Electric cars aren’t a new thing at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, a 156-turn mountain course where both drivers and automakers go to prove themselves. But running an EV comes with challenges, and Volkswagen had to figure out rapid charging for its 670-horsepower electric prototype in a setting that caters to cars that can swallow a tank of gas and be on their way.
The prototype is called the I.D. R Pikes Peak and it’s powered by a lithium-ion battery and able to, according to Volkswagen, go from 0 to 62 mph in 2.25 seconds. The company is taking it to the 12.4-mile Pikes Peak course to try to break a sub-nine-minute EV record there from 2016, set by racer Rhys Millen in a car with seven electric motors and 1,595 HP. But the rulebook at Pikes Peak means that setting a certain time on the course isn’t the only challenge for EVs—those cars need some extra planning to be able to compete under rules that wouldn’t pose a challenge to the gas-powered cars out there.
The main workaround Volkswagen had to come up with was in response to rules if a run on the mountain gets interrupted for safety reasons, which state that a competitor on the course then has 20 minutes to prepare to restart the run and get back to the start line. With a gas-powered car, all it takes is filling the car back up and getting ready to drive again. A recharge is a little more involved.
Here’s how Volkswagen’s planning to get around the time crunch when it makes first its official run at Pikes Peak in three decades next weekend, according to a press release it sent out on Thursday:
“When determining the charging strategy, we had to bear in mind a possible re-start,” says [Volkswagen head of electrics and electronics Marc-Christian] Bertram. “With that in mind, there were two main challenges that had to be overcome: To avoid overheating the battery during the charging process, and to ensure that all the battery cells are charged equally.” [...]
Volkswagen Motorsport works with two rapid-charging systems at the same time in the start area on Pikes Peak, each of which supplies the battery in the I.D. R Pikes Peak with fresh energy at a relatively low total output of 90 kW. “The low charging current limits heat development,” says Bertram.
While Volkswagen can try to control the amount of heat developing from the fast charging, it can’t really control the air temperature in the paddock. That makes for a problem the team will have to address as it goes along:
Even in June, temperatures on Pikes Peak can dip to just above freezing point. However, the teams can also be faced with sweltering mid-summer heat. “The ideal temperature for the battery is about 86 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Bertram. If necessary, air can be supplied to cool the internal battery system in the I.D. R Pikes Peak. However, cooling must not be too dramatic during the rapid-charging process, in order to avoid the build-up of condensation.
There’s also the issue of the Pikes Peak paddock being in a bad location for charging, which Volkswagen had to get creative with:
Because the temporary paddock, located at more than 9,000 feet above sea level, does not have a suitable power supply, a conventional looking generator is used to produce the electricity required by Volkswagen Motorsport. However, unlike conventional generators, this one runs on Glycerol, rather than diesel.
Glycerol is a sugar alcohol that is a by-product from bio-diesel, for example, and combusts with virtually no harmful exhaust fumes or residues. The liquid itself is non-toxic and is even permitted as an additive (E422) in the food and cosmetics industries.
Apparently, that generator not only powers the car—it’s also going to charge all of the devices in the company’s pit area, like laptops and the coffee machine. Environmentally friendly Twitter refreshes! Cool!