As Team Audi Sport prepares for what is likely their final Dakar Rally in 2024, they have made changes to the Audi RS Q e-tron to ensure a strong swan song. Mattias Ekström, Stéphane Peterhansel, and Carlos Sainz will remain the drivers.
Dubbed the Audi RS Q e-tron E2, the car made its début at the 2022 Rallye du Maroc to much anticipation. Despite showing speed at the 2023 Dakar Rally as Sainz won the opening stage, the team struggled to keep up with Toyota and Prodrive before wrecks ended Peterhansel and Sainz’s races while Ekström finished a distant fourteenth.
Sainz fractured his vertebrae in his crash in Stage #9, as did Peterhansel’s co-driver Édouard Boulanger three legs prior. To minimise the risk of injury, the team redesigned the foam in the seats so that load is more broadly distributed while the car is in motion. The dampers, springs, and bump stop in the chassis have also been adjusted; the crash box at the chassis’ front, which is composed of carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers, has been made longer to better absorb impacts.
The uprights, brake discs, and rim bed in the car’s wheel hubs now have more clearance and protection from rocks that could get inside and penetrate critical components. This resulted in tyre failures, which were a common theme at the 2023 race for other teams as well; supplier BFGoodrich intends to bring a thicker tyre compound to the 2024 race. When Audi convened for their first post-Dakar test session in May, much of its focus was on tyre reliability.
Even with reliability seemingly resolved, the main concern still remains staying competitive against Toyota, Prodrive, and other cars in the premier Ultimate class. Audi races in the T1.U subcategory for upgraded electric cars, while Toyota and Prodrive are among those in the petrol-based T1+. To ensure a level playing field, the FIA has an “Equivalence of Technology” rule that allows them to modify the acceleration of T1.U and T1+ cars mid-race based on how it is playing out; this change proved controversial in January when Audi’s output was increased to 271 kW, which Toyota protested. For 2024, the Audi will run on 286 kW of power.
T1.U cars also now have a higher minimum weight of 2,100 kilograms compared to the 2,010 kg for gasoline Ultimate cars and 2,050 kg for diesel. Besides increasing the weight to meet this marker, which is further assisted by the aforementioned new tyres, Audi has also shrank parts like brake calipers.
“Our engineering team has improved the RS Q e-tron even further with many creative solutions,” commented Audi racing boss Rolf Michl. “Drivers and co-drivers, as well as all of the mechanics and engineers, benefit from the imaginative ideas. We feel that we are prepared for the Dakar Rally in the best possible way.”
2024 is expected to be Audi’s final Dakar barring an extension of the three-year contract forged ahead of the 2022 edition. Sven Quandt of Q Motorsport, who runs the programme, has expressed interest in continuing the effort even after Audi’s factory support ends.
After Dakar, the team made their racing return at the Baja España Aragón in July, where all three cars retired for electrical issues. They rebounded at the Rallye du Maroc in October when Ekström and Peterhansel each won a stage, the latter remaining in overall contention before a mechanical issue on the final day doomed those prospects.
The 2024 Dakar Rally begins on 5 January.