Stéphane Peterhansel swaps his Audi RS Q e-tron Dakar monster for the car that launched the Audi e-tron name in motorsport – the R18 e-tron quattro.

9 November, 2023

In the latest instalment of ‘e-tron on track’ 14-time Dakar winner, Stéphane Peterhansel, gets a chance to drive the Audi race car that launched the e-tron name in world motorsport. A hybrid-electric drive, similar in principle to the drive used in his Audi RS Q e-tron Dakar racer, the Audi R18 e-tron quattro wrote its own chapter in top-level international motorsport winning at Le Mans on debut in 2012 and then again the two following years.

Given the opportunity to drive this legendary vehicle at Audi Sport’s Neuburg motorsport facility, the Frenchman was quick to get behind the wheel, for an experience that perhaps left him wondering how his fellow Audi Sport drivers managed to drive in the very cramped conditions.

Having won six of his 14 Dakars on two wheels, the confines of the R18 e-tron quattro cockpit were not something he would like to get used to.

Visibility for the driver is extremely restricted inside the R18 e-tron quattro, with no rear visibility and only limited visibility out of the sides – a fact that Tom Kristensen pointed out with some delight.

“Are you claustrophobic?” Kristensen asked Peterhansel with a grin before the Frenchman headed out onto the Neuburg track to get a sense of what his fellow Audi Sport drivers were faced with driving the hybrid racer at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“When I saw the space inside the cockpit I was a little bit nervous,” he said, before putting any reservations to one side and hitting the track.

In its day, the R18 e-tron quattro represented the most ‘complex racing car up to that time in the 32-year history of Audi Sport’ according to the then head of Audi Motorsport, Dr Wolfgang Ullrich. The Audi motorsport department had never developed a race car with two driven axles, never mind a model with an electric drive motor and a combustion engine. On top of that, the extremely sophisticated electronic networking of the systems and all of this had to operate in a car that met the regulation limit of just 900 kilograms.

Now this same approach has been adapted and brought into the present day to power the brand’s assault on another gruelling motorsport event – the Dakar Rally – and one that its far more familiar to Peterhansel – not to mention one that is far more comfortable to drive.

His current race car, the Audi RS Q e-tron uses a motor-generator unit (MGU) on its front a rear axles as well as a third MGU which forms part of the energy converter and serves to recharge the high-voltage battery while driving.