World Rally-Raid Championship

Stephane Peterhansel wins Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with electric Audi RS Q e-tron

3 Mins read
Credit: Kin Marcin/Red Bull Content Pool

As many codes of motorsport continue experimenting with electric power, Team Audi Sport has already taken one to the top step of the podium. The Audi RS Q e-tron, driven by Stéphane Peterhansel with Edouard Boulanger as co-driver, won the first stage in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and never looked back en route to becoming the first electric vehicle to win an overall rally raid in just its second start.

The RS Q e-tron made its racing début at the Dakar Rally in January, where Mattias Ekström won four stages and finished ninth in the Cars class. Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah of Toyota Gazoo Racing dominated the Desert Challenge by winning every stage afterwards, but was eliminated from the overall victory after retiring from the first stage with damage from an “unlucky landing” which resulted in a major time penalty. Sébastien Loeb of Bahrain Raid Xtreme, who battled with Al-Attiyah for the Dakar crown and entered Abu Dhabi as another threat, was also the victim of bad fortune when the drivetrain was damaged. Ekström, Al-Attiyah, and Loeb were already familiar with electric motorsport as they have competed in Extreme E.

With Al-Attiyah and Loeb out of the picture, Peterhansel was consistent in his performances. Despite finishing Stage #2 in fourth after being hindered by a tyre puncture, he maintained his overall lead in the next stage after the next closest challenger Yazeed Al-Rajhi—who had narrowed the gap to the leader to less than eight minutes—was knocked out by a broken differential. Peterhansel finished Stage #3 in third.

“It wasn’t easy to find the right rhythm on the sometimes very treacherous broken dunes,” Peterhansel commented. “Our pace was right and we didn’t take too many risks. Once again, the Audi RS Q e-tron was a lot of fun.”

The fourth stage saw another fourth-place run for Peterhansel with a twelve-minute advantage over Martin Prokop. A sixth in the fifth and final segment allowed Peterhansel to secure the overall victory with a time of 17:43:07, nearly half an hour faster than Prokop’s 18:12:56. The win is Peterhansel’s seventh in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge’s Cars category, breaking a tie with fellow Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser for the most in the event’s history. He also won as a Bike rider in 1996.

“We developed the Audi RS Q e-tron in record time. Now, for the first time, a car with an electric powertrain has won a desert rally. That makes me proud,” said Audi Sport GmbH managing director Julius Seebach “A victory on the second start against the two best contenders of January’s Dakar Rally—winner Nasser Al-Attiyah and record World Champion and Monte Carlo winner Sébastien Loeb—is an outstanding result. It was remarkable that our concept prevailed in even tougher conditions than in January.”

Credit: Kin Marcin/Red Bull Content Pool

Developed in partnership with Q Motorsport, the RS Q e-tron has an Audi MGU05 motor, which comes from the company’s now defunct Formula E division, on each of its axles. The MGU05 serves as a generator that is joined with a four-cylinder turbo engine that was developed for Audi’s DTM programme. Sven Quandt, the team principal of Q Motorsport, described the ADDC as helping the group learn “a lot in this young project. On the one hand, it was a test for us, but on the other hand it was also about sporting goals. The first victory is of course something very special. The higher temperatures and the long dune passages were an increase compared to the Dakar Rally. All the nicer that the Audi RS Q e-tron ran so flawlessly and that the electric drive concept proved itself even in the toughest conditions.”

While Peterhansel celebrated, Al-Attiyah and Loeb fought for the FIA World Rally-Raid Championship points lead; despite suffering two punctures in the final stage and Al-Attiyah winning it, Loeb was able to salvage a sixth-place finish to claim the top spot in the standings by one point with 112 to Al-Attiyah’s 111. Francisco “Chaleco” López Contardo, who won the Light Prototype class at Dakar, backed it up with another Prototype victory in Abu Dhabi. Marek Goczal took the SSV win and Kees Koolen in Trucks; Goczal now trails Dakar class victor Austin Jones, who was fifth overall in Abu Dhabi, in the championship by four points, while Koolen leapfrogs Martin Macik Jr. for the top position in Trucks.

Dakar Bike winner Sam Sunderland also made it two in a row by winning the Rally GP class, increasing his advantage in the FIM W2RC rankings to nineteen points over Pablo Quintanilla. Other FIM winners included class championship leader Mason Klein in Rally 2 and Abdulaziz Ahli in Quad. Alexandre Giroud remains the Quad points leader despite not racing at Abu Dhabi courtesy of his Dakar triumph.

Audi is not competing for the W2RC title and does not intend to run the upcoming Rally Kazakhstan on 24–30 April. Instead, the team will focus on the round after that, the Andalucía Rally on 6–12 June.

Class winners

Bike (Rally GP)Sam Sunderland3GBRGasGas Factory Racing16:54:24
Bike (Rally 2)Mason Klein98USABAS World KTM Racing Team17:38:20
QuadAbdulaziz Ahli174AREYamaha22:42:15
Car (T1/T2)Stéphane Peterhansel208FRATeam Audi Sport17:43:07
Prototype (T3)Francisco López Contardo301CHLSouth Racing18:53:46
SSV (T4)Marek Goczal403POLCobant EnergyLandia Rally Team19:12:38
Truck (T5)Kees Koolen502NLDProject 203024:14:58
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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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