For many years, EVs have figured at the top of many a government’s wish list. The promise: To solve a plethora of issues, including raw material shortages, emissions problems and traffic issues. Now the industry is ready to roll. The grinding question is: Are the customers? Many of them need to be be convinced that EVs are actually fun.
Volkswagen has set out to prove just that – with the race car ID.R, which has become something of an ambassador for the ID sub-brand ever since it distinguished itself so remarkably at the Pikes Peak in Colorado and in Goodwood. In late September, VW’s board gave the green light: Get the electric record at the Nürburgring, currently held by the Nio EP9. Since then, getting the ID.R ready for the Nordschleife has been Volkswagen Motorsport’s top priority.
It’s not that Volkswagen Motorsport had nothing else to do: Switching from internal combustion engines to EVs within a year is a massive challenge and achievement. But the incentive to take the ID.R to the Ring is great: “If you make it there, you will make it anywhere,” says VW Motorsport’s head Sven Smeets. Next week, VW aims to go forward. We took part in the preparations.
There are many similarities between the Nürburgring-Nordschleife and Pikes Peak, says François-Xavier Demaison, Technical Director at Volkswagen Motorsport: After all, the race is about covering 20 Kilometers on asphalt. Nevertheless, aerodynamics, drive ratio and battery management need to be adjusted: The velocitites on the Nürburgring are greater.
Willy Rampf, previously Technical Director and now an advisor, explains the changes: The spoilers up front and in the rear are smaller, the rear spoiler sits closer to the diffuser, and the “flat floor” spoiler on the sills has been optimised. On top of that, there is a drag reduction system (DRS) that is active about ten times per lap. The work is made easier by the absence of regulation, as opposed to the Pikes Peak race: VW was limited only by its own timing and by cost.
The engineering approach is rather different: In a traditional race car, the engine and powertrain are paramount, while in an EV racer, you begin with the battery pack. And the learning curve is steep. In developing the car, the constant feedback by race driver Romain Dumas was invaluable – even though about 1000 sensors in the car are collecting vast data.
The ID.R provides 500 kilowatts of power, and recuperation is a major topic on the Ring: About 20 per cent can be recuperated on the track. Some segments can’t be driven at the limit in order to save charge. That’s also why top speed is limited to 155 mph. For comparison’s sake, Porsche’s record car reaches 230 mph.
The mechanical suspension has been tweaked and improved; VW thinks that even the Pikes Peak could now be driven ever faster. The basic design of the ID.R’s chassis has remained unchanged, but now there are three cars: One is a Pikes Peak cars, the other two have Nürburgring setup. While VW had to commit to a specific chassis number at Pikes Peak, they can now switch between two testers: While one of them is charging for 20 minutes – enough to get the 80 per cent charge for one lap -, the other one is out, testing. The batteries are cooled with large fans and kept at 30 to 40 centigrades.
One of the main challenges was optimising the drive pedal so it always feels natural, even when the ID.R is not recuperating. That’s the case at the beginning of a lap, when the batteries are still full. The tires have changed: VW has ditched Michelin and moved to Bridgestone – for strategic reasons.
VW is not aiming for an overall record; the Vmax is far too low, compared to conventional race cars. And Romain Dumas explains that he had to adjust his driving: Driving over the curbs would damage the ID.R. On the other hand, the low floor makes for superior ground effects. Testing was done on the racetracks in Almeria and Le Castellet – and with the Time Attack simulator by Race Room.
The Nürburgring posed yet another problem: Its electric infrastructure is not suficient for the ID.R. That’s why VW brought their own generators. They are powered by glycerine, supposedly an especially environmentally friendly fuel. Diesel generators, the default choice in the real world, have been shunned for somewhat obvious reasons.
If the notoriously unreliable weather in the Eifel mountains plays along, VW will shoot for the record next week. And attempt to dethrone the Nio EP9, the British-built supercar that has earned its Chinese brand a lot of respect. The EP9, in fact, had just one major problem: It was far removed from Nio’s series production cars. About as far, we submit, as the ID.R from VW’s upcoming mass-market EVs.