A VW Electric Vehicle Races to a History-Making Win

Volkswagen’s all-electric I.D. R race car sets a new standard at the world’s highest road race.

On June 24, race car driver Romain Dumas took the all-electric VW I.D. R to over 14,000 feet above sea level in record-breaking time, capturing not only the win at The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado but setting a course record by a full 16 seconds.

It was an apt victory, given how Dumas felt the first time he floored the I.D. R’s accelerator:  “I thought I was sitting in a rocket.”

Dumas and the I.D. R defeated not only the previous EV record but every conventionally powered race car that took on the course, too. It took Dumas and the VW just 7 minutes and 57.148 seconds to rocket through 12.42 miles up the hairpin turns and elevation gain to the finish line.

Known as the Race to the Clouds, the Pikes Peak event has been the venue of choice for testing new automotive technology since 1916. It’s not for nothing that it’s known as one of the most grueling and thrilling motoring events in the world: There’s the altitude (the finish line is 14,110 feet above sea level), steep grades (an average of 7 percent), and the twisting route (156 curves) to challenge both cars and drivers.

Dumas’ goal was always to win, of course, and the 2018 race brought him his fourth victory at Pikes Peak. Luckily, the I.D. R was built to tackle the challenge — as its record-breaking performance demonstrates.

Advanced Tech on the Mountain

The I.D. R combines speed and power, and its résumé shows that. Under the hood is 680 hp and 479 lb.-ft. of torque provided by two electric motors. This allows the I.D. R to go from 0 to 100km/hr (roughly 62 mph) in approximately 2.25 seconds, depending on grip level — faster than a Formula 1 car. But all that power is smooth and silent, with no gear-shifting and no roaring engine.

So why an EV — electric vehicle — for the VW entry? For starters, it reinforces the VW push for more electric innovation as part of its global strategy. And, says Dumas, the EV itself is a good match for the mountain’s challenge because “the power remains constant.” Combustion-powered vehicles, he says, “lose a significant amount of power in the thin mountain air” — and a win “would be a stunning achievement on first attempt; it would amount to averaging about 83 mph all the way to the mountain’s summit.”

On the course, the I.D. R reflects race-specific needs with advanced tech. The I.D. R’s 40 kWh lithium-ion battery was engineered to be light as well as powerful and to maintain its power output throughout the run. The battery also had to be fast-charging since races can be cancelled due to bad weather and restarted again from the bottom of the course as soon as 30 minutes later. To further reduce the weight of the battery and improve performance, the I.D. R’s brakes are designed to generate approximately 20 percent of the energy needed to run the race. All these factors are just as critical to the capacity, range, performance, and convenience of EVs designed for consumer use.

And there was one last noteable achievement: VW mechanics, engineers, and designers had just 250 days from the beginning of the Pikes Peak project to race day to develop the record-ready vehicle.

About the Course

The course demands versatility from the car and from the driver. “You need the precision of a circuit racer combined with the fearlessness and improvisational talent of a rally driver,” says Dumas. The Pikes Peak course includes three sections, each with their own technical and driving trials:

  • The start, says Dumas, where “there are still trees by the side of the road . . .  medium-fast corners await here, which must be taken at approximately 150 or 160 km/h [roughly 95–100 mph].”
  • The middle section consists almost solely of hairpins; the speed here is relatively low, says Dumas.
  • “The final section looks like the surface of the moon — just rocks, no trees . . .no tangible reference points for the course; many of the corners are blind. At the same time, the speed is high. This section of the course is the most difficult and commands the most respect from the driver,” says Dumas.

In order to win, you need a car that works well in all three sections,” says Dumas.

Setting a new record was a win for Volkswagen and for electric mobility.  That’s because the same innovations that make an electric race car competitive in the world’s most famous hill climb provide important lessons for the development of electric consumer cars as well. “Motorsports greatly accelerated technical innovation in the early days of the automobile,” says Jost Capito, Managing Director of Volkswagen R. “It will continue to play a similar role in the development of powerful electric cars in the future.” 

The future that Capito speaks of? It’s almost here: Volkswagen’s I.D. series of electric vehicle concepts are tentatively set to enter production within the next couple of years.