This weekend at Goodwood Festival of Speed, the electric Volkswagen ID.R smashed a McLaren Formula 1 car’s 20-year-old hillclimb record, twice. All after less than two years of development.
For engineers like VW Motorsport director Sven Smeets, EVs are a new and near-unexplored frontier.
We caught up with him at Goodwood to talk ID.R, developing electric power and how this radical racer relates to what we’ll be driving in years to come.
The Goodwood hillclimb record
Just so we’re clear on the ID.R’s performance, that previous record was 41.6 seconds, set in 1999 by Nick Heidfeld driving a McLaren MP4/13. The McLaren was fully prepared for the run, with custom gearing and tyre warmers keeping its rubber toasty for the start.
The ID.R, driven by Romain Dumas, posted a 41.1sec on Friday, a 39.9sec on Saturday and then a 42.3 during Sunday’s official shootout… in the wet.
Last year, the first variant of the ID.R took the Pikes Peak hillclimb record, and it’s since become the second fastest car around the Nurburgring. Let’s learn more from Sven Smeets…
What were the biggest leaps forward with ID.R?
“If we went back to Pikes Peak, the car would be completely different. The battery could have serious weight reduction – and I’m not talking about 5kg – versus what we have now. Of course, the less weight we have, the less drag on the battery. Everything else follows.
“We already have some idea of how we would get more power. There are plenty of ‘next time’ ideas. If we went back now to the beginning, the car would look completely different.”
What have you learned from running at Goodwood?
“We have much fewer cells here, but we’re still asking for serious performance. We’ve learned about the balance between performance extraction and heat management. It’s interesting, how you regulate to optimise. You look after the battery like it’s your baby.”
Your thoughts on the ID.R’s record run?
“We were a little bit taken by surprise, to be honest. I spoke to Romain when we were testing and he was not super-optimistic. Because rain was forecast for Sunday, we had Friday and Saturday to give it a go.
“Of course, the record was our target, but we wanted to build up to it. Romain had a bad start, and a bad first corner because he was distracted by the start. Yet he still got 41 seconds.
Will there be another ID.R?
“We have some ideas for the future, which we will be discussing with marketing and the board from August through September. Hopefully some of them will be taken up, including some that go in different directions from records and hillclimbs like this.
“Things that were not possible in 2017, we can do now. In 2016, the Nurburgring lap wouldn’t have been achieved.”
How does the ID.R relate to road cars?
“On a certain level, we are interacting with the team behind the ID road cars. There is big work behind the scenes so that by 2022 there will be something properly presented. Many things are asked of us.
“We have a one-to-one connection with the performance people who build Volkswagen ‘R’ cars today. They will get our first electric test car. In terms of what we do, it’s very interesting for them to see what happens.”