They say there’s none so zealous as a fresh convert. The fallout from dieselgate saw Volkswagen find religion in electrification, and the automaker sure is embracing it. Last year, now-departed VW Group Chairman Matthias Müller revealed Roadmap E, which commits the company to electrifying its entire lineup by 2030. It is building networks of 350kW DC chargers.
But one I.D. electric car will hit the street a little sooner. Well, one particular street—the strip of road that runs up to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. Volkswagen will use this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb both to stress test its new BEV platform and—if driver Romain Dumas sets a new EV record—to make some headlines. In March we saw a couple of renders of the I.D. R Pikes Peak, but on Sunday at Alès in France, it finally gave us our first look at the real thing.
The technical specs are still few and far between. We don’t know what the battery pack is like; VW hasn’t commented on that aspect yet. But since the run to the top of the mountain is just 12.4 miles (19.99km), and you only get one attempt, range won’t be much of a concern. VW says that even at maximum attack, the run should only use about 20 percent of the pack’s energy.
Performance, on the other hand, is very much a priority. So the car’s powertrain is being optimized for power output and the battery pack for power density. The I.D. R Pikes Peak is a twin-motor design, with a total of 500kW (670hp) and 650Nm (479ft-lbs) ready to be unleashed. The car’s weight has been kept to under 2,425lbs (1,100kg), and VW says it’s capable of zero to 62mph (0-100km/h) in just 2.25 seconds, which is faster than either a Formula 1 or Formula E car.
Of course, we should point out that both those series have rather restrictive rule books. The technical regulations at Pikes Peak in the Unlimited class are mainly focused on ensuring the driver cell is able to withstand rolling down several hundred feet of mountainside—something that remains a distinct possibility on this scary course. Consequently, the I.D. R Pikes Peak is one of the more extreme-looking race cars, dominated by a huge front diffuser, enormous rear wing, and floor extensions at either side that all aim to maximize aerodynamic downforce to keep it stuck to the road, particularly when above 14,000 feet (4,267m) in altitude.
The choice of Romain Dumas as the driver is a good one. When he wasn’t busy driving Porsche’s 919 Hybrid in the World Endurance Championship in 2016, he was engineering his own hillclimb car, and that year he set the overall fastest time at Pikes Peak, just a week after winning Le Mans for his day job. He won it last year as well, but for 2018 Dumas will have the backing of a full factory effort. Volkswagen says the goal is to set a new record for an EV. That’s currently 8:57.118, set by Rhys Millen in 2016 in the Drive eO PP100. (Dumas’ 2016 time in the gasoline-powered Norma M20D was even faster at 8:51.455.)
But I have to wonder if the real goal might be Sebastian Loeb’s 2013 record of 8:13.878. The I.D. R. Pikes Peak is heavier than Loeb’s Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak (1,100kg vs 875kg), and on the face of it the Peugeot made more power with an 875hp (652kW) turbocharged V6. But any internal combustion engine will lose power as it ascends in altitude and the air thins, something that doesn’t happen to batteries and electric motors.
Following Sunday’s unveiling, the I.D. R Pikes Peak started a two-week test in Alès. “It was absolutely fantastic to see the completed I.D. R for the first time and to take it out for its first spin,” said Dumas. “What Volkswagen has managed to put together from scratch over the past few months has my greatest respect. I had obviously seen initial pictures of the car—but it is even more spectacular in the flesh. We now have a packed schedule of testing ahead of us, and I am looking forward to every metre!”
The team will relocate to Colorado in June, with the race scheduled for June 24. And if it all goes to plan, I’ll be on site to see how they get on with one of the hardest challenges in motorsport.