Sunday, May 19, 2024

FIA to grant EoT for Audi at Dakar 2024

The period between the 2023 and 2024 Dakar Rallies has been a curious stretch for Team Audi Sport as they returned to the drawing board following a disastrous showing at the former. After testing in May to examine what specifically went wrong, the team will now have a bone tossed at them by the FIA.

According to reports from MARCA, the FIA has agreed to provide the Audi RS Q e-tron E2 with more power for the 2024 Rally under Equivalence of Technology. The car will now run on 286 kW, a 23-kW increase from what the team began the 2023 race with.

Equivalence of Technology, equivalent to Balance of Power seen in sports car racing, is a system intended to level the playing field between the top-level T1+ and T1.U classes; the former is for petrol-based vehicles while electric cars like Audi’s fall under the latter. Although alternative fuel sources are growing in popularity in recent years, gasoline and internal combustion still remain the premier choice for performance reasons. Indeed, T1+ has dominated the World Rally-Raid Championship and Dakar, with the Toyota Hilux T1+ winning both in 2022 as well as the 2023 Rally while the Prodrive Hunter won seven stages at the latter race.

Under Article 13.3 of the W2RC regulations, EoT can be applied by the W2RC Committee either between races or every three stages of at least 150 km for marathon rallies such as Dakar. The latter is a four-day process, using the three stages to accumulate data on T1+ and T1.U entries before implementing the EoT changes on the fourth to roll out for the fifth.

However, its first usage in Stage #5 of the 2023 Rally proved highly controversial as Audi’s car was upgraded to have 266 kW, an eight-kW increase. Toyota protested the decision, though ironically ended up dominating the rally the rest of the way.

MARCA also added the FIA will increase the minimum weight for T1+ cars from from 2,000 to 2,010 kilograms for gasoline and 2,040 to 2,050 kg for diesel power, though these do not particularly affect the vehicle output like EoT. The Audi’s minimum is 2,100 kg.

Despite the power increase, Audi’s Dakar Rally ended in disaster as Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel both crashed out in the following stages, resulting in injuries to Sainz and Peterhansel’s co-driver Édouard Boulanger. Sainz had won the opening stage, but struggled to keep up with the field even after EoT. Mattias Ekström reached the finish, albeit a distant fourteenth overall.

The debacle led to reports that the team might not race the 2024 Dakar Rally unless EoT was resolved to further balance the grid. However, Audi has appeared to press on with testing in May and will make their racing return at the Baja España Aragón on 21/22 July with Sainz and Peterhansel. The team will also race the Rallye du Maroc in October, where the original RS Q e-tron set the fastest time among all cars despite not being eligible for classification in T1.

With Audi not running the full W2RC, Sainz and Boulanger have spent the months since Dakar recovering from their injuries while Peterhansel has dabbled in bike rallying. Ekström switched to T3, where he has continued racing for the championship, and replaced Sainz in Extreme E.