Volkswagen To Tackle Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road with I.D. R
The Pikes Peak-winning electric marvel will soon face another challenge against virtual competitorsby Michael Fira, on LISTEN 08:51
Volkswagen’s bespoke electric prototype racer that was the fastest at last year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb event will most likely add another record to its cabinet. Romain Dumas will pilot it in September on the so-called "Road to Heaven" that features 99 bends along 6.83 miles of road, longer than the original Spa-Francorchamps road course.
This year, Volkswagen will finally introduce the first model from its much-advertised I.D. family of electric models that are supposed to make us all rethink our lives, ponder on existence as a whole and so on and so forth. To keep the ball rolling and the buzz going, Volkswagen is yet to park the glorious LMP-like I.D. R in a museum and, instead, it will take the 670 horsepower beast all the way to China to compete on a strip of road that’s not opened to the public.
Dumas Will be Back in the 2018 Volkswagen I.D. R for the ’China Challenge’
There are purpose-built race cars, and then there’s the Volkswagen I.D. R, a car designed from the ground up to show how far Volkswagen’s got with electric technology on one of the toughest stages in the world: the ’Race To The Clouds,’ otherwise known as the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb race. Four-time Pikes Peak overall winner Romain Dumas of France (who’s also a WRC champion in the R-GT class, a WEC champion with Porsche and a two-time overall Le Mans 24 Hours winner) was enlisted to drive the I.D. R, and he duly rose to the occasion.
Now, the Frenchman has to again tackle a narrow, winding bit of road but, this time, it's not in the mountains of America but on ) Tianmen Mountain, some 932 miles southwest of Beijing, China,
The Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road as it’s known goes all the way up to 3,900 feet, and it features some Stelvio-esque hairpins. The road is only used by buses that take tourist up Tianmen Mountain, so there isn’t any current record for Dumas to defend. However, Volkswagen has come up with a way to make the whole thing interesting and make it seem less of a marketing job than it is. How? Well, Volkswagen will let people join in a virtual competition where you can drive on the ’Road To Heaven’ yourself and set a lap time in the I.D. R. Then, Dumas will try to beat the fastest time set on the platform but in real life.
"The route is one of the most extraordinary and difficult roads in the world – another special challenge for the ID. R," said Sven Smeets, Head of Volkswagen Motorsports. "Our goal is to set a new milestone for electric vehicles and, in doing so, to support Volkswagen’s E-strategy in China, which is really picking up speed this year," he added. Indeed, the road is included on dangerousroads.org’s list and the description there is telling: "The driver should be extra careful during the drive [on the Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road]. Not being overly careful could make it too easy to junk a car, or worse injure and even kill passengers. The scenery looks beautiful, but take your eyes off the road for a second, and you’re on the fast way down to the bottom." It’s clear that Dumas will ignore at least some of these warnings as he dashes to the At the "natural rock arch that was believed to be the link between the gods and the mortal world."
Talking about going fast up Tianmen Mountain, there have been some unofficial record attempts on this dangerous strip of road in the past most recent of which took place last year. In March of 2018, Land Rover brought a Range Rover SVR to Tianmen Mountain and, with Chinese racer Ho Pin Tung behind the wheel, the SVR raced to the top in just 9 minutes and 51 seconds. This was no less than 40 seconds quicker than the previous fastest unofficial run up the road that was recorded in 2016 by Italian Fabio Barone in a supposedly modified Ferrari 458 Italia.
The SVR has five horsepower more than Ferrari’s mid-engined, V-8 supercar in stock trim and also boasts with 516 pound-feet of torque. It has the ability to hit 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds but this shouldn’t worry Dumas as the I.D. R with its two electric motors puts out almost 100 horsepower more and, since the car only weighs 2,425 pounds (the Range tips the scales at 4,727 pounds), Dumas can go from naught to 60 mph in just 2.2 seconds.
Then there's the fact that the I.D. R runs on racing slicks and benefits from an absurd high-downforce package that puts to shame even some Le Mans prototypes.
Why We Love the I.D. R
In a world that’s shifting towards electric cars, us car guys need to be reassured that this technology can also be channeled to make cars that are fun and engaging to drive, not only economical commuters with as much character as a pencil sharpener. Luckily, we’re seeing more and more EV supercars emerge such as the NIO EP9, the Rimac C_Two or the Pininfarina Battista to name just a few. But it’s also cool to see this technology pierce into multiple branches of motorsport.
We’re already witnessing the constant growth of Formula E that has now spawned a support series in the form of the Jaguar I-Pace e-Trophy but, in my view, no electric car - street-bound or racing-oriented - is as cool as Volkswagen’s I.D. R. In a constant gallop to try and clean up their act after the Dieselgate scandal, the suits in Wolfsburg greenlighted an amazing car that is part Le Mans racer, part Batmobile with larger-than-large wings all around. The I.D. R is the ’fun’ vehicle for all the much more mundane I.D. models that are just around the corner, and it’s great to see it woosh to life (’roar’ doesn’t quite fit here, right?) again come September.
For those living under a rock, the I.D. R drew first blood last year when it won the Pikes Peak Hillclimb time attack event in June. Dumas set a record-breaking time of 7:57.148 over the 12.42-mile course, becoming the first car (gas-powered or otherwise) to dip below eight minutes. Sebastien Loeb’s 8:13.878 seconds run aboard a souped-up Peugeot 208 from 2013 was obliterated by 15 seconds in the process and the previous EV record, set by Rhys Millen with an 8:57.118 run, was almost bettered by a full minute.
Being the racer that he is, Dumas wasn’t all that ecstatic after the run saying that " I’m happy with this, but we could have gone quicker if that middle sector had been dry." Of course, any one of us would’ve been over the moon with achieving this feat, especially since the Pikes Peak Hillclimb is the most famous in the world and one of the hardest (even if it’s no longer a dirt stage) because we’re talking about 156 corners and a 4,720 vertical-foot climb as we’ve explained before.
Volkswagen built the I.D. R in 250 days around a steel and aluminum skeleton that was covered by carbon fiber body parts. The thing accelerates quicker to 60 mph than an F1 car and given all the resources poured into the project, Volkswagen brought the I.D. R to the Goodwood Festival of Speed too. There, on Lord March’s driveway, Dumas [broke the record for electric cars-art181847] with a time of 43.86 seconds, 3.43 seconds quicker than the previous EV record and little over two seconds off the all-time record achieved by Nick Heidfeld in the V-10 McLaren-Mercedes MP4/13 F1 car.
Up next, Volkswagen suggested that its bucket list includes the EV record on the Nurburgring-Nordschleife. In 2018, another company within the VAG Group, Porsche, bettered its own all-time lap record around the ’Green Hell’ when Le Mans winner Timo Bernhard drove the Porsche 919 Tribute lapped the 12.94-mile circuit in 5:19.55 seconds. As for the EVs, the fastest there was the NIO EP9 which completed a lap in just 6:45.900 seconds in 2017.
Volkswagen rented the track last year and, at the time, an insider was telling Autocar that "we’ve already seen lap times below 5min 30sec in the simulator". That had me think of a potential war over the overall Nurburgring lap record that could be ignited between Volkswagen and Porsche if, in the process of beating the EV lap record, the I.D. R will inadvertently become the fastest car ever around the fabled track in the Eiffel Mountains. What we know so far is that no record was set last year and Volkswagen could be back at the Nurburgring in September, after setting the record on China’s epic twisty road.
Read our full review on the 2018 Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak.
Read our full review on the 2019 NIO EP9