Sand blasting

Testing of the RS Q e-tron heads to the unforgiving deserts and dunes of Morocco.

With the Dakar Rally just over three months away, testing for the RS Q e-tron goes to another level with a gruelling program through Morocco’s deserts.

20 September, 2021

Not the kind of two week trip to Morocco you dream about

Two weeks in Morocco soaking up the sun, but not the way the tourist brochures portray it. For the Audi Sport team and the RS Q e-tron, this was two weeks of intensive vehicle testing with nary a deck chair or a cocktail in sight – pushing the vehicle to extremes to expose any weaknesses ahead of the coming Dakar Rally in January.

With previous testing in Germany and Spain already successfully completed, it was time to take in conditions akin to those that will be encountered early next year, with all three driver crews taking part to get a real sense of how the all-electric RS Q e-tron will perform in the varied desert environment of the race. 

Dakar record winner Stéphane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz and Mattias Ekström took turns at the wheel of the highly complex prototype accompanied by their respective cod rivers – Edouard Boulanger, Lucas Cruz and Emil Bergkvist respectively. 

Working on feedback from the driving teams after the testing in Spain, modifications had been made to the cabin area of vehicle, and this was one of the areas being put to the test in Morocco.

“This was one of many topics we had on our to-do list after the test in Zaragoza,” said Andreas Roos, responsible for factory motorsport projects at Audi Sport. 

“For the test in Morocco, we made modifications so that the driver and co-driver have more space in the tight cockpit and can also communicate better with each other. The feedback was positive.”

Some of the conditions the test team encountered in Morocco were extreme. “The thermometer climbed to well over 40 degrees Celsius at times,” says Sven Quandt, team principal of Q Motorsport. “Sandstorms also hampered the testing. In addition, as expected, some new problems arose in the high temperatures, which repeatedly caused interruptions to the testing and needed to be solved before the next test.”

“We expect much lower temperatures at the Dakar Rally,” says Andreas Roos. “Nevertheless, we deliberately went to Morocco to test our concept under the most extreme conditions. Components such as the Motor Generator Unit (MGU), for example, were basically not developed for use in such high ambient temperatures, but the drivetrain and other components were also pushed to their limits or even beyond by the heat. The insights we gained in Morocco are invaluable, but they also show us that we still have a lot to do before the Dakar Rally and there is not much time left.”

“We expect much lower temperatures at the Dakar Rally, but we deliberately went to Morocco to test our concept under the most extreme conditions"

“The test car is a prototype where not everything was a perfect fit yet, but the actual competition cars, we’re aiming for absolute perfection" 

The high-voltage battery, which was developed specifically for the Dakar Rally, is also a major topic. “It’s all about optimum temperature management and being able to call up the battery’s maximum performance,” says Roos. “This is where we are learning with every test. And that’s exactly why we are going to the desert with an electrified drivetrain: We are gaining an incredible amount of experience that we are sharing with our colleagues from road car development.”

The Audi RS Q e-tron features an electric drivetrain with two motor-generator units (MGU) from Formula E. The high-voltage battery, newly developed by Audi Sport, is charged while driving via an energy converter consisting of an ultra-efficient TFSI engine from the DTM and another third MGU.

Even while this testing was underway, back home at Audi Sport in Neuburg, the first race vehicle intended for competition with chassis number 104 was likewise taking shape. 

“The test car is a prototype where not everything was a perfect fit yet,” says Benedikt Brunninger, Audi Sport Project Manager for the Dakar Rally. “In the case of the actual competition cars, we’re aiming for absolute perfection in terms of accurate fit.”

Fit and finish is one thing, but the operating internals and the highly-sophisticated electric drive, as well as myriad other systems will all need to be operating to perfect when the teams hit the desert for motorsport’s ultimate off-road challenge.