recharging points and battery efficiency are not yet comparable to liquid power (petrol and diesel), the transition towards zero emissions seems to pass through here as well. The technology introduced by the RS Q e-tron could fill that gap between electric and hybrid: the Ingolstadt house is not yet unbalanced, but the history of Audi Sport teaches that where there is a large investment in the laboratory of racing, there is also a much broader plan on the product strategy we will use on the road.

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Audi and the Dakar, a traveling workshop in the desert