Nürburgring lap records are a bit like chocolate fireguards to car manufacturers: They're pretty useless and broadly irrelevant in the real world, but you wouldn't say no to having one. And now, Volkswagen can add its name to the club, conquering the 12.9 mile 'Green Hell' in 6:05.336 minutes and smashing the EV lap record by over 40 seconds (previously held by the Nio EP9 at 6:45.009) with its ID.R.
VW's typically Teutonic approach to the 670bhp (500kW) ID.R has now seen it set record times at Pikes Peak and Goodwood within the last 12 months, but the Nürburgring record – set with Romain Dumas at the wheel – is very much the icing on the cake.
In order to set the zero emissions lap record, the target average speed was 115mph, however on the lap itself Dumas was able to pilot the car at an average of nearly 129mph – underlining the capabilities of the ID.R. Five months of preparation, specifically for the record run, has been undertaken with the ID.R receiving a makeover including aerodynamics, chassis tuning, tyre choice and power management.
All of the changes have added up to a significant end result; knocking 40 seconds off of the previous record is huge at a place where manufacturers typically compete for tenths of a second when going for records.
Unsurpisingly, four-times winner of the Nürburgring 24 hour race, Romain Dumas, is especially pleased at notching up the EV record at his favourite racing venue: “To be a record-holder on the Nordschleife makes me unbelievably proud,” says Dumas. “For me, this is the best and most difficult race track in the world. I want to thank the team at Volkswagen Motorsport, who has once again done a fantastic job. The ID.R was perfectly prepared for the Nordschleife and it was so much fun to experience the blistering acceleration and rapid cornering speeds.”
The ID.R project has used the lessons learned by its experience of setting lap/course records at Pikes Peak and Goodwood. Pikes Peak is similar in length to the 'Ring, and the requirement for consistent maximum power output is also consistent between the two. This was especially relevant to the capture of energy released under braking, with the motors working as generators under retardation and generating around ten per cent of the energy required for the lap.
“The phases at Pikes Peak with a particularly high power output, and therefore the highest load on the batteries, came during the sections with a steep incline,” said Marc-Christian Bertram, Head of Electrics and Electronics at Volkswagen Motorsport. “On the Nordschleife, it is the long straights, on which you give it full power for a period of up to almost a full minute. The battery must not overheat on these parts of the track.” On the racetrack, the battery system of the ID.R is cooled by the wind.
As well as the powertrain, the aerodynamic performance of the car has benefitted from experience. At Pikes Peak the emphasis was on creating as much downforce as possible, whereas at the 'Ring, the ID.R was far more slippery to maximise available speed. The ID.R was, perhaps obviously, much faster on the Nordschleife than up Pikes Peak, achieving an average of 128.5mph in Germany vs. 93mph in the USA.
Whilst you might imagine that the engineers would be concentrating simply on drawing as much power from the lithium-ion battery cells as possible for the record, the charging phase of the operation – both prior to, and during the lap – has been a major focus for the VW Motorsport team.
“To drive a whole lap of the Nordschleife with full performance is a huge challenge for electric drive,” says François- Xavier Demaison, Technical Director of Volkswagen Motorsport. “Therefore, optimal charging before the lap begins, along with the recuperation when driving, was of crucial importance.” Marc-Christian Bertram continues: “The ID.R’s battery has a particularly high power density. It is not maximum range that is required, but rather the highest possible power output. The aim was to send the ID.R onto the track for the record attempt with each individual battery cell at the optimum state of charge”.
In the temporary service park at the Nürburgring, the ID.R was supplied by two fast-charging systems that operate with a comparatively low power output of 90kW each – the same as were utilised at Pikes Peak. “As a result, the heat generation remained low, even though the batteries are completely charged within only about 20 minutes,” explains Bertram.
While technology cross-over from road-going EVs to race EVs and vice versa is oft touted, it's rarely more than marketing talk. However, there are genuine examples of this with the ID.R. Each of the ID.Rs motors runs at a stout 915 volts which produces a high level of electromagnetic radiation, necessitating the shielding of the car's other on-board electronic systems. This technology was developed by the production car research team, and data collected by the ID.R programme is fed back to road-going applications.
“The Nordschleife of the Nürburgring is not only the world’s most demanding race track, it is also the ultimate test for production vehicles,” said Herbert Diess, Chairman of the Board of Management of Volkswagen Group. “The ID.R has mastered this challenge with great distinction and has completed the fastest emission-free lap of all time. As further proof of its impressive performance capabilities, Volkswagen’s e-mobility can now proudly call itself ‘Nürburgring-approved’.”