Audi tests its plug-in hybrid Dakar rally car in the scorching Moroccan heat

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Audi prepared its personnel, its drivers and its cars for the 2022 edition of the Dakar Rally by carrying out a series of tests in the Moroccan desert. Powered by a gasoline-electric powertrain, the RS Q E-Tron sprinted, braked hard, drifted and spent a lot of time in the air.

Dakar legends Stéphane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz and long-time touring car racer Mattias Ekström took turns putting an RS Q E-Tron prototype through its paces in Morocco. Sand storms and 100-plus-degree temperatures tortured the powertrain; it's the desert, after all. Not everything went smoothly, which is inevitable, but the team would rather discover problems while testing than while racing.

"Some new problems arose in the high temperatures, which repeatedly caused interruptions to the testing and needed to be solved before the next test," explained Sven Quandt, the team principal of Q Motorsport. All told, the team spent two weeks south of the Mediterranean.

It sounds like much of the testing hovered around the powertrain, which consists of a TFSI engine sourced from Audi's now-shuttered DTM touring car team and set up to charge a 50-kilowatt-hour battery pack on-the-go. It operates between 4,500 and 6,000 rpm. Electricity reaches the four wheels via a pair of electric motors borrowed from Audi's Formula E cars, while a third motor helps charge the battery. It's a relatively complex system; some of the parts are off-the-shelf components, but the battery was developed specifically for the RS Q E-Tron.

Another area that was fine-tuned during the tests is ergonomics. Race cars are designed for performance, not comfort, but quirks like an odd seating position, poor visibility, and a cramped cabin can cause the drivers and the copilot to lose precious seconds. Audi consequently made small but significant modifications to the cockpit to carve out more space for the crew and allow for better communication.

"The insights we gained in Morocco is invaluable, but they also show us that we still have a lot to do before the Dakar Rally, and there is not much time left," concluded Andreas Roos, the head of factory motorsport projects at Audi Sport. He's right: the race starts in January 2022.

Audi Sport will continue testing the RS Q E-Tron in a variety of conditions and locations in the coming months. In the meantime, workers at its facility in Germany have started building one of the two cars that will compete in the race. It wears chassis number 104. Enthusiasts will be able to see the duo in action during the 2022 Dakar Rally, which starts in starts on January 2 in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia, and ends in Jeddah 12 days later. In the dunes, the RS Q E-Tron will need to fend off competition from a diverse list of competitors including the BRX Hunter.

Interestingly, some of the lessons learned while testing the Dakar racer in Morocco and elsewhere will trickle down to production cars in the coming years. Audi is notably gaining valuable knowledge about managing a high-voltage battery pack's temperature in extreme conditions.

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