Putting recent changes to the test in competition – Audi Sport takes the RS Q e-tron to Spain for the Baja España Aragón.

24 July, 2023

Following up from some recent testing in Saudi Arabia, all three of the Dakar RS Q e-trons were back in action, putting changes to the test in actual competition. Taking part in the 1500 kilometre Baja España Aragón, around the eastern Spanish city of Teruel, Audi Sport’s three driver pairings took on the twisting, technical course that is more like a traditional rally than the type of driving and terrain they traditionally encounter in Saudi Arabia in the Dakar.

Although no category exists in the Baja España Aragón for hybrid vehicles like the RS Q e-tron and its hybrid-electric drivetrain, the three Audi Sport teams were allowed a special exemption to take part and join the competition – though they were not racing for points or position.

“A Baja is something completely different from the Dakar Rally in almost every respect,” says Stéphane Peterhansel, who has won this event three times in the past. “The routes are more twisty like in the World Rally Championship, but much longer. And you basically can’t get lost because the route is well signposted. With these different requirements, the Baja is a good addition to our off-road program in the desert.” 

The Frenchman was reunited with co-driver Edouard Boulanger for the first time in the RS Q e-tron since their accident at the end of this year’s Dakar event resulted in a serious back injury for Boulanger. Now back in good health, Boulanger was likewise eager to get some competition miles under his belt in preparation for next year’s Dakar.

With some 270 competitors taking part, the Baja España Aragón is a major race event that draws large crowds across the two days of competition. This year’s program – the 39th running of the race – included a prologue and a first stage on July 21, with two further stages completing the 500-kilometre course the following day. Regulations and maintenance on the go is very different to the Dakar race, with the regulations only allowing a 30-minute service between the two partial stages on Saturday and after the end of the stage. Then only three workers plus the driver and co-driver are allowed to work on the car. But despite these technical differences, the fundamentals of getting the most from a race vehicle remain the same.

Although the primary aim for the Audi Sport teams was to use the event as a learning experience, all teams were deadly serious about the contest and competed with characteristic enthusiasm. When the dust settled, only one of the three RS Q e-trons made it the full distance, with Mattias Ekström and co-driver Emil Bergkvist retiring after a water crossing caused damage to the power steering pump. The French pairing of Stéphane Peterhansel and Edouard Boulanger also encountered issues, including two dreaded punctures, before ultimately being forced out of the competition by a faulty sensor on the electric drive.

“We learned a lot in just two days,” says Sven Quandt, Team principal Audi sport’s partner, Q Motorsport. 

“Finally we were back in competition mode and experienced the competition. We managed to take a step forward with the suspension, which was important. There’s still work ahead of us, but the direction is right. Next up is the Morocco Rally, where we already want to compete with the configuration for the Dakar Rally.”

With less than six months remaining until the next instalment of the Dakar Rally, the pressure is already beginning to ramp up on the team. A competition hit-out like the Baja España Aragón provides invaluable time in the vehicles under race conditions for the drivers as well as precious data for the race engineers to apply ahead of the team’s third Dakar campaign.