Audi has reorganised its motorsport activities and announced its participation in the 2022 Dakar Rally. For the rally program with a hybrid race car, the German luxury carmaker and its factory team will withdraw from Formula E at the end of 2021.
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The withdrawal came as a surprise. Just last week, Audi presented its Formula E racing car for the coming season with the e-tron FE07. For the first time, the car is powered by an Audi proprietary development. Until now, the company had relied on an e-drive from technology partner Schaeffler, but the unit called MGU05 was developed entirely at Audi’s Motorsport Center in Neuburg an der Donau.
What Audi did not announce at the time was that the MGU05 is not only the first but also the last Formula E drive from Audi for the time being. After the 2021 season, Audi is withdrawing its factory team from the electric racing series. The company says that customer teams’ use of the newly developed Audi powertrain will remain possible beyond next year. Audi supplies the drive train to Virgin Racing. Whether Abt and Schaeffler, who led the team up to Audi’s factory entry, will compete with the team as a private team again is not yet clear.
Audi boss Markus Duesmann says that Formula E has accompanied the transformation phase at Audi. For Duesmann, who himself worked for BMW in Formula 1 for many years, Formula E is no longer the right platform and this is at least partly because of the limited technical development.
Instead of competing on inner-city courses with the Formula E cars, Audi plans to compete in the Dakar Rally from 2022. The “innovative prototype” is an electric drive with range extender. “This is why we are taking the next step in electrified motorsport by facing the most extreme conditions,” says Duesmann. “The many technical freedoms offered by the Dakar Rally provide a perfect test laboratory for us in this respect.”
Audi has not yet revealed performance data or the detailed drive concept. The drive is to be provided by “a powerful electric drive train”. The energy is stored in a high-voltage battery, which is not described in detail. Since the special stages at the Dakar can be 800 kilometres or longer, the battery should be able to be “charged as needed while driving via an energy converter in the form of a highly efficient TFSI engine”.
Audi plans the development of an LMDh racing car
Only last week, the private racing team GCK Motorsport from France announced its intention to participate in the Dakar with a battery-electric racing car in 2022. There was no mention of a range extender, but for 2023 or 2024 a hydrogen drive is planned. The battery capacity of the GCK e-Blast 1 is given as 150 kWh, the drive power as 250 kW.
At Audi, the rally program, like the Le Mans program before it, is based on production technology development. From long-distance use, innovations such as direct gasoline injection from the race track into the road cars have indeed been forthcoming. Audi now wants to repeat this with the electric drive: The aim is to “permanently improve the performance of the electric drive and the battery in the coming years”.
But there are also signs of a return to endurance racing. They are preparing “intensively for the entry into the new LMDh sports car category with its highlight races, the 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans,” says Julius Seebach, Managing Director of Audi Sport GmbH. Seebach will also become Audi’s new Head of Motorsport on 1 December 2020. His predecessor Dieser Gass, who previously held management positions at Audi Sport for around ten years, will devote himself to new tasks in the future. With the LMDh regulations, hybrid racing cars will compete against pure combustion racing cars. The technical specifications are to be designed in such a way that the cars are to be used both in the American IMSA racing series and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. There they are to compete against the racing cars called “Hypercar”, some of which also have a hybrid drive.
Update 06 April 2021: Audi has reached another milestone on the route to the electric debut at the Dakar Rally in January 2022. The prototype for the “world’s toughest cross-country rally” has been largely completed, and Audi plans first test drives are for the middle of the year.
Andreas Roos, who was most recently responsible for the DTM program at Audi Sport, has taken on project management for its factory motorsport commitments. The prototype will use the motor-generator unit (MGU) from the current Formula E car, which Audi has developed for the 2021 season. For the Rally Dakar, Audi tripled the effort, so to speak. “We’ll have one MGU each on the front axle and the rear axle. A third MGU serves as a generator to charge the high-voltage battery while driving,” says Roos.
Audi is also developing the high-voltage battery in-house. In Formula E, this is a standardized supplier part for all teams. The energy for charging is supplied by the four-cylinder TFSI engine from the DTM. Audi plans to drive fully electrically on all connecting stages.
With reporting by Nora Manthey.
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