The Electric VW ID.R Keeps Proving It’s the Very Fast Future of Racing

Illustration for article titled The Electric VW ID.R Keeps Proving It’s the Very Fast Future of Racing

At this weekend’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, the electric Volkswagen ID.R EV prototype didn’t only beat but smashed the record for the event’s hill climb by flying up in 39.9 seconds. The previous record of 41.6 seconds was set by Nick Heidfeld in a McLaren MP4/13 Formula One car in 1999.

Ultimately and disappointingly, Goodwood confirmed that due to wet weather the ID.R couldn’t set a record at Sunday’s shootout, so the old record stands.

For now.

What’s indisputable is that the ID.R has been on a bit of a record breaking run of late. At Pikes Peak and the Nürburgring, it has set new hot lap targets thanks to EV power. It’s not done yet, either. And so far it’s a high-profile example of just how potent electric cars can be, an antidote to the dated thinking that they’re just golf carts for environmentally conscious people.


I spoke to Sven Smeets, VW’s Motorsport Director, about the car, and what we can expect in future.

Now, this car isn’t quite the same one we saw smash the ‘Ring EV record: “We have reduced the weight of the car quite a lot, we have a smaller battery because the big battery from Pikes Peak or the Nürburgring you don’t need here,” Smeets said. “We surprised ourselves a little bit.”

In Pikes Peak spec last year, the car was running a 43 kWh battery with an electric motor at each axle, and put down about 680 horsepower. It could do zero to 60 mph in a bit over two seconds. It only weighs about 2,400 pounds.

Illustration for article titled The Electric VW ID.R Keeps Proving It’s the Very Fast Future of Racing

The team came to break Heidfeld’s 1999 record. It seems they knew it could happen, but it wasn’t going to be straightforward.


“We came to break the record, that was the aim with perfect conditions,” Smeets said. “You go with cold tires to the start and then you wait another hour, which is not ideal for a 2.2 km track. We knew we could break the record but to get under the 40 second mark is quite an achievement, beyond what we hoped for. We hoped to go under 41, then you’re the only car [under 41 seconds]. But to go below 40… well, the package seemed to be right.”

The car broke the hill’s record (officially or not) on Saturday’s shootout qualifying run, not during the competitive shootout on Sunday. Sunday, the Festival’s final day, was utterly miserable. Rain, wind, typical British summer stuff, which wasn’t ideal for breaking records at all.


And while the weather lifted later on, Dumas didn’t break his own record again putting in a still damn quick 42.32 second time. But could the car have gone faster than it had the day before?

“They say it always can go a little faster,” Smeets said. “But with the run from last night, today… we could try to get again a little more out of every component, Romain could do this little touch more, but with the run last night we were very happy.”

Illustration for article titled The Electric VW ID.R Keeps Proving It’s the Very Fast Future of Racing

Smeets said that the ID.R has been a steep learning curve for VW Motorsport, which is a division of an automaker making an all but unprecedented mass production shift to EVs. While the VW racing team knows its onions when it comes to rally and other rough stuff, it’s never tackled prototypes before.


Or, for that matter, EV prototypes. “We have learned a lot about battery management, and energy management,” Smeets said. “But doing this year and the testing between the races, we really started to understand our car better and better. We also had a steep learning curve with the chassis.”


For the moment, it seems that the ID.R is capable of taking on everything thrown at it. But energy management tech is changing rapidly, and the ID racer could evolve to match.

“I’m quite sure if we, because we are thinking what to do next, and what to do next is create some IDs that are more extreme,” he said. “The battery technology and everything around e-mobility is like a rollercoaster of development. What’s new today will be old in six months. More and more people are looking in to it. I compare it to the early days of turbo cars: ‘Today I may be driving this, but in eight months I’ll be driving something better.’ This is what’s happening with battery technology. I’d not be surprised that other things can be done in a year, a year and half. More range with really high performance.”

Illustration for article titled The Electric VW ID.R Keeps Proving It’s the Very Fast Future of Racing
Photo: VW Motorsport

The ID.R has been handy for road car development, passing on relevant data for energy and battery management. As Smeets says: “In testing we are allowed to do something wrong, which you can’t do in production cars.”


What about future EV motorsport? Could we see a switch to EVs competing at similar lengths, in endurance races? Almost like an electric version of what Formula E is doing.

Well, Smeets said: “Not tomorrow, not in 2020, but it will come. The tech is growing so fast, and we already see that FE is doing 40-minute races. Longer than a touring car race today.”


What we know is that the ID.R is a record breaker, and in at the ground level of extreme electric motorsport.

Going fastest here, and elsewhere, has proved there’s serious mileage in the tech, but a quick scan of twitter (well, my feed at last), and overhearing people talking about the car at Goodwood, shows some doubts about whether it’s a good thing. Some don’t like it because it’s an EV, which simply doesn’t excite them, others dislike it because they want to know what a modern F1 car (which can’t compete) would manage up the hill.


No matter which way you look at it, it’s an incredible achievement. The EV revolution is coming slowly but surely, and it’s going to be pretty brisk.

British car writer/presenter person. I like drinking copious amounts of tea.

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“No matter which way you look at it, it’s an incredible achievement.”

Well yes, but also no.

The speed itself is impressive and must be respected. On the other hand, it doesn’t excite me. This car is in its third iteration (publicly) and has been developed from the ground up to dominate Point A to Point B races. It has been tailored for this very specific task. The way this car is being spoken about right now makes it seem as if this is the pinnacle of automotive pace. It simply isn’t. The fact that old group C cars running in low drag/downforce configuration, with what we assume to be a restricted engine tune/revs for longevity, and tires that weren’t designed specifically for that type of car (Avon historic racing slicks are not the same as a modern racing tire specifically designed for the IDR) can get into the low 40's at Goodwood tells me that a modern F1 car would absolutely DESTROY this thing. Not to mention this course is pretty much ideal for this car with its gobs of downforce and unlimited traction. Watch Heidfeld’s old record and observe just how nervous that car looks due to the crown in the road; it’s absolutely terrifying.

I’d venture to say that an old IMSA Jaguar XJR-14 on a modern tire, qualifying trim for fuel and revs (Zero mechanical sympathy for the old girl) and in ultra high downforce configuration with the raised double front wing would probably break into the 41-42 second range at Goodwood. It would then proceed to do 200+ on the Mulsanne and run for 24 hours.

A modern IndyCar without a boost cap and in St. Pete aero trim would probably break into the 30's with a specially designed set of soft Firestones, empty tanks and a driver trying to prove a point.

For the millions that VW has dumped into this project, it HAD to win. There was no other option. This result exists in a vacuum. Once you compare what this car did to what other vehicles can do if they were given the same budget and opportunity, becomes less impressive. While the IDR is impressive, I believe it speaks more to the genius of VW rather than battery/electric power as a whole. The IDR is still a heavy car due to the weight of batteries. Until the battery pack and motor weigh less than an ICE unit and fuel tanks, an ICE car will inevitably be able to go faster at sea level.

TLDR: The IDR is impressive, but it’s a one-trick pony. It’s only the best because it gets re-tailored to the specific task every single time, whereas everyone else at Goodwood is in a sort of “run what ya brung” state. Rant over.