To put it bluntly, the 2023 Dakar Rally was a disaster for Team Audi Sport. Despite the fanfare for their new RS Q e-tron E2 and a strong start as Carlos Sainz won the opening stage, the team instead struggled to keep up with the top-level Toyota Hiluxes and Prodrive Hunters before Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel crashed out and Mattias Ekström finished outside the top ten.
As the German manufacturer sits in the drawing board room, a report from MARCA revealed there is growing hesitance about returning for the 2024 Dakar Rally due to concerns about the performance gap between them and their rivals.
The RS Q e-tron E2 competes in the new T1.U subcategory for electric/hybrid T1 cars, which the FIA hopes to eventually become the top level for rally raid amid a growing shift towards alternate power sources, while the Toyota Hilux and Prodrive Hunter are used in T1+ for upgraded petrol cars. The World Rally-Raid Championship employs a system called “Equivalence of Technology” that allows the W2RC Committee to modify the acceleration of T1.U and T1+ cars based on data accumulated over three-day stretches, in order to ensure a level playing field between them. Such a system is also used by the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA under the term “Balance of Performance”.
EoT was applied for Stage #5 of the Dakar Rally, which allowed Audi to boost their E2’s power by eight kilowatts to 266 kW; the number was set after the Committee found that T1+ cars showed more power by 9.3 kW across the first three legs. Nevertheless, Toyota quickly denounced the decision as unfairly giving their rival more horsepower. Ironically, Toyota and Prodrive went on to dominate the rally as the former’s Nasser Al-Attiyah won Stage #5 and claimed his second straight victory while the latter’s Sébastien Loeb won seven stages to finish runner-up.
Sainz and Peterhansel crashed together in Stage #6, with the former then fracturing his vertebrae in another wreck three stages later, while Ekström mustered a fourteenth-place overall finish. Audi Sport GmbH Managing Director Rolf Michl told MARCA that the difficult terrain and power gap prompted their drivers to push the car harder than usual, resulting in the accidents.
“For Audi, the EoT is of course an important basis for returning to the Dakar,” Michl explained. “For us, it is important that the competition is fair regardless of the technology used. We are having constructive discussions with the FIA and ASO based on the analysis of these Dakars and we notice that everyone is interested in a fair solution.”
“With the additional 8 kW from Stage #5, we felt more competitive but we were still dragging the burden of the first four days.”
Since Dakar, Audi only plans to return for the W2RC season-ending Rallye du Maroc while the trio of drivers are allowed to race for other teams at the other three rounds. Ekström took up the offer to switch to T3 for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge with South Racing in February/March, while Sainz continues recovering from his injuries. In late March, Sainz revealed he hopes to win a fourth Dakar with a fourth different manufacturer, while adding that he would rejoin Audi if they wish to return to the race for 2024.