Audi RS Q E-Tron hybrid Dakar Rally prototype looks ready to tame the dunes

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Audi is taking its electrified powertrain technology to one of the most grueling races on the planet. It will compete in the 2022 edition of the Dakar Rally with an experimental gasoline-electric hybrid off-roader named RS Q E-Tron.

While several models in the German firm’s line-up wear the E-Tron label, the Dakar-bound RS Q is a purpose-designed prototype that’s not in any way related to a production model. It was developed for racing from the ground up in about a year, and it’s a way to test several clever features that could trickle down to future models later on.

Audi selected a hybrid drivetrain instead of going all-electric because Dakar stages can be up to 500 miles long before detours and other unexpected events are factored in. Finding a charging station in the Saudi Arabian desert is easier said than done, and waiting for an electric car to charge isn’t ideal in a race where every split second is important. The system relies on a TFSI engine sourced from the firm’s now-shuttered DTM touring car program and set up to charge the 50-kilowatt-hour battery pack on-the-go. It operates between 4,500 and 6,000 rpm.

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From there, the electricity reaches the four wheels via a pair of electric motors (one per axle) borrowed from the car Audi races with in Formula E, a setup that gives the RS Q E-Tron a through-the-road version of the famed Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Small modifications were made to each motor to prepare them for the trials of Dakar. Finally, there’s a third motor installed as part of the energy converter system; it helps charge the battery pack as well.

The system’s total output checks in at 670 horsepower, though it’s unclear how much of this reserve the car will be permitted to tap into during the race. Regulations won’t be finalized until later in 2021. In the meantime, Audi will continue testing the RS Q E-Tron on off-road tracks and in cross-country rallies to make any and all adjustments before the 2022 Dakar, which starts on January 2 in Ha’il, Saudi Arabia, and ends in Jeddah 12 days later. Dakar legends Stephane Peterhansel and Carlos Sainz will drive the two prototypes Audi will enter in the event.

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