The Empty Quarter

Vast stretches of sand and dunes await competitors in Saudi Arabia’s ‘Empty Quarter’ for Dakar 2022.

What seemed an eternity away is almost upon the Dakar competitors, as teams head to Saudi Arabia next month for scrutineering ahead of the prologue to the great race.

22 November, 2021

The offical start date is January 2nd, 2022, but teams will head to Saudi Arabia next month to prepare for the prologue ahead of the start of the 44th Dakar Rally at the start of the new year. Next year’s race, which is the third time the Dakar Rally has been held in Saudi Arabia, will see competitors head into the aptly named Empty Quarter – starting from Ha’il in the north of the country and heading south through kilometres of sand and giant dunes before looping up to the nation’s capital, Ryadh on January 8th for the rest day. From there, the competitors will once again race south before striking out towards the east coast and the finishing line in Jeddah on January 14th. A total of 8000 gruelling kilometres of merciless terrain, all attacked at high speed.

Being conducted at an equally frenetic pace, the pressure testing of the RS Q e-trons continues in Morocco, with each of the teams wracking up kilometre after kilometre over high-speed tracks, gravel roads, dune mountains, dried-out river beds.

Within an extremely tight project timeframe of little more than 12 months, the team has developed the RS Q e-tron to such an extent that it can now handle daily off-road distances in testing equalling the length of a Dakar stage. Still, many challenges remain between now and January. “The entire team is focusing its energy on continuing the development under the toughest conditions,” says Arnau Niubó Bosch, Head of Test Engineering. 

Two weeks. twelve stages. 8000 kilometres. flat out.

Including driving the RS Q e-tron through a dry riverbed with the cooling air intakes deliberately taped off to simulate high outside temperatures

“It was impressive how important findings flowed back to Neuburg from Morocco at a daily pace. As a result, our three rally cars currently under construction for the Dakar Rally will have the latest technical status. At the same time, logistical preparations are in full swing.”

In addition to subjecting the vehicle to varied terrain at constant high speeds, the engineers also imposed artificially high temperatures on the RS Q e-tron – Mr Dakar, Stéphane Peterhansel, taking the RS Q e-tron through a dry riverbed with the cooling air intakes deliberately taped off to simulate high outside temperatures. The RS Q e-tron took the temperature test in stride, but a subsequent test of tyres resulted in repeated damage which led to unwanted stoppages for repairs. Likewise a suspension wishbone bent by a rock, a leaking drive shaft sleeve and other components required replacement, and the bodywork needed minor repairs. But these sorts of incidents are part and parcel of the Dakar and it is understood that no matter how intense the preparation, there is no way to avoid breakages and unforeseen circumstances once the race gets underway.

Nevertheless, the driving and engineering teams remain relentless in their pressure testing, looking to identify and iron out as many potential threats a possible ahead of time. With just over a month before scrutineering gets underway in Ha’il at the end of December, in many ways, the race has already begun and the clock is already ticking.