The FIA and the ASO are facing one of the greatest challenges in the history of the Dakar Rally as they aim to balance cars built to T1+ and T1U regulations.
After years and years in which the Dakar Rally was seen as an outsider in the world of motorsport, the FIA has now decided to work hand-in-hand with the organiser of the legendary event.
In addition to creating the new FIA World Rally Raid Championship (of which the Dakar is the first event, with double points), the two have established a regulatory basis to attract as many car manufacturers as possible.
The first major step has been to bring together the reference drivers in the T1+ category, which is made up solely of 4×4 prototypes with a width of 2.3 metres, 350mm of suspension travel, 37-inch wheels and a minimum weight of 2,000 kg.
Prodrive, through its Bahrain Raid Xtreme team, Toyota Gazoo Racing and Martin Prokop have created prototypes that fit into this division, which adopts almost all the features of the buggies that have won the last two Dakars thanks to the good work of Carlos Sainz, Stephane Peterhansel and the X-raid Mini team. The main exception is the system for inflating and deflating the tyres inside the cabin.
On the other hand, the T1 Ultimate (T1U) category has been designed to accommodate renewable energy projects that will pave the way for the future of the Dakar Rally. The organiser expects Elite drivers to compete with these cars as early as 2026 and envisages a “very low emissions” rally as the ultimate solution from 2030.
This is where Audi Sport’s complex project fits in. Its electric RS Q e-tron adopts very similar regulations to its combustion engine rivals, but with the special feature being three electric MGU units from Formula E and a high-efficiency TFSI petrol engine from the DTM.
To balance the performance between them, the FIA, the World Rally Raid Championship’s governing body from 1 January 2022, has installed a black box in each of the cars. It will collect a huge amount of data at each stage to analyse how far each prototype has come. This will allow the Balance of Performance (BoP) to readjust different parameters at the end of each rally – in a similar way to the GTE classes in the World Endurance Championship (WEC)