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Audi’s EV Dakar Rally Car Is Resurrecting the Range Extender

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Audi’s intentions to compete on the planet’s hardest rally utilizing an electric car began 15 months in the past with a white sheet of paper. The company shuttered its former rally division again within the late 1980s, and by its personal admission, because of workers attrition, has misplaced almost the entire information acquired throughout a interval when Audi received the World Rally Championship each in 1982 and 1984. 

The Dakar rally is a punishing off-road endurance occasion of ridiculous proportions. Distances of every stage can run as much as 900 kilometers (560 miles) per day. The terrain traversed is far harder than seen in standard rallying, so the autos need to be constructed particularly for the duty—mere modified on-road autos received’t lower it. 

The race originated in December 1977, following an incident the place Thierry Sabine obtained misplaced within the Ténéré desert whereas competing within the 1975 “Cote-Cote” Abidjan-Nice rally. During this unintended diversion, he determined that the desert would make location for a daily competitors. Some 182 autos took the beginning of the inaugural rally in Paris. Only 74 made it by way of the 10,000 km (6,200 mile) course crossing the Sahara to the Senegalese capital of Dakar.

Photograph: Michael Kunkel/Audi Communications Motorsport

As a results of the pandemic, with no chance to completely check any gear in race circumstances, Audi’s goal this primary yr again in rally sport was merely to complete the Dakar. However, midway by way of the occasion, all three automobiles are nonetheless within the operating, and the group has even picked up a win within the 636 km third stage with rally veteran Carlos Sainz driving, on the age of 59. “The biggest surprise is everything is running,” a group spokesperson tells WIRED.

At first sight, Audi’s 2022 Dakar contender doesn’t have a lot in widespread along with your common household automotive. The RS Q e-tron is a huge Tonka Toy, 4.5 meters lengthy and two meters tall. Beneath the Darth Vader bodywork is a tubular body, braced with carbon panels and housing a battery, three electrical motors, and a petroleum engine. It’s secure to imagine nothing like it’s going to ever drive down a avenue close to you.

So why is Audi doing this? It’s partly the status of the Dakar, in fact: Since its beginnings, this occasion has been a byword for journey and the romance of the desert. After initially operating from Paris to Dakar, the occasion moved to South America in 2008 following a terrorist assault in North Africa. Despite being geographically displaced, the title remained, and in 2019 the Dakar moved once more, this time to Saudi Arabia, in a bid to conjure again the occasion’s desert origins. Winning the Dakar continues to be prestigious, and 2022 is Audi’s first try.

Photograph: Mikel Prieto/Audi Communications Motorsport

But alongside this, Audi is set to grow to be a premium electrical model and it needs to win the Dakar with battery energy. That is extraordinarily difficult, provided that rivals should full as much as 600 miles a day, driving by way of among the most distant and inhospitable landscapes on Earth. They barely see a camel, by no means thoughts an EV charger.

But what Audi sees is a chance—an opportunity to experiment with an previous concept that’s making a comeback: the vary extender. This is a battery-driven electrical automotive that additionally has a petroleum engine onboard, performing as an influence provide. The engine by no means drives the wheels, it simply retains the batteries juiced up as you drive alongside. Ten years in the past, vary extenders had been “the future”: Vauxhall (Buick within the US) and BMW each provided them, whereas Audi developed an idea automotive.

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