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Volkswagen prepares its electric ID R race car for its toughest challenge yet

The Volkswagen ID R electric race car shocked the world when it set the overall record at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb held in Colorado. Now, Digital Trends is standing in the pit lane as the German firm aims for an even bigger target. It has taken the ID R to the 12.9-mile long Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany in a bid to break the all-time lap record for electric cars. Winning at the track commonly called the Green Hell conveys ultimate bragging rights.

The ID R was built specifically to break the electric car record at Pikes Peak, so Volkswagen couldn’t simply send it to Germany and ask French pilot Romain Dumas to flat-out drive it. The company’s Motorsport division made several important modifications to the car.

“It’s about [15 miles] long, so you’d think it’s a lot like Pikes Peak, but it’s not,” said François-Xavier Demaison, Volkswagen Motorsport’s technical director, before unveiling the new version of the R in front of members of the media.

His team of engineers faced several technical challenges during the transformation process. The bench-sized rear wing used at Pikes Peak made sense in the thin air on the mountain, as it generated the maximum amount of downforce to keep the car stuck to the road. But on the Nürburgring, that wing would create too much drag, which would slow the car down. Engineers consequently redesigned the car’s aerodynamic profile. The rear wing is notably smaller and it’s positioned closer to the air diffuser.

There’s more than meets the eye. “The secret of the car’s aerodynamic efficiency is under it,” affirmed Willy Rampf, one of the project’s technical advisers. He stopped short of providing additional details; some parts of the R need to remain under wraps. The firm also made modifications to the powertrain to help the ID R achieve jaw-dropping speeds — up to 168 mph — on the straight parts of the track. None of it is production-bound, but the lessons learned from the ID R project will trickle down to series-produced electric models in the coming years.

“It’s the ambassador for the ID family. It’s the bigger brother for small brothers still to come,” Rampf hinted with a smile.

The ID R still uses two electric motors — one powering each axle — which produce a combined 680 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. The electric powertrain gave the ID R an advantage at Pikes Peak, where the altitude robs oxygen — and thus power — from internal combustion engines. Volkswagen won’t have that advantage at the Nürburgring. The ID R may even be at a disadvantage because of its heavy battery pack. The ID R weighs 2,400 pounds, compared to the 1,871-pound weight of the Porsche 919 Evo. At least Volkswagen is sticking with Dumas, who set the Pikes Peak record. As a four-time winner of the Nürburgring 24-hour race, he’s familiar with the track.

In preparation for the record attempt, Volkswagen tested the ID R on several race tracks around the world and it built a simulator to get a better idea of how it will handle on the ‘Ring, but its tires haven’t lapped the circuit yet. Setting it up without actually testing it on the track it needs to conquer was made possible by a tremendous amount of data, and massive computing power.

“The car has about 1,000 sensors that transmit passive data. We also used feedback from Romain’s butt, brain, and hands to achieve the best setup possible,” explained Demaison.

The current electric car record is held by Nio. The Chinese startup’s EP9 recorded a 6:45.9 time in 2017. The EP9 is technically a road car, but Nio only made 16 of them — priced at $1.4 million each. Volkswagen’s internal simulations indicate that the ID R will be much quicker than the EP9. Stay tuned: Digital Trends will be at the ‘Ring on Thursday, April 25, when Volkswagen attempts to make racing history.

Volkswagen is giving speed junkies a chance to break the record before Dumas takes the wheel. It teamed up with RaceRoom to develop a realistic racing simulator that can be downloaded for free online. It’s best enjoyed when using a gaming steering wheel and pedals, as we found out during the car’s unveiling, and it’s even compatible with virtual reality goggles.

Updated on April 25, 2019: Added details about the car and the record attempt.

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