Well, well, well. It only took two weeks and this year’s Dakar Rally for the narrative surrounding the new Audi RS Q e-Tron and balance of performance to be completely upended. Over two weeks ago, three-time Dakar winner and two-time FIA World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz Sr. said that his Audi was penalized by the regulations. Four stage wins later, and now the electric prototype is a looming goliath preparing to obliterate international cross-country rallying.
After suffering severe setbacks during the early stages of the 2022 Dakar Rally, Audi recovered and won four of the event’s twelve stages. In three of Audi’s stage wins, the margin of victory to the closest non-Audi was at least three minutes. Audi recorded 1-2 finishes on two of those stages. The German factory team clearly has the potential to win rallies soon. The competition’s conclusion has now brought attention to Audi’s program despite Toyota and Nasser Al-Attiyah winning the rally by almost 28 minutes.
Other competitors have commented on the balance of performance between themselves and Audi. David Richards, chairman of Dakar runner-up Prodrive, told motorsport.com,
“I think we have to find a good balance now, because it’s very clear this year it will be between Toyota and ourselves, but everyone knows that the Audi is way faster than all our cars now. It’s the fastest car by a long way. So we have to find a balance so everyone has an equal competition. And that’s the job for the FIA to achieve that. Otherwise, Audi would come and kill the sport.”
Toyota team principal Glyn Hall made similar comments saying, “Well, the problem we’ve got is the Audis did a fantastic job showing how fast they were. We have to look at that in detail because we know they are 200kg overweight and they are still winning lots of stages.” Hall correctly points out that the Audi RS Q e-Tron is overweight by design and regulation. The Audi is prescribed to be heavier in the regulations, but the prototype’s batteries push the vehicle’s weight even above that minimum.
The FIA will reach a point where it must clarify its goals with balance of performance. Is the governing body going to ensure that all the cars are relatively equal on stages regardless of technological capabilities? Or, is the FIA going to ensure that everyone designs and develops their vehicles on an equal playing field?
Before this year’s Dakar, Sainz implied that Audi should receive concessions because of how much Audi has invested in the project. Audi shouldn’t be pegged back just to keep internal combustion entries competitive in the rally. Though, no electric vehicle should be receiving favorable regulations just because its program is expensive or seen as beneficial to the event. The Dakar Rally can showcase new technologies, but those technologies should have to win their laurels and not be gifted trophies.