A number of changes have been made to the Dakar Rally’s T1 regulations following complaints from Toyota and Prodrive regarding Audi’s ‘electric’ entry next year.
Audi Sport’s return to rally-raid caused some tension even before the German brand revealed the prototype with which it will make its Dakar debut in January 2022.
After the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer announced in November 2020 that it would leave Formula E at the end of the 2020/21 season to tackle the world’s toughest marathon, a process of negotiation and analysis followed at the regulatory level.
Dakar’s plans to start the transition to renewable energies next January and to create the first category of hybrid vehicles lacked a regulatory structure.
Thierry Viardot, Dakar’s technical coordinator, and the rest of rally director David Castera’s team got down to work as soon as the 43rd edition of the rally ended on 15 January this year.
Audi – guided by Sven Quandt, the head of Q Motorsport organisation that is helping the manufacturer build its hybrid prototype – requested a number of advantages for a car that will have a pure electric powertrain, but whose power generator will be a DTM-derived TFSI combustion engine.
Prodrive, which made its Dakar debut last January with Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, and Toyota Gazoo Racing were not happy with Audi’s demands, which included having the tyre inflation-deflation system in the cockpit, a larger chassis, buggy-sized wheels (17 inches) and more suspension travel than the 4x4s.
After pressure from both outfits together with Ford, Dakar organiser ASO and the FIA decided to open up the possibility of a ‘T1+’ category in which 4x4s will have a 2.3m-wide chassis (instead of the current two metres), 350mm of suspension travel (instead of the current 280mm) and 37-inch wheels (instead of 32-inch). The maximum weight however will be increased by 100kg to 1950kg.
Remaining exclusive to two-wheel drive buggies and hybrid or electric vehicles (now in the so-called T1-E category, but which will be able to compete for the overall classification against T1 and T1+) will be the inflation-deflation system, “to optimise their energy consumption.”
To establish a performance balance between different powertrains, the ASO and the FIA will use air restrictors of varying diameters, something that is still under review.
Currently, Toyota’s petrol engine has a 37mm air restrictor, while the turbo-diesel motor in the X-Raid Mini buggy has a 39mm air restrictor. Prodrive’s new twin-turbo V6 petrol engine is electronically limited by a power curve equal to the Toyota’s.
Toyota suffered more than 50 punctures during the Dakar 2021, something that also affected the other 4x4s, due to the different construction and size of their tyres (16-inch and smaller wheel width) compared to those of the buggies. It was therefore a priority for the South African-based team to find a solution for the future.
Toyota is expected to fit its existing Hilux 4x4s with a kit to take advantage of the regulatory concessions for 2022, while it is understood that Prodrive will significantly modify its existing BRX T1 with the intention of starting testing in August. It remains to be seen whether X-Raid will do the same with its Mini John Cooper Work Rally 4x4s.
Another complaint from the teams that competed in the 2021 Dakar is that Audi has been building its new prototype for months without any firm regulations in place.
In fact, those responsible for the project have already admitted to a small group of media, including Motorsport.com, that they are having to make modifications based on the FIA’s indications and that this could delay the car’s first test, originally scheduled for early summer.However, these T1+ cars will not be able to compete in FIA events until the governing body ratifies the final regulations, which the teams hope will come this summer. This should give them the opportunity to take part in the Morocco Rally, the traditional pre-Dakar event, in October.