Audi will mark its return to rallying after a 35-year hiatus with a new electrified race car, destined for the 2022 Dakar Rally slated for January next year.
The first car manufacturer to aim for a Dakar Rally win using an electrified powertrain, Audi's electrified entrant will pair a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the brand's DTM touring car with three electric motor-generator units (MGUs) borrowed from Audi's now-defunct Formula E challenger.
Two MGUs will directly power the wheels – one on each axle, for all-wheel-drive – with the third to be used alongside the combustion engine as a generator to recharge the high-voltage battery, which will be developed in-house.
While a petrol engine might feature under the bonnet, its sole purpose will be to keep the battery topped up on the move: "The important thing is: our drivetrain is fully electric. The TFSI engine is only used to charge the batteries on the special stages. The battery has to be charged while driving, as there are currently no other options to do so in the desert."
During liaison stages – the sections of the rally before and after the timed 'Special Stages' (SS), the components that contribute to the final race result – Audi has confirmed it will run the car in all-electric mode.
The first prototype of the brand's Dakar challenger is currently being manufactured by Audi Sport engineers in Germany, with the global unveiling slated for July 2021, followed by an "intensive testing phase" ahead of the official rally from 2 to 14 January 2022.
Through independent outfit Q Motorsport, Audi will enter three teams of drivers into next year's rally, including big names such as two-time World Rally champion and three-time Dakar winner Carlos Sainz (Sr), two-time DTM champion Mattias Ekström, and Dakar legend Stéphane Peterhansel, who has won the event 14 times: eight times in a car, and six times on a motorcycle.
They'll be joined in each car's passenger seat by co-drivers Lucas Cruz, Emil Bergkvist and Edouard Boulanger.
"With the Dakar project, we at Audi remain true to our philosophy of using new technologies in motorsport for the first time that are groundbreaking for future road cars," said Julius Seebach, Audi Sport managing director and leader of Audi's motorsport activities, earlier this year.
"In our rally history, for example, this was the Quattro drivetrain, and now we will test components for future electric drivetrains under extreme conditions at the Dakar Rally. At the same time, we offer exciting customer and fan experiences.”
Audi's last participation in rallying was with its championship-winning Sport Quattro S1 racer, which pioneered all-wheel-drive in the ill-fated Group B era of the World Rally Championship.