Volkswagen’s first full-electric racer ready to break records
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Most eyes will be on Volkswagen when the world’s most famous hill climb takes place this weekend.
Teams have been preparing during this week for the 2018 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb near Colorado Springs, an event that will see Volkswagen Motorsport challenge for an electric vehicle record — and possibly outright victory — with its I.D. R Pikes Peak prototype.
Volkswagen’s first fully-electric racing car will be driven by Frenchman Romain Dumas who has made a rapid turnaround since racing for Porsche at the Le Mans 24 Hours last weekend.
Dumas is a three-time Pikes Peak winner and his 2018 target is to set a new record for electric vehicles. That record currently stands at 8m 57.118s, set by New Zealand’s Rhys Millen in 2016 driving the e0 PP100 prototype.
The Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak testing in Colorado. Photo / Supplied
In recent weeks there have been opportunities to test on short sections of the Pikes Peak course while practice and qualifying — with the course spilt into three sections — began on Wednesday.
‘‘The I.D. R Pikes Peak is the best car I have even driven up this mountain,’’ said Dumas.
‘‘However, everything must come together perfectly in the race, as we only have one attempt. If anything goes wrong, it is game over.
‘‘If we get a puncture, I cannot simply come into the pits, change the tyre, and then head back out onto the track.
‘‘On Pikes Peak, months of work, and with it any hopes of victory, can go up in smoke in a matter of seconds. During the race week, I work together with the team on the final details, in order to optimise the set-up and allow us to break that record.’’
Romain Dumas during testing with the Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak in Colorado. Photo / Supplied
Dumas has four previous Pike Peak starts and drove a modified Norma M20 sports prototype racer to outright wins in 2014, 2016 and 2017 with his best time being set on his 2016 winning run at 8m 51.445secs.
The electric prototype features a twin-engine powertrain developing an estimated 500kW and uses lithium-ion batteries as the energy storage system. The high demand on the battery cells means that power density is the crucial factor for the system when producing high voltage. Unlike in the manufacturing of production vehicles, the goal of the motorsport engineers was not maximum range, but the highest possible power output on the way to the Pikes Peak summit.
As well as the battery energy available at the start of the run, Volkswagen says the car will generate roughly 20 per cent of the electric energy required during the 20km drive using energy recovery. When braking the electric engines will operate as generators to convert some of the braking energy into electricity and feed this into the battery.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb — also known by aficionados as the ‘‘Race to the Clouds’’ — has been held since 1916 near Colorado Springs in the Rocky Mountains with this year being the 96th running.
Starting at 2862 metres above sea level, the 19.99km course which is now completely asphalt makes a 1440-metre climb through 156 corners. Practice and qualifying takes place on sections of the course with the Hill Climb decided by just a single attempt on June 24.
As well as the challenge of altitude there is a huge variation in potential weather and it is not unheard of for the 4302-metre summit, which also represents the finish, to experience temperatures below freezing at the end of June.
The outright record for the course is still held by nine-time world rally champion Sebastien Loeb (France) with his 8min 13.878secs victory in 2013 driving the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak.
Bentley is attempting to set a Pikes Peak hillclimb record for SUVs with Rhys Millen driving a Bentayga. Photo / Supplied
Pikes Peak has attracted its usual diverse line-up of entries. Among the notable names are California-based Kiwi Rhys Millen who will attempt to set a production SUV record driving a Bentley Bentayga while Hampton Downs and Highlands Motorsport Park owner Tony Quinn returns to Pikes Peak with his Ford Focus hillclimb special.
A challenge category for Porsche Cayman GT4 cars includes freestyle motocross star and rally driver Travis Pastrana, IndyCar racer J.R. Hildebrand and former Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels MLB pitcher C.J. Wilson.
Japanese rally driver Fumio Nutuhara — a regular competitor in New Zealand events in the late-1990s and early-2000s— will drive a Nissan Leaf and former NASCAR crew chief and team owner Ray Evernham has entered a 1936 Chev sedan. There are 62 car entries and 24 motorcycle competitors.