Around the Dakar Rally bivouac on Wednesday evening, there was the merest hint of controversy following the FIA and ASO’s joint decision to increase the power output on the Audi T1-Ultimate cars from stage five.
But there simply needn’t have been.
It’s all to do with the Equivalence of Technology (EOT) brought in as a result of Audi’s hybrid RS Q e-tron machine which debuted at last year’s event, to make sure performance between it and Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars were even.
The teams requested data analysis and the possibility of tweaking engine parameters during the Dakar itself, to ensure no unfair advantage was given to either electric or non-electric vehicles.
Category manager for Cross-Country Rallying, Jérôme Roussel, explained the FIA’s reason for carrying out the analysis after the first three stages.
“First of all, this is not a Balance of Performance, this is the Equivalence of Technology,” Roussel told DirtFish.
“What we have tried to do is have the electric cars vs the ICE cars running the same level of performance. A Balance of Performance would be to adjust the parameters of each car to make things equal, and that’s not the case.
“This process was agreed and even requested by all of the teams before the start of the rally. They have invested a lot, and they didn’t want to have their chances completely devastated because there was a mistake in the calculations, so they wanted to have a mechanism which would allow us to correct the performance during the race.”
The FIA and ASO studied the acceleration of the best T1.U car (Audi) and the best of the T1+ cars over the opening three stages of this year’s event, measuring the data supplied each night before making the handing an extra 8kW (equivalent to around 11hp) to the Audi car.
Toyota Gazoo Racing team principal Glyn Hall, who prior to the Dakar spoke of the need to “trust the FIA” on the engine regulations, said the decision had been a “surprise”.
“The EOT was brought about by the fact that Audi has so many elements to its powertrain,” said Hall. “If Audi wasn’t here, we wouldn’t be having a need for it, there’s no question about that.
“Of course, we were a little bit surprised that this change was made having seen the performance of Audi in the first three days, but so far, we haven’t seen the data so today we will be presented with the data from the FIA. Then we’ll be able to better understand what has happened in certain areas, but we have faith and trust in this EOT mechanism.
“It came as a bit of a shock as we expected it to be decided the other way, but that’s sport and Dakar is a complicated race; the stages vary in a lot of different ways, different elements of the car and drivers are faster in different areas so it’s not a simple problem.
“Yesterday, Henk [Lategan] was with Stéphane [Peterhansel] for 200km, never more than 10 or 15 seconds apart, so that will be a very, very good analytical piece to look at, I will be very interested to see the analysis of that particular run, because I imagine that would be the best and most accurate data set, certainly in the Audi vs Toyota case.”
Toyota’s Nasser Al-Attiyah currently leads the Dakar from another Toyota Hilux of Overdrive Racing’s Yazeed Al Rajhi by 18 minutes, with the best Audi of Peterhansel just 30s further back in third.
Asked whether the request to analyze the engine data came from Audi, Roussel was quick to reiterate that the decision was agreed by all teams prior to the event and that the FIA and ASO carried it out independently.
“Audi asked absolutely nothing,” Roussel explained. “All the manufacturers were the same, they were not asking anything, so everything is completely fair. You have to be honest; the result of the Dakar so far is not based on performance; we have punctures, navigation mistakes that can lead to penalties for missing the waypoints and small reliability issues.
“So, when you have to stop on the stage to fix a problem for 20 minutes, that’s much bigger than the power adjustment that we can make. That is relatively a small thing that can happen during the stage.”
David Lapworth, the research and development manager for Bahrain Raid Xtreme – whose victory chances took a blow after Sébastien Loeb lost over an hour on stage two – said it was impossible to ‘have our cake and eat it’.
“For the moment, we have to accept it,” he told DirtFish. “We all bought into the process, and we all thought this was the lesser of two evils. “You always feel that you’ve been hard done by when someone says you’ve got to carry 10kg or more 5kW less, that’s the nature of being competitive.
“But we’ve all agreed to a process where we wouldn’t have to worry about fighting on a level playing [or not]; the FIA has done their analysis, we will get to see that data sooner or later so that we can refine it and improve it, but for the moment we have to trust the FIA. We got what we asked for so we can’t complain.
“We all said that we need some protection that a certain powertrain doesn’t have an advantage over another, that’s the principle of trying to welcome new technologies onto the Dakar. You can’t have your cake and eat it.”