Volkswagen took a car to the famous Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with the intention of beating the record for fastest electric vehicle up the mountain, but it didn’t just beat that one. It also beat the all-time record—leaving both so far in the dust that all the dust had probably settled by the time they got there.
The record-setting run happened over the weekend, in a 670-horsepower all-electric prototype called the Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak. It was the first time in three decades that Volkswagen made an official run at Pikes Peak, a century-old race on a 12.4-mile, 156-turn hill climb in Colorado, and Volkswagen said before the run that the prototype was “faster than a Formula One car.” (That could be debated from a number of angles.)
The goal was to beat the EV record set by Rhys Millen in a 1,595-HP car in 2016, which was 8 minutes and 57 seconds. The I.D. R, instead, became the first car to run Pikes Peak in under eight minutes, beating the all-time record for any car set by Sébastien Loeb in 2013. The I.D. R ran a 7:57.148 with prior Pikes Peak champion Romain Dumas at the wheel, compared to the 8:13.878 Loeb ran in an 875-HP Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak car.
But other than the record smashing and the fact that this car is really fast, we haven’t learned much about the I.D. R itself. Here’s some stuff you might not have known about it.
- The I.D. R prototype took nine months to develop and Volkswagen got help from its sister company Porsche, which is currently running an unrestricted and incredibly fast version of its Le Mans Prototype 1 car on various tracks around the world for records and giggles, frankly.
- In that short amount of time, Volkswagen used half-scale variants of the car in the wind tunnel to decide which aerodynamic setup to go with.
- The four-wheel-drive I.D. R’s 670 HP comes from two identical electric motors, one for each axle. A two-motor layout was chosen over four to save weight on the car, which came out to be 2,425 pounds with a driver inside of it—just over the weight of a new Mazda Miata. More performance on an electric car means heavier batteries, according to Volkswagen, and overall performance of a car has a big dependence on the power-to-weight ratio.
- The goal for the I.D. R was to make each component on it 10 percent lighter than the components on the car Millen ran in 2016.
- The lower power output on the I.D. R—compare its 670 HP to the 1,595 HP of Millen’s car, for example—let Volkswagen use more compact battery components to power it. Volkswagen positioned the battery components next to and behind the driver because they were small enough to do so, giving the car an equal weight distribution.
- Volkswagen had to compensate big time for the air at Pikes Peak, since the start line for the climb is at an altitude of about 9,000 feet and the finish is at 14,115 feet above sea level. The air thins out by 35 percent on average at Pikes Peak compared to a race track at sea level, meaning the car loses 35 percent of the downforce it would normally have because of the air density. Volkswagen had to design the car to create more downforce than it would on a normal race track because of that, and said the company would have to tone the aerodynamics down in order to take the I.D. R to a track on flatter ground because the aero would be too heavy at a normal elevation.
- The low air density makes it harder to cool different components of the car, like the motor(s) and brakes. Volkswagen saw this as an advantage for the I.D. R, saying its two electric motors needed less cooling than a traditional combustion engine. That let Volkswagen reduce the size of its air intakes and give it an advantage, since air intakes usually don’t help aerodynamics.
- Volkswagen had some advantages due to running an electric car at Pikes Peak, but not everything was positive. Regulations at Pikes Peak mean that if a run is interrupted for safety reasons, the race car making the run has 20 minutes to refuel and get back to the starting line to start over. That’s easy when it’s only splashing a can of gas; it’s not so easy when a race car has to charge back up. Volkswagen had to figure out how to get the car charged and ready to go in 20 minutes, and there are more details on how the company made that happen here.
- The car only had enough power to make it to the top of the run at Pikes Peak, and was out of power by the time it got to the finish line. The driver, Dumas, had to hitch a ride back down the mountain.
But a car really only needs enough power to get to the end of a run. At a race track, performance only matters when you’re on the clock.
Stef Schrader contributed to this story.