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Dakar 2020 hosts its first hybrid driveline

ZF introduces electrified hardware at the world's most gruelling race

By Sam Sheehan / Thursday, January 02, 2020

The expertise of automotive engineering firm ZF hardly needs introduction - the German specialist supplies driveline and chassis parts to virtually every major player in the industry. But its decision to test one of its most advanced new components, a hybrid four-wheel driveline, over 4,900 miles of gruelling Dakar Rally is bold even for it. Particularly because it’s never been done before at the event – and in this first application will see the juggling of 1,033lb ft of electric torque between two axles in the desert.

Co-developed with Czech rally specialist MKR Technology, the so called CeTrax Lite RS system (catchy) will make its public debut in team Riwald Dakar’s Renault Truck C460 Hybrid Edition when the rally kicks off in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. The competition lorry is powered primarily by a 1,000hp turbocharged diesel engine, of course, but the new electric drive unit combines the oil burner’s grunt with instantaneous twist alongside 201hp. ZF is also providing the 13,000rpm asynchronous electric motor, hybrid control unit and software to run it all as part of the work – demonstrating its off-the-shelf capabilities.

The addition of all this hardware is claimed not only to boost powertrain efficiency but outright pace as well. ZF said Riwald Dakar’s two electrified C460s shaved “a few seconds off their usual times” at test tracks across Europe thanks in part to the added output, as well as the greater braking energy provided by the addition of kinetic energy recuperation tech. Mario Kress, boss of MKR Technology, said the speed of recharge in the 400-volt battery is so swift “that [the system] can deliver another bout of massive torque by the next dune ahead”.

While the hardware’s use in a Dakar Truck class machine suggests its application is primarily commercial-based, you’d imagine all sorts of data are about to be harvested from the exercise as ZF’s customers - Aston Martin and JLR among them - search for ever more innovative ways to incorporate hybrid drivelines. Certainly ZF is up there with the likes of Continental and GKN with regards to its reputation in the field.

First, though, the new CeTrax Lite RS will have to survive sand, rocks and jumps over 12 stages of this year’s Dakar Rally. Handily, the C460 Hybrid Edition already has a win at the 2019 Preproloog rally in Holland to its name, but nothing quite compares to the challenge of Dakar. Just ask Fernando Alonso, who continues his efforts to win in every major motorsport category he can contest in with an entry into this month’s event in a Toyota Gazoo Racing Hilux V8. Things are shaping up nicely for a cracking 2020 Dakar Rally…

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