Racer Tanner Foust has competed in countless long-distance off-road races, but after bringing the all-electric Volkswagen ID.4 home after the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) Mexican 1000 off-road event on the Baja Peninsula, he was surprised. This was the first time he and co-driver Emme Hall contested a 1,000-mile race without a single mechanical problem.
I won’t give you the impression that the ID.4 totally dominated the event. It finished 61st after a grueling five days in the desert, which was third to last out of the vehicles that finished (there were 90 total entrants).
But it’s an important outing for the machine, which was the only electric vehicle entered in the event. Even well-prepared and established combustion engined cars struggle with events like the Mexican 1000, since there are so many variables that could see things go wrong. That the ID.4's only problem was needing to be pulled out of the sand on the first day is pretty damn impressive.
Here’s a little more information about the preparation of the car, which was altered for the event, via VW’s press release:
To charge the ID.4 in the wilds of Baja, the Volkswagen team will use a portable biofuel generator powering a 50-kW portable fast charger. As the NORRA Mexico 1000 race will be run in loops due to COVID travel restrictions, the team will attempt to complete about 98 percent of the stages in the loop event without the need for recharging.
While the 201-horsepower electric motor, battery pack and drive systems have not been altered, the vehicle’s power electronics have been given extra protection from the elements for off-road racing. The interior of the ID.4 has been stripped of features such as the HVAC system and modified with a roll cage, safety racing seats and supplemental screens for key data like battery temperature.
The suspension was thoroughly reworked with rally-style coil-over struts at all wheels and tubular lower control arms in the front and boxed lower rear links. The radiator was raised several inches to improve approach angles and cooling capacity, and additional skid plates of 3/8-inch steel added to the undercarriage. The ID.4 was also swapped from 19-inch wheels to 18-inch wheels with 255/70 R 18 tires that provide more sidewall for cushioning and wheel travel, with the body lifted a total of about two inches from stock.
To sum that all up: there were no changes to the motor, battery, or drive systems, but Rhys Millen Racing, the team that entered the car, added a portable biofuel generator and reworked suspension to make it better suited for long-distance off-road racing. It also added some extra data monitoring systems so the racers could keep track of things like battery temperature.
Foust told Autoweek that the ID.4 didn’t even require a tire change, let alone any other maintenance. That’s likely because EVs are less complicated mechanically than their ICE counterparts, since there are fewer moving parts that power the vehicle. Foust noted that their main issue was charge time; he and Hall could travel similar distances to their ICE counterparts, but they needed to wait longer to fill up the battery.
The whole goal of the exercise is extreme environment testing. No, the average driver probably isn’t going to be taking their ID.4 out for a five-day desert sprint—but it’s important to know how the technology can cope with high temperatures, rapid charges, and competitive speeds. That translates into other forms of electric racing, like Extreme E. It also translates into a better, more reliable product for consumers. If the ID.4 thrived in an off-road desert race, it can probably handle asphalt driving in a Texas summer.
The next off-road outing for the ID.4 will be at the Rebelle Rally this summer.