Automotive

Volkswagen's electric I.D. R smashes all-time Pikes Peak record

Volkswagen's electric I.D. R s...
Romain Dumas and the Volkswagen I.D. R race car working their way up Pikes Peak fast enough to take the win and the all-time record
Romain Dumas and the Volkswagen I.D. R race car working their way up Pikes Peak fast enough to take the win and the all-time record
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The I.D. R is a distant relative of Volkswagen's I.D. Buzz, and the company wants to make sure you make the connection.
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The I.D. R is a distant relative of Volkswagen's I.D. Buzz, and the company wants to make sure you make the connection.
Romain Dumas crosses the finish line in an all-time record time of 7 minutes, 57.148 seconds
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Romain Dumas crosses the finish line in an all-time record time of 7 minutes, 57.148 seconds
Romain Dumas celebrates his historic win
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Romain Dumas celebrates his historic win
The Pikes Peak course can be a treacherous one, with high altitudes and steep drop-offs
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The Pikes Peak course can be a treacherous one, with high altitudes and steep drop-offs
Romain Dumas and the Volkswagen I.D. R race car working their way up Pikes Peak fast enough to take the win and the all-time record
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Romain Dumas and the Volkswagen I.D. R race car working their way up Pikes Peak fast enough to take the win and the all-time record
Above cloud level: Pikes Peak is more than 14,000 feet above sea level at the top
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Above cloud level: Pikes Peak is more than 14,000 feet above sea level at the top
Dumas fires out of one of Pikes Peak's many hairpin corners on the way to victory
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Dumas fires out of one of Pikes Peak's many hairpin corners on the way to victory
Volkswagen's Motorsport Director Sven Smeets is delighted with the win and the record
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Volkswagen's Motorsport Director Sven Smeets is delighted with the win and the record

After a superb performance in qualifying, we thought the battery-powered Volkswagen had a good chance at beating the electric record at Pikes Peak. Turns out Romain Dumas and the VW team had their sights set higher, and today they smashed the all-time record with the first time ever under 8 minutes.

Back in 1988, when Ari Vatanen filmed the classic, jaw-dropping video that introduced much of the world to Pikes Peak, the road to the top of the mountain was all dirt. Any time under 11 minutes was an absolute blinder, and the spectacle of rally cars flying sideways around hairpin corners on the edge of sheer cliffs was absolutely spine-tingling.

Rod Millen utterly dominated the event in the 90s, with a series of times so close to the 10 minute mark that it seemed a certainty that his Toyota Celica would one day break into single figures. But in the end it took until 2011 for Japanese superhero Monster Tajima to set a 9:51, on a track that was mostly tarmac by that point.

The race is different these days. Since 2012, the "Race to the Clouds" has been entirely paved over, leading to increased grip and the ability to run serious road race machines with low, flat aerodynamic profiles. Sebastien Loeb set a scorching time of 8:13.878 in 2013 that looked almost untouchable. Only one other driver since then made it to the top in under 9 minutes.

That driver was Romain Dumas, of France, who won the 2016 and 2017 hill climbs in gas-powered Norma race cars that looked like oversized, streamlined go-karts.

Romain Dumas crosses the finish line in an all-time record time of 7 minutes, 57.148 seconds
Romain Dumas crosses the finish line in an all-time record time of 7 minutes, 57.148 seconds

This year, he made the jump to electric, and slashed nearly a minute off his best time. Driving Volkswagen's 500-kilowatt (670-horsepower) I.D. R racecar, Dumas didn't just break Loeb's all-time record for Pikes Peak, he smashed it by more than 16 seconds with a time of 7 minutes, 57.148 seconds, thus becoming the first driver ever to break the 8 minute barrier and obliterating the bragging rights of the combustion engine in a way that will be very hard to reverse.

"Since this week's tests, we have known that it was possible to break the all-time record," said Dumas. "For it to come off, everything had to come together perfectly – from the technology to the driver. And the weather had to play ball too. That everything ran so smoothly is an incredible feeling, and the new record on Pikes Peak is the icing on the cake. I still cannot believe that Volkswagen and my name are behind this incredible time. The I.D. R Pikes Peak is the most impressive car I have ever driven in competition. The electric drivetrain means that many things are different and I learned a lot during the project. The team did an indescribably meticulous, yet at the same time relaxed, job. Not only did we get the desired result, but the team spirit was also spot on. I am incredibly proud to have been a part of it."

Romain Dumas celebrates his historic win
Romain Dumas celebrates his historic win

The performance potential of electric race cars has been clear for seven or eight years now, even to the most dedicated petrolheads. It seems an inevitability that electrics will take over and begin dominating all forms of motorsport – and if they were going to break through anywhere, Pikes Peak was it.

The course is short at just 19.99 kilometers, or 12.42 miles, so the chief issue with electrics – range – isn't a problem. The altitude is quite high, climbing some 4,720 feet (1.44 km) over its famous 156 turns up to 14,110 feet (4,300 meters). That means the air thins out as the cars get toward the top, playing havoc with intake pressures, turbo speeds and intake air temperatures. Electrics care not a whit for air pressure, giving them a significant advantage. Add that to their instant torque, more or less independent of engine revs, and the precision with which they can be tuned in terms of traction and stability management, and it's hard to see a combustion car taking the advantage back at Pikes Peak.

Above cloud level: Pikes Peak is more than 14,000 feet above sea level at the top
Above cloud level: Pikes Peak is more than 14,000 feet above sea level at the top

What's next? Perhaps the storied Nurburgring in Germany, whose 20.8 km (12.9 mile) outright course record for a street-legal production car now stands at 6:47.25, set last year in a Porsche 911 GT2 RS. The NIO EP9 has already recorded a time just 65 hundredths of a second slower, but it doesn't meet the criteria for street-legal production status. It seems certain an electric will eventually prevail here.

Mind you, there are stories floating about of BMW Formula 1 engineers running lap simulations to estimate what time their screaming machine should do the 'ring in way back in 2006. Their guess? Sometime under 5:15. So it seems gasoline will still reign supreme at the ultimate level for some time.

That takes nothing away from Volkswagen's achievement on the weekend, though. Congratulations to Romain Dumas and the I.D. R team! There's a short video below, but we're looking forward to seeing the entire run from the cockpit to get a sense of what that kind of crazy speed might feel like. We doubt it'll top the heart-stopping hairiness of Vatanen's Climb Dance in the dirt, but it should still be spectacular!

Source: Volkswagen

6 comments
SimonClarke
If you get a chance to visit Pikes Peak and drive up it, leisurely, of course, you will be astounded at the amazing Visa's. You will also literally have your breath taken away from you as you are so high that there is a lot let air and oxygen at that altitude. if you do decide to drive up it is a lot easier in an electric car as they are not affected by altitude. This record is one of the many that have been smashed recently that are putting electric cars well and truly on the world stage. Well done to everyone involved.
guzmanchinky
Excellent! And it will only be a matter of time before a robot beats a human's time up this hill...
Bob
Reminds me of our Pikes Peak climb a number of years ago. My wife and I were going up on our motorcycle to relive our adventure years before when much of the road was gravel. There was snow from 8,000 feet up to the summit. The road had been closed for weeks because of a landslide and was to open at 9AM that morning. We were the first to take the road above the snow line. The Ranger warned us that the wind was blowing 70 mph higher up the mountain. I laughed and said the wind always blows 70 mph when we ride. As an old dirt and hill climb rider I wasn't too worried. The ride was cold, spectacular and uneventful until we neared the upper portion. Then we met a series of large dump trucks coming down the mountain. Besides taking over half the roadway, several rocks up to the size of bowling balls spilled off the trucks and were bouncing down the road at us. Suddenly the drop off over the side was the least of our worries, weaving and dodging through the bouncing rocks was pretty intense. For a few seconds we had our own action scene from a James bond movie. I think we had as much excitement as any race driver but a much slower time.
Joshua Tulberg
So awesome! Hopefully they can put some effort into cleaning up their production cars.
guzmanchinky
Rumor has it the new Tesla Roadster might have side thrusters for cornering. Would this be allowed? [See our article on the thruster-equipped Tesla Roadster at: https://newatlas.com/elon-musk-tesla-roadster-spacex/54986/ -Ed.]
Daishi
Faraday Future ran a 11:25.082 in 2017. That company has been in financial crisis but it sounds like someone (billionaire from hong kong) bought a controlling 45% stake for $860 million and secured a $2 billion equity funding deal from the US treasury. At the end of last year the CFO, CTO, and 20 employees left to create a competing startup. Dyson has been working on creating an EV company and although NIO's EP9 doesn't count as a production vehicle their Nürburgring run is a huge accomplishment for a ~2 year old company. Volvo (now owned by China's Geely) is going to launch their first electric in 2019 as a $35k XC40 built in China and sold internationally.