“It was like the first time landing on the moon.” This is the original way in which Sven Quandt, project director, explains the development of the electric Audi RS made to face the Dakar 2022. several products.
It is true that the three RS Q e-tron units, 100% electric, failed to win the race. However, there were four stage wins and a total of 14 podiums in the group, finishing 9th in the general classification with the duo Mattias Eksström/Emil Bergkvist.
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And the result would have been better if not for the various technical problems that delayed the trio in the first days of the competition. The so-called “growing pains” that almost all race cars experience.
The most difficult Audi in history
Audi refers to the RS Q e-tron as the toughest racing car in its history. It was created from a completely blank sheet of paper, without any references from inside or outside Audi, and with guidance provided by a set of vague rules.
In addition, the crisis and the difficult schedule made the mission even more difficult when the green light was given, in July 2020. And the fact that the doubts within the company itself only increased after the first (computerized) simulated exercise of one Dakar stage only added problems.
The Dakar Audi is powered by two electric motors, each with a theoretical maximum power of 340 hp, although regulations have limited the maximum output to 392 hp. Differential locks on each axle – as well as a virtual center differential – ensure that each wheel gets as much power as it needs, all controlled by software.
In the initial phase, it was thought to equip each wheel with an electric motor – thus avoiding several transmission gears – but the idea did not take off.
“In the event of a race that damages the chassis – as is common in this type of meeting – the 800-volt voltage system can be affected and that would mean abandoning the race,” explains Benedikt Brunninger, technical expert. the project director.
The engines are powered by a 52 kWh battery, usually not enough for competition with a total time of more than 8,000 kilometers (even for a daily step it will be enough). And since charging the battery was not a valid alternative, especially in the middle of the desert, the engineers came up with the idea of using a combustion engine to provide electricity on board.
Quite an unusual thing, which has been done for decades with boats and trains with diesel engines, but here what is interesting is the fact that Audi went to take the 2.0 TFSI engines used in the RS5 Championship from dust trunks. of Tourism Germany (DTM).
It remains a mystery, even today, the real power of these engines with more than 600 hp, but they were very complex, efficient engines that could be transformed into a kind of second life, very different from the original. It was necessary to change the turbocharger, ducts, exhaust system and software.
A classic conundrum
The model was fully developed over a period of more than a year and “Audi’s experience and expertise in the various disciplines of motorsport contributed greatly”, says Axel Löffler, chief designer of the RS Q e-tron.
“This is the case of the DTM tubular frame (2004 to 2011), the rallycross steel plate chassis (2017 and 2018) and the CFRP (reinforced carbon plastic) monocoques of the LMP category (1999 to 2016), DTM ( 2012 to 2020) and single-seater Formula E (2017 to 2021)”, he reveals.
The bodywork is also made of CFRP, kevlar and composite materials. Series production cars also “entered” the Dakar and, with the aim of better scratch resistance, the heated glass of the Audi A4 was used, while the side windows are made of polycarbonate (light).
In order to control the flow of electricity, control the balance of energy and maintain the performance of the battery, German engineers have programmed to keep the state of charge of the battery within certain defined limits, depending on the energy demand.
When, for example, a more difficult passage through sand dunes requires a high level of energy from the two electric motors, the battery charge level decreases in a controlled way because the energy converter (motor TFSI) cannot fully compensate. high efficiency electric motors.
For the drivers, this means a double struggle in the cockpit of the Audi RS Q e-tron for the Dakar: against other competitors in the race and with the correct management of the energy flow, the two are completely connected and interdependent.
In the skin of the conqueror of the desert
And here we go. First observation: the sound of the engine is completely different. When activated, it automatically revs up to the rpm range between 4000 and 6000, regardless of whether the rider is accelerating or braking.
In fact, the sound is unusual in this car, because when the four-cylinder block is turned off, you hear a combination of loud sounds and whistles, reminiscent of a spaceship in the middle of a space flight.
It is confirmed that a large amount of torque is available in the second part and this is a great advantage when the cars have to overcome the big obstacles that appear on their way (in this case more than average, of course).
Even plug-in hybrid cars that participate in this type of event have an advantage over rivals that use only a combustion engine, like Emil Bergkvist, the co-driver that Ekstrom “lent” us for this experience behind the wheel of the RS. Q e-throne.
“Not only does the instantaneous electric impulse not count, but also the speed of the reaction of the hybrid system, especially when driving over sand dunes, where we do not know what is on the other side of the embankment. Avoid overturning if there is a slope. – and with instant acceleration power there’s no risk of stalling by going too slow. And throttle dosing is much easier.”
In these kilometers of driving, it was possible to confirm that the RQ Q e-tron does not lack power and that it manages to deliver it with full readiness. In practice, it is as if the pilot’s brain and rhythm are connected. In this improved track in Sardinia, there is a clear tendency to widen the path until we decide to stop these impulses with a touch of the “old-fashioned” handbrake, which requires some practice to be done effectively.
Otherwise, the Dakar Audi manages to be comfortable and controlled more or less intuitively – this, of course, when we are lucky to have a professional co-driver who keeps an eye on many exciting tasks. screen. And considering the technological revolution that this car represents, the job of those behind the wheel is very easy.
Anyone who points the finger at the Audi RS Q e-tron accusing it of being an eco-fraud – for having electric propulsion, but ultimately burning petrol – will be missing the whole point.
This was not only the first step towards a future where battery technology would already make it possible to complete steps without a gasoline engine acting as a generator, but also the electric drive is invincible. Something that very soon we will all understand better.
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