DAMMAM, Saudi Arabia آآâ€“ The desert does not forgive. She’s not nice, and she doesn’t care that you’ve put millions of dollars and countless hours into preparing for a rally, even if you are Audi and even if the rally is the world famous Dakar.
the Dakar Rally extends over 14 stages through Saudi Arabia. The daily stages are kept secret until 15 minutes before the start time. Navigators are given a digital road book and must guide their drivers through rocky fields, over huge dunes and over flooded rivers. Neither GPS outside help is also allowed. It’s a brutal challenge that’s both exciting and exhausting, pushing both man and machine to their absolute limits. Only the strong survive, and sometimes even these people fail.
Audi had a tough time this year with the facelifted RS Q E-Tron E2 hybrid racing car. This is the second year the company has entered three cars, but after 14 days of racing only one finished…in 14th place. They arrived in theirs almost seven hours after winners Nassar Al-Atttiyah and Mathieu Baumel Toyota hilux
The E2 is powered by electricity stored in its 52 kilowatt hours battery, but has an on-board generator in the form of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine used by Audi in the DTM, one of the most well-known international touring car racing series. This internal combustion engine can charge the battery on the go and ensures that the E2 has enough juice for the stage.
A typical stage of the Dakar Rally can be between 400 and 800 kilometers or more. That range is simply not possible with current battery technology, hence the DTM motor. However, the E2 only takes a maximum 340 liters of fuel per stage, while other vehicles swallow up to 500 liters.
Audi also uses a special blend of ethanol-to-gasoline and e-methanol to power this combustible engine. This blend is made from 80% sustainable ingredients, resulting in 60% less carbon emissions than conventional petrol. The company hopes to run on 100% renewable fuel in the near future. Hey, if you can’t go purely electric, you might as well make the fuel less harmful to the environment.
Audi brought back the same three driver/navigator teams for this year’s Dakar (Stéphane Peterhansel/Edouard Boulanger in car 204, Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz in car 207 and Mattias Ekström/Emil Bergkvist in car 211). but the vehicles were fairly well overhauled.
The redesigned body allows for a lower center of gravity and better aerodynamics. Although the maximum speed remains unchanged at 170 km/h according to rally regulations, the reduction in overall drag means the car is more efficient. The car also shed 80 kilograms for a slightly better power-to-weight ratio. The cabin has remained the same, although some tweaks have been made for driver ergonomics. The spare tires are more accessible and the new 10-spoke wheels make handling easier when changing tires. Put a pin in that last one folks as it will be back shortly.
In its first Dakar last year, Audi did really well, taking 14 individual podiums among its three cars and one of the cars finishing in the top 10. This year the story wasn’t quite as rosy.
Unlucky from the green flag
On four consecutive stages at the start of the rally, the three Audi cars suffered a total of 14 punctures. Good thing they had those new, easy-to-handle wheels, right?
All the tires in the class are provided by BFGoodrich and to be honest this kind of failure is quite a surprise. The track was rocky but 14 flats in three cars is a massive setback. Other teams were plagued by flats in the same sections, so it must have been incredibly rocky terrain. BFG says it will analyze the data to identify potential weaknesses in the all-terrain tires. Let’s hope the company can use this knowledge to improve its next generation of off-road racing tires.
More problems arose on Stage 6. Peterhansel fell and Navigator Boulanger was hospitalized with back pain. Fortunately he is expected to make a full recovery but the car had to be retired for the remainder of the rally.
The bad luck continued when Sainz and Cruz fell in the same spot a few minutes later, tearing off their left front wheel. The drivers have no radio contact with their teammates or crew chiefs and can only use their satellite phones when they are stopped. Peterhansel had no way of warning Sainz about the dangerous dune. Imagine Peterhansel’s surprise when he saw Sainz jump over the dune in the same place, knowing the fate of the Spaniard before him.
A word on crashing in the dunes here. When riders are just riding through the dunes and not competing, the mantra is, “Only ride what you can see.” When you’re climbing a dune, approach it from the side, look over, and keep riding when it’s safe is.
On the Dakar, it’s difficult to get up on the side and see the other side. Teams need to stay their course if they want to stay on the right route. Turn sideways and the next thing you know you’re 10 degrees off course and heading the wrong way.
From a navigational point of view, it’s much better to always go straight, but every time a driver climbs a dune, he or she takes a risk. There are ways to read the dunes and wind pattern to guess what the other side looks like, but a calculated Risk remains risk. Sometimes you hit paydirt, sometimes you just hit dirt.
Drive on electric car in the dunes it is very difficult brake Rain. In a gas-powered car, you can slow down at the top of a dune and roll over the top. With EVs, taking your foot off the accelerator means that regeneration will kick in and the car will slow down instead of coasting. Riders only need to keep their foot in it a touch longer than is comfortable, carrying more speed over the top.
With Peterhansel and Boulanger out and Sainz in 107th for receiving an 18-hour penalty repair, it was a matter of victory or defeat for Ekström and Bergkvist. Going into stage seven they sat in fifth place, within striking distance of an overall podium.
rock of the stages
The rock that car 211 hit didn’t look particularly big in the highlights of the Dakar video, but it destroyed the wishbone and it looked like the Swedish driver team had a long wait for service truck. Audi sent a large truck into the rally as an escort vehicle, but it was still far behind them on the course. However, Sainz and Lucas saved the day by offering their suspension. At the Dakar, competitors can help each other and Sainz knew it was better he Wait for the repair truck and let Ekstrom’s chance for the podium come true. Nevertheless, it clearly threw the Swedes back.
Any hope that Sainz would supply Ekstrøm with more parts ended on stage 9 when the 207 car flew over a dune and crashed. Cruz was taken to the hospital and Sainz was also on his way when he insisted that the helicopter turn around and be taken back to the bivouac. Unfortunately, Audi opted to retire the car, which again left Ekstrom and Bergvist to take the mantle as Audi’s last hope.
The two fought valiantly, securing three stage two podiums and two third places, but it wasn’t enough to make it to the final stage. A top 15 finish was all Audi had in mind this year.
“I think it’s a fake”
The reception of other competitors to an electrified powertrain seems to be mixed. Sebastien Loeb, who finished second overall with his navigator Fabian Lurquin, admits that the Audi team was a little unlucky. When asked if he would take an electric vehicle to the Dakar, he replied: “I drove the Extreme E electrically!”.
There was no time to follow up, but presumably Seb would jump behind the wheel of an electrified Dakar rig if offered.
Lorenzo Fluxa, who graduated in the Classic category in a Toyota SUV with navigator Sergi Giralt, is not so enthusiastic about the E2.
â€œI think hydrogen or e-fuels are a better way. I like the green environment, but using the DTM means it’s not purely electric,” he said. â€žI think itâ€™s fake.â€œ
So the question arises, why is Audi doing all this at all? The team is committed to the Dakar only until 2024, and while engineers are learning about battery cooling and performance in harsh conditions, using a range extender isn’t exactly groundbreaking technology. remember them Chevrolet Volt? Same idea here folks.
Additionally, Audi has no plans to offer the E2’s technology in its production vehicles. Usually when a manufacturer is pouring huge amounts of money into you Motorsports Everyday drivers ultimately benefit from the knowledge gained. It would be great to see Audi innovating here in solid state batteries for better power density or running a hydrogen one fuel cell.
Rolf Michl, Head of Audi Sport and Motorsport, said at a press conference that one day Audi wants to drive a fully electric powertrain. You better get started.
But if Audi just wants to win races, then it has a competitive car. It stood between the three vehicles 12 times on the 14 stages of this year’s Dakar and even took first place on the first stage. Also, Peterhansel and Boulanger won the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge 2022 in the electrified Dune Smasher. The powertrain was not the topic at the Dakar. Rather, it was the desert itself that reared its ugly head, breaking wishbones, ripping off wheels and flattening tires.
A fully-fledged electric vehicle currently cannot drive within the rules of the Dakar without some sort of range extender, and Audi is working with what’s available. It’s just a shame that the company doesn’t strive to bring new technologies to the table.