Next challenge for VW’s electric race car? Breaking a Nürburgring record

It’s called the Green Hell for a reason.

The color half of the nickname for the Nürburgring Nordschelife race track comes from the German forests surrounding it on the Eifel Mountains, where it was built in the 1920s. The second part comes from the sheer challenge of driving the 12.9-mile track at speed – a cavalcade of at least 75 curves, bumps and undulating surfaces. It was so dangerous that it stopped being used as a Grand Prix race track after the 1976 German GP, but has served as an unofficial benchmark for performance vehicles ever since.

And this summer, Volkswagen will take its most advanced race car – the all-electric ID. R – to the Green Hell to demonstrate the potential for electric mobility. Last week, the ID. R team began testing some of their initial changes necessary to adapt the machine that set a new record for the Pikes Peak hill climb last year to a new challenge: breaking the record for an all-electric lap at the Nordschleife. “After the record on Pikes Peak, the fastest time for electric cars on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife is the next big challenge for the ID. R,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets. “A lap record on the Nordschleife is a great accolade for any car, whether a race car or a production car.”

As it sits, the ID. R combines two electric motors generating 670 horsepower with a 48-kilowatt-hour battery pack into a carbon fiber and aluminum car that weighs just under 2,425 pounds with a driver. For Pikes Peak, the team designed an exterior that maximized aerodynamic downforce in the thin mountain air to help ensure all of that power could get to the road; when running at top speed at 14,000 feet, the car essentially doubled its weight.

That won’t be necessary at the Nurburgring, where reducing drag will be more important, and managing power for long straights, something the twisty Pikes Peak course lacked.

“Above all, we will modify the aerodynamics of the ID. R, in order to address the conditions on the Nordschleife, which differ greatly from those on Pikes Peak,” says François-Xavier Demaison, Technical Director at Volkswagen Motorsport. “As part of our meticulous preparations for the record attempt, we will put the ID. R through an intense test and development program at various racetracks in the spring.”

Once again, race driver Romain Dumas will pilot the ID. R for a record attempt, after becoming the first driver in the 100-year history of Pikes Peak to finish the course in under eight minutes.

“The thought of driving the ID. R on the Nordschleife is already enough to give me goosebumps,” Dumas said. “I know the track very well, but the ID. R will be a completely different challenge, with its extreme acceleration and huge cornering speeds.”

Much like Pikes Peak before the ID. R, previous electric vehicle record-setters at the Nürburgring have built their machines for sheer power. The current record holder made its mark in 2017 with a lap time of 6 minutes, 45.90 seconds, using a combination of all-wheel-drive and more than 1,400 hp. The relative power deficit of the ID. R might seem like a steep disadvantage, but sharp observers have noted that both cars went up the famous hill climb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last summer – and the ID. R was about a half-second faster.

But at the Nürburgring, with so many ways to go wrong, nothing’s certain until the end.

“Breaking the existing electric record,” says Dumas “will certainly not be a stroll in the park.”