Volkswagen’s electric racer conquers China’s Tianmen Mountain road

What do you do when the electric race car you built to beat Pikes Peak shatters the record on its first attempt? If you’re Volkswagen, and that race car is the ID. R, you look for new bits of road to run it on. That’s why VW Motorsport took the ID.

R to the Nürburgring in Germany and Goodwood in Great Britain, and it’s why the team could be found on Monday morning at Tianmen Mountain in China, about 800 miles (1,300km) from Beijing.

Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road is a picturesque strip of tarmac—with 99 hairpin turns—that runs for 6.8 miles (10.9km) as it climbs up 3,600 feet (1,100m) to Heaven’s Gate, a gigantic natural arch formation on the mountain. Such a tight and windy road could have been purpose-built to show off the ID. R’s strengths, particularly its acceleration from low speed as the car puts down 500kW (670hp) and 649Nm (479ft-kbs) from a pair of motor-generator units. (For a more in-depth look at the ID. R’s technology, we recommend these features about its exploits in Colorado and Germany.)

Racing up to the top isn’t something people do very often, although this wasn’t the first time a European automaker has used Tianmen Mountain as a marketing stunt for the Chinese market. Last February, Land Rover and Chinese racing driver Ho-Pin Tung drove straight up the 999 steps that follow the 99-turn road in a hybrid Range Rover Sport—a feat that still terrifies me. (I have had actual nightmares about driving up too-steep a gradient.) This time, Volkswagen had no pre-existing record to beat and nothing at stake other than bragging rights. Despite that, driver Romain Dumas was , reaching the top in 7:38.585 minutes.

“I will certainly remember this record run on Tianmen Mountain for ever as my most spectacular outing. I am proud to have set a record with the electric Volkswagen ID.R in China. The little information and testing we had beforehand made it a huge challenge. The road is incredibly narrow and winding, but the drive was unbelievable fun with the electric power of the ID.R. The huge torque was a big advantage on the short straights, while the aerodynamics provided additional traction in the fast sections,” Dumas said.

VW’s corporate U-turn from dirty diesel to battery electric vehicles will enter a new phase next week at the Frankfurt Motor Show, when it unveils the company’s first production BEV from the ID range, called the ID.31. Unfortunately that car—which is about the size of a Golf hatchback—was not homologated for the US, so it won’t be coming to these shores. Instead, we have to wait until late 2020 for the ID.4, a production version of the ID. Crozz crossover.

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