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Top 20 Stories of 2018
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Top 20 Stories of 2018

Top Stories of 2018, #20: Electric VW shatters Pikes Peak record

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Top Stories of 2018, #20: Electric VW shatters Pikes Peak record
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Dec 12, 2018, 2:59 PM

Motorsport.com begins its annual countdown of the biggest stories in racing with a look back to a milestone achieved at one of America’s oldest events.

When Volkswagen brought its all-electric, four-wheel drive I.D. R prototype to the Pikes Peak hillclimb this year, its claimed rhetoric was all about conquering the electric record.

But once you’d clapped eyes on the scale of the project, and the quality of people involved, you quickly realised that Sebastien Loeb’s outright course record was the real target.

The event’s regulations are perhaps as open as you can find in 2018, with only safety levels (including a bizarre 120db siren to warn of the approaching machine!) and four wheels mandated for the car class. That allowed VW to pour as much know-how into its challenger, but meant it would have to beat internal combustion engined rivals to do so.

More VW Pikes Peak insight:

The road that ascends Pikes Peak (the startline is at Mile Marker 7 and it finishes close to the summit) is one of the sport’s greatest challenges: its course contains 156 corners along a 12.42-mile route. The added complication for an ICE, however, is the altitude change of 1,440 metres – the resulting loss of air density means anything that requires air to function will become more asphyxiated the higher it climbs. Not an issue for an electric motor, of course.

The main problems that lay in VW and driver Romain Dumas’s way were the sort you couldn’t account for despite meticulous planning: mountain weather does as it pleases, and when the organisers decree that motorbikes are first to go, well, you almost knew someone would fall off (they did). A spectator requiring medical attention caused further delay, all this as the team watched the clouds roll in, sometimes obscuring the mountain completely.

And this event is a one-shot: if you stall or spin, get a puncture (just ask rallycross legend Martin Schanche) or suffer a breakdown, there are no second chances. Well, not until next year, when you can try again…

Remember, Loeb’s standard-setting Peugeot 208 had plenty of oomph – one brake horsepower for every kilo it weighed (850). The VW, thanks to all the batteries required, weighed 1000kg. That meant limiting the motors to 250Kw, as more power meant even more weight. It produced about 650bhp – with a super-constant power delivery with almost-instant torque, unless the batteries got too hot or too cold.

To help give it an edge, VW enlisted former F1 technical director Willy Rampf to go wild with its aerodynamics – and he obliged with a 2.4-metre rear wing! That thinner air density previously mentioned also robs you of downforce as you climb, but as drag is also reduced – it essentially means the bigger the better.

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Romain Dumas, Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak

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Photo by: Volkswagen Motorsport

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Checkered flag #94 Romain Dumas, Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak

Checkered flag #94 Romain Dumas, Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak
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Romain Dumas

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#94 Romain Dumas, Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak

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#94 Romain Dumas, Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak

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Loeb’s record, set in 2013, was 8m13.878s – and Dumas smashed it, recording the first sub-eight-minute ascent of the course. His 7m57.148s will likely stand for many years (although we said that about Loeb's mark at the time), although the man himself reckoned he could go 10s quicker given perfect conditions.

He was lucky – as the cloud rolled in, it laid some fine rain sprinkles in the middle sector and he took care through these turns, but his vision was unobstructed throughout. Apart from braking early for the final hairpin – “to take no risk” – he was happy enough that he’d done enough. He was right!

After Dumas’s successful run he had to wait to return from the 14,110-feet summit. He filled time by spraying some champagne for the cameras and ‘enjoying’ a “bad cheeseburger” from the café where all those who see the chequered flag are granted a free meal. As he did so, the heavens opened – with a hail and snow storm that cut the event short for many of the later runners.

With the landmark victory achieved, VW says it will only return when someone takes it away. After all, it has been a while since an electric car had beaten ‘allcomers’ opposition on American soil: Riker Electric Motor Company won a five-lap race around the one-mile Narragansett Trotting Park oval in 1896. Don’t forget too that the first automotive land speed records at the end of the 19th century were also set by electric cars.

While ICE-powered cars have ruled the roost for a century or more, here was more evidence to suggest their days are now numbered.

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VW’s electric Pikes Peak star to take on ‘Road to Heaven’

VW’s electric Pikes Peak star to take on ‘Road to Heaven’
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About this article

Series Hillclimb
Event Pikes Peak
Drivers Romain Dumas
Teams Volkswagen Motorsport
Author Charles Bradley