A legend in the making

They are 40 years apart, but the impact on world motorsport promises to be similar.

In 1981, the Audi quattro cars started a motorsport evolution with their permanent all-wheel drive – now the RS Q e-tron is poised to write a whole new chapter with electric drive.

23 December, 2021

Those halcyon days of world rally are still spoken about today, such was the impact of quattro

Although separated by four decades, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons between the original Audi quattro rally monsters and the Audi RS Q e-tron which is preparing to take on the Dakar Rally in just over a week.

The differences between the two are significant in so many ways, and yet the similarities in what they represent are extraordinary. The impact that Audi’s quattro permanent all-wheel drive had on world rallying was a complete game-changer. From from 1981 to 1985, Audi drivers Michèle Mouton, Hannu Mikkola, Stig Blomqvist and Walter Röhrl set the World Rally Championship alight, winning 23 races and claiming two manufacturers’ and two drivers’ titles along the way. Those halcyon days of world rally are still spoken about today, such was the impact of quattro, and now Audi Sport is set to embark on a new challenge, with new technology that has the potential to again change the face of motorsport worldwide.

Times and vehicles have changed considerably in the intervening 40 years. Where the original Audi quattro competed in Group 4 rally, the RS Q e-tron is a cross country rally vehicle that will compete in the T1E category at Dakar. 

The quattro rally car used an integral monocoque steel chassis and was powered by the now famous five-cylinder engine. The RS Q e-tron uses a steel tube frame with additional carbon and cyclone elements and is powered by an electric motor-generator unit (MGU) on both the front and rear axle, with an energy convertor system consisting of a TFSI engine and another MGU generator. This electrified drive means a single-speed racing gearbox per axle and negates the need to change gears – just forward or reverse. 

The rally car though used a five-speed manual transmission which of course led to the extraordinary footwork of the drivers as they danced between the gears back in the days of toe and heel gear changes.

Both vehicles boast Audi quattro four-wheel drive, although the two systems are separated by 40 years worth of technology. Where the rally car used the earliest quattro permanent all-wheel drive system and a Bevel gear centre differential, the RS Q e-tron uses four-wheel drive with variable torque distribution and a virtual centre diff.

The Audi quattro rally cars of the 1980s tipped the scales at around 1100kg, while the Dakar contender has a weight of 2000kg, and the cockpits of the early rally cars look very spartan by comparison to the high-tech cockpits of the RS Q e-tron, with their myriad high resolution screens and cutting edge equipment.

Despite the many technological, design and material changes over the years though, the basic spirit of competition remains unchanged. Just as the early Audi rally cars boasted a fine line-up of driving talent, so too the RS Q e-trons will be piloted by a stellar line-up of motorsport legends, all as successful and competitive as they are talented.

Being the first manufacturer to compete in the Dakar Rally with an electrified drivetrain is no small undertaking, but it is certainly one that bears more than a passing resemblance to brand’s decision in the 1980s to go against all accepted wisdom and bring all-wheel drive technology to world rally.

Technology may have changed, but the spirit of competition remains completely unchanged