A cartoonishly oversized rear wing fixes many problems

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is an absolute monster of a challenge. Composed of 156 turns laid across 12.4 miles of narrow two-lane switchbacks, The Race to the Clouds lives up to its name by climbing some 4,720 feet, with the peak touching the sky at over 14,000 feet above sea level. As such, aero set-up is particularly tricky to work out, as the extreme high altitude conditions make wings and cooling substantially less effective, even when compared between the start and finish lines. Volkswagen is tackling the problem by testing and tuning in the wind tunnel is it preps for a run at America’s Mountain with the new I.D. R all-electric racer.

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The Full Story

2018 Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak Exterior
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Volkswagen’s stated goal is nothing less than a reset on the all-electric prototype class record of 8 minutes, 57.118 seconds.

Although Volkswagen has been mighty concerned with EVs and alternative vehicles as of late, it’s not about to hang up its racing helmet for good. Rather, the German auto behemoth is looking to apply that all-electric know-how to going fast, including a run at this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Tasked with tackling the world-famous event will be the I.D. R, a custom speed machine purpose-built to take on Pikes Peak. It’s VW’s first-ever all-electric race car, powered by a dual-electric-motor set-up rated at 671 horsepower. At the helm will be Romain Dumas, a French Racing driver with a slew of victories at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 24 Hours of Nurburgring, the 24 Hours of Spa, and the 12 Hours of Sebring, not to mention three wins at Pikes Peak in 2014, 2016, and 2017.

Volkswagen’s stated goal is nothing less than a reset on the all-electric prototype class record of 8 minutes, 57.118 seconds, as set by Rhys Millen in 2016 while driving the PP100.

Clearly, Volkswagen is going full-bore on this one, but to walk away a winner, it’s gonna need the right ride.

Indeed, developing a winning race car is certainly no small task in and of itself, especially when it comes to the aero set-up for Pikes Peak, as explained by François-Xavier Demaison, Volkswagen Motorsport’s Technical Director and the I.D. R Pikes Peak Project Manager: “The start line is located at an altitude just above 9,000 feet, with the finish at 14,115 feet above sea level. The low air pressure up there means that the aerodynamic conditions are different to those at a racetrack on flat land.”

Luckily, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb regulations provide a broad spectrum of solutions for engineers to work with, especially with regards to the chassis and rear wing set-up.

VW expects the I.D. R to achieve a top speed of 155 mph on the run. And while that’s definitely quite fast, the I.D. R is capable of going much faster on a flatter, more open circuit with longer straights. So rather than eking out more top end, the VW team concentrated primarily on higher cornering speeds. “The entire chassis is designed to generate as much downforce as possible, without causing too much aerodynamic drag,” reports Demaison.

As you can see, one of the primary aero components is a rear wing that can only be described as friggin’ enormous.

Volkswagen Tunes Aero Package for Run at Pikes Peak Exterior
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As you can see, one of the primary aero components is a rear wing that can only be described as friggin’ enormous.

“The altitude on Pikes Peak means that the air we are driving through is on average 35 percent thinner. As a result, we lose 35 percent of our downforce compared to a racetrack at sea level,” says Demaison. “The huge rear wing allows us to compensate for some of this lost downforce. The imaginative aerodynamic development means that we will still achieve maximum downforce greater than the weight of the car during the hill climb.”

To test and tune the new set-up, Volkswagen Motorsport started with a half-scale model in the wind tunnel, trying out a variety of different aero configurations. After finding the right baseline, the team then added the updates to the full-size chassis and tested it at the Porsche development center in Weissach, where an advanced rolling-road wind tunnel provided the final data needed.

To help accelerate the development process, VW used 3D printing technology to quickly churn out new components. In total, VW says it produced some 2,000 individual parts using 3D printing over the course of aero development.

Volkswagen also says that despite the all-electric powertrain, cooling was still a bit of an issue in the extremely thin air.

2018 Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak Exterior
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To keep things chilly without adding large, drag-inducing intakes, Volkswagen used ANSYS software to recreate the high-altitude conditions in simulations.

To keep things chilly without adding large, drag-inducing intakes, Volkswagen used ANSYS software to recreate the high-altitude conditions in simulations, finding exactly what was needed for optimum performance without actually recreating the low-pressure atmosphere in real-world testing.

All told, VW is looking to put up a very strong effort this year. Up next is a planned test session on the real-life Pikes Peak route by the end of the month.

The 2018 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb will kick off June 24th in Colorado Springs, CO. Look for coverage right here at TopSpeed.com.

References

2018 Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak Exterior
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Volkswagen’s I.D. R Pikes Peak Racer is Not For the Weak of Heart

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