Making a monster

The making of Ken Block’s all-electric Audi S1 e-tron quattro Hoonitron.

Now that we’ve seen the Audi S1 e-tron quattro Hoonitron unleashed on the streets of Las Vegas, just what went into creating Ken Block’s electric beast.

Patrick Morda

Julian Rausche, Alexander Düsterberg, Patrick Runte and AUDI AG

1 November, 2022

It should be fully electric, able to drift and ready in a few months. Can you build that?”

“They said 'we need a car – for Ken Block'.” That’s how it all started remembers Stefan Murrweiss, sitting in his office at Audi’s Neckarsulm plant. But there was more.

It should be fully electric, able to drift and ready in a few months. Can you build that?” 

As if that wasn’t enough, not long after another request came through from Audi's head office.

“The vehicle needs to be a tribute to the legendary Audi Sport quattro S1 from the 1980s.”

So, a pretty simple brief then?

For the 20-year Audi veteran, it was a certainly a challenge and one that he and his colleagues have more than met as evidenced by the spectacular Electrikhana which debuted last week.

“I was aware of Ken Block and his drifting videos, but up to that point I had never thought about what such a vehicle had to be able to do,” admits Murrweiss, who is usually the vehicle developer of Audi Sport series models. Electrification and the resemblance to the Sport quattro were the first cornerstones, providing rough proportions and making all-wheel drive a necessity. “That’s where we started out and put together a team.” That was in March 2021. 

One member of this team, made up of experts from a wide variety of departments within AUDI AG, was Bastian Rosenauer. The 41-year-old is responsible for the concept development of series models at Audi Sport, as part of the team led by Stefan Murrweiss.

“I immediately thought to myself, this is my ideal project,” says Rosenauer who had spent eight years implementing shell constructions for high-performance projects. And I had co-ordinated prototypes in customer racing, supervised vehicles during testing and accompanied races.” His expertise and network quickly led to him playing a central role in the creation of the Hoonitron. “In the end, I was involved in everything from the concept development to the vehicle implementation. It was a unique opportunity.”

Over the development and construction period, Rosenauer practically moved his workplace to the workshop below his actual office. Although, as it turned out, the pandemic meant that the car was actually created in various living rooms and home offices, or in the kitchens of the team members. ‘

“We had a video call once a week and laid out everything that needed to be discussed on the digital table,” Murrweiss recalls. “We only ever went into depth in small groups. That made us very efficient.”

Although it would have been easier and faster, it was not possible to simply use an existing vehicle chassis as a base.

“The best solution for us was to design a new shell, tailored to the specifications of the exterior design, to suit the existing components such as the chassis, battery and, last but not least, the ideas of Ken Block,” explains Rosenauer. “Whenever possible, we wanted to reintegrate technology that we had already tested into this new application environment.” 

Because, as Rosenauer explains, they wanted to design a robust, functional vehicle, without ‘bells and whistles’. 

They wanted to design a robust, functional vehicle, without ‘bells and whistles’

We scaled everything and made it wider and also flatter – the aim was for the design to look like a UFO

It was never about building an exhibit for event trade fairs, but rather a prototype that shows the extremes of what e-technology can do. The aim was that in just 10 weeks the design process should be completed and the construction ready. 

“We had to plan in the rest of the time to procure parts, assemble them and carry out the necessary tests,” Murrweiss recalls.

Sascha Heyde, exterior designer at AUDI AG, played a key role in driving the design process forward. 

“When you are faced with such a task,” the 44-year-old says, “the first reaction is pure enthusiasm.”

Various drafts were developed in different teams and co-ordinated with Marc Lichte, Audi’s chief designer. 

“Marc Lichte wanted to go in a very specific direction. Not a redesign of the legendary Audi Sport quattro S1, but capturing its soul,” recalls Heyde. Retro-futuristic was the key term. In the end, it was Sascha Heyde’s design that set the course. One sticking point, including discussions with Murrweiss and Rosenauer, was the low vehicle height. 

“That’s exactly what is so futuristic about the car,” explains Heyde. “The proportions are similar to those of the Audi Sport quattro S1. Features such as the flared wheel arches, the quattro blisters, the front and rear spoilers also appear on the Hoonitron. But we scaled everything and made it wider and also flatter. The aim was for the design to look like a UFO.”

In just four weeks, the exterior design of the Audi S1 Hoonitron was approved. 

“This was not about winning a beauty contest,” says Heyde “it was about a vehicle designed to go to extremes.” But if he had had a free hand, it would be even flatter, wider and would have much larger wheels, he admits with a grin.

Compared to current concept cars, the Hoonitron sits on comparatively small 18-inch wheels, but this has to do with a requirement from Ken Block. That they don’t seem so small at first glance, has to do with Marco dos Santos. 

“We were looking for a way to make the wheels appear bigger. Covers on the rims, with a red outer colour ring, achieve exactly that amazing effect.” Marco dos Santos had already had one or two surprises up his sleeve at Audi. As part of the Audi Design Branding team, the 34-year-old designs vehicle wraps. 

“We develop visual languages that start on the product, but then also form a graphical bracket in communication, for example.” 

The striking neon-red front and rear spoilers are firmly linked to Audi e-tron history, as can currently be seen in the Dakar Rally car or – in a brand-new development – in the Formula 1 prototype. 

In the case of the Hoonitron, the design was allowed to be a bit more aggressive and louder, says dos Santos. “In this way, we visually connected the rear spoiler to the front spoiler via the side sill,” he explains. “The whole vehicle radiates power.” 

And close up, there is agreement in both Neckarsulm and Ingolstadt that the Audi S1 e-tron quattro Hoonitron, which was developed, designed and built in a record eight months, is perfect. Stefan Murrweiss even slipped into the role of Ken Block in the process. ‘

“But only because we are the same height. We had to precisely plan the necessary switches, levers and pedals in the cockpit and Ken Block couldn’t be with us at all times.” Now, exactly two people can drive the car, he says, tongue in cheek: “Ken Block and I.” 

The 18inch wheels are made to look larger through the clever use of optics, a Marcos dos Santos speciality