Volkswagen's barnstorming I.D. R to tackle China's most spectacular mountain road
Volkswagen's barnstorming electric race car already holds records for Pikes Peak, Goodwood and the Nurburgring, and now it's headed to China, where it will tear up the famous 99 turns up Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road, one of the most spectacular roads on God's green Earth.
Seriously, look at this road. Taking eight years to build, even at the breakneck pace of Chinese construction projects, the Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road is a breathtaking series of loops and hairpins carved into the damn near vertical limestone cliffs of Tianmen Mountain. It's essentially a tourist road, leading up to the astonishing Heaven's Gate, a colossal hole in one of the soaring peaks that's pretty much perfectly named. Wingsuit jumpers occasionally enjoy a second birth experience by flying right through it.
There are nine kingdoms in the Taoist concept of heaven, and China's engineers have paid homage to this fact with 999 stairs leading up to the gate, and 99 corners on the road leading up, for those who dare to tackle its challenges instead of taking the insanely steep chairlift ride up. The road itself is incredibly steep as well, rising 1,100 m (3,600 ft) in about 11 km (6.8 mi) of sharp, narrow switchbacks, loops and bends.
We first encountered this extraordinary road as part of an absolutely insane publicity stunt video by Land Rover, in which the company had a stunt driver fang the living hell out of a plug-in hybrid up the mountain road, then drive up the slippery, 45-degree steps themselves up to Heaven's Gate. Hair-raising stuff.
And now, Volkswagen has decided to stamp its own presence on Tianmen Mountain by sending the world's fastest hillclimb car out to presumably set a record time for the road, if not the stairs. The I.D. R is a 680-hp, lightweight electric monster with a seemingly insatiable appetite for short-course records. Faster than a Formula One car up the Goodwood hill climb, it's fair to assume that the I.D. R is poised to set an absolute scorcher of a time up the 99 turns that will take some serious beating.
VW has given the car a fancy new color scheme ahead of the run – bright red, like the Chinese flag – and will use the stunt, providing nobody goes over the edge, to promote a "broad electromobility offensive" the brand is about to launch in the Chinese market.
Which is all very nice, but honestly we're just hanging out to see the video. This piece of road should offer Volkswagen some insane filming opportunities, and if this doesn't result in some absolutely mind-bending footage, we'll consider it a tragic waste. Still, it seems the Tianmen Mountain Big Gate Road may be shaping up as somewhat of a challenge – China's own Pikes Peak or Nurburgring, perhaps – and if that means we start to see more and more nutters trying to set fast times on this spectacular piece of road, then we're all for it.