Friday 24 January 2020

VW's first electric racing car has just nine minutes to prove it can help influence manufacturers in future

First look in Alés, southern France: VW I.D R Pikes Peak

Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak
Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak
Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

It is probably too dramatic to say that just under nine minutes will help shape the future of electric motoring, but an imminent race to the top in that time could certainly have a major influence on those who make cars and those who drive them.

Under nine minutes. That is how long, approximately, it will take for Volkswagen's first all-electric racing car to pass the first test of its short life.

Their new I.D. R Pikes Peak racer is being regarded as something of a technological flag-bearer or a "forerunner", as one executive described it. In other words, we can expect to see its technology in the electric Volkswagen road cars you and I will be driving in the future.

But first there is the more immediate matter of getting through those minutes on the world's toughest climb. Developed by Volkswagen's motorsport division, the 671bhp I.D. R Pikes Peak electric-powered prototype has been made to tackle, appropriately enough, Colorado's Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in June. It's 12.42 miles (20km approx), 156 turns and a brutal climb to a 4,300-metre summit.

The car, outrageously designed in the absence of regulations, was unveiled to us on Sunday evening at the Alés track in southern France.

We re-visited on Monday morning as they prepared to begin testing it. First laps have begun.

Senior Volkswagen engineers and management all stress how substantial a step it is for the brand, and they see a lot of what they've learned in the past eight months being adopted and adapted as a wave of new I.D. road cars is produced from and for 2019.

The car uses a lithium-ion battery pack (in the floor) and has a massive rear wing (they liaised with Porsche on aerodynamics) to give grip and steadiness at high altitudes.

It's got 4WD thanks to two electric motors (one on each axle), boasts a whopping 650Nm of torque and can zip to 0-100kmh in 2.25 seconds.

These are impressive numbers for something weighing under 1,100kgs. That weight includes 60kg driver Romain Dumas (pictured), who began testing this week before they move to America for more.

All that for nine minutes (8min 57.118secs is the electric-car record they're after) gives an idea of how much is hanging on it.

As well as anticipated future technical benefits, the I.D. R Pikes Peak is also likely to be held up as an example of how electric cars can be far from boring. A key focus, of course, is the compromise between battery weight and extracting as much power as possible - a carbon-fibre body helped lower the weight.

Around 20pc of the electric energy needed is generated during the 20km drive (regenerative braking).

A few other facts. The I.D. R Pikes Peak is 5,200mm long, 2,350mm wide, 1,200mm high, has a 2,850mm wheelbase and double wishbone suspension, and the chassis builds around the safety monocoque from a Norma sports prototype - Dumas is already a Pikes Peak winner.

Volkswagen, meanwhile, developed the closed-cockpit/sports prototype design. It is rather outrageous looking.

Experts also told us they've been working with Volkswagen battery engineers to get the technology to make the Pikes Peak racer an ambassador for I.D. road cars.

To talk with Romain Dumas is to listen to someone totally immersed in motor racing.

This is something different, however, and you could sense his relish for a new adventure. This from a man who swept to overall Pikes Peak victories in 2014/16/17 in a Norma M20D. He is also famous for his Le Mans and Dakar exploits, to mention just two.

He told us of the difficulties involved in the drive and how he knows the climb really well but it never ceases to challenge.

VW's development chief, Dr Frank Welsch, says: "Customers have always benefited from the findings made in motorsport, and we expect to take these findings and use them as a valuable impetus for the development of future I.D. models.

"The hill climb on Pikes Peak will definitely be a real acid test for the electric drive."

Volkswagen previously took part in Pikes Peak between 1985 and 1987.

Jochi Kleint raced a twin-engined Golf (1.8-litre engines driving each axle) but had to retire with a suspension joint failure around a kilometre from the finish.

He was at Alés on Monday morning to wish Romain well as the car was being set up for testing.

Volkswagen is targeting the record for an electric car at Pikes Peak of 8min 57.118secs.

This was achieved by Rhys Millen in a Drive e0 PP100 back in 2016.

That car had six electric motors, and an extraordinary 1,596bhp.

Overall, though, the course record of 8min 13.878secs was set by Sebastien Loeb in the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak in 2013.

We'll have to wait to see how Romain fares.

It will be an important few minutes.

Indo Motoring

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