Two nights to go: This Sunday, Romain Dumas will try to achieve his great goal – to set a new track record in the class for electric cars at the legendary „Pikes Peak International Hill Climb“ in Colorado, USA. With the all new Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak, Dumas has to beat the 8.57,118 minutes mark, set in 2016 at the 19,99-kilometres-long race track.
The I.D. R Pikes Peak, which features two electric engines and a system performance of 500 kW (680 PS), was constructed particularly for the International Hill Climb race, representing the sporty figurehead of the future family of electric production cars, which Volkswagen will launch from 2020 onwards.
For more than a century, „Pikes Peak“ has been standing for extraordinary challenges to drivers and vehicles: The hill climb starts at a lofty height of 2,862 metres above sea level, not to mention the finish line the drivers have to cross at a height of 4,302 metres – practically at the same level as the highest peaks in the Alps. The air gets thinner and breathing becomes more laboured with each metre climbed. 156 turns lie in wait over the 19.99 kilometres of the at times unforgiving terrain on the route. “You can’t afford to make a single mistake from first to last metre. You need to be in peak condition”, says Romain Dumas. “The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is similar to the 24-hour race at Le Mans. It’s not like the World Rally Championship or Formula 1, where if you screw up during a race, you just focus on the next one. At Pikes Peak, you cannot afford to have any problems. You only have one shot”, Dumas says. “Le Mans is like a marathon, whereas Pikes Peak is the 100-metre final.”
The thin air, which at an altitude of 3,000 metres contains around 30 per cent less oxygen than at ground level, means a special challenge for drivers. Special pressure chambers are used in professional sport to prepare for such conditions, with the drivers sleeping or even doing fitness training in the chamber in the weeks leading up to the competition. “I did this before the Dakar Rally, where heights of just under 5,000 metres are often reached in the Andes”, says Romain Dumas as he shares insights into his life as a motor sports all-rounder. Such high-tech equipment is not a feature of his preparations for the Pikes Peak race however: “I like to jog near my home at Lake Geneva at altitudes of between 1,500 and 2,000 metres, that has to suffice. Together with the team, I will be working on the final minor details to optimise the set-up, in order to ensure that we finish first.“
Romain Dumas combats the thin air at high altitudes during the race with fresh air in a can. "I keep drinks in the cockpit during the Le Mans race, and oxygen at Pikes Peak”, he reveals. It gets used up though at the latest if a long time is spent waiting around at the top. This too is a unique feature of the “Pikes Peak International Hill Climb”. Because there is only one road – the racetrack – leading to the top, all drivers have to wait until the race is over to return to the drivers' paddock. So depending on the start position, this can mean several hours waiting around at a height of 4,302 metres. “I’m lucky, I have no difficulties dealing with this physically”, says Romain Dumas.
Mental preparation for the hill climb on 24 June 2018 also takes up a lot of time for Romain Dumas. To make optimum use of the complex electric drive in the I.D. R Pikes Peak, he spent several days in the Volkswagen Motorsport simulator. “We tested all possible means to establish what performance I can deliver on which route sections or where the ideal recuperation places are.” That’s because Volkswagen’s first all-electric racing car is to generate around 20 per cent of the required energy itself on route to the Pikes Peak summit. While this strategy allows the engineers to reduce the weight of the batteries, it poses completely new challenges for the driver.
“The task this time around is entirely different compared to former years when I faced the Pikes Peak challenge with my own team”, concludes Romain Dumas who has won the world’s most famous mountain race three times already. “I was team boss, vehicle owner and pilot all rolled into one at that time. Now I can focus on my role as a driver. It’s not that the pressure has become less, just different.”
Apart from practising in the simulator, Romain Dumas also extensively tested the I.D. R Pikes Peak already on various racetracks. One finding stood out in particular: “The I.D. R Pikes Peak produces more downforce than any other racing car I have ever driven.” In practice this means especially that the cornering speeds are extremely high. To deal with this and not succumb to the exceptional centrifugal forces – despite all of his Le Mans experience – Romain Dumas again makes intensive use of an aged training device to specifically strengthen the muscles in his head and neck: a twenty-year-old discarded helmet with weights attached.
“The acceleration is breathtaking,” the Frenchman says, “The first time I pushed the accelerator right to the floor, I thought I was sitting in a rocket.” And it’s no surprise – the I.D. R Pikes Peak reaches a speed of 100 km/h in just 2.25 seconds. That’s faster than any current Formula One car. “There’s no sound from the motor. And I don’t have to change gears myself, the electric drive works without a gearbox.” By the way, driver Romain Dumas will drive the number 94 car. “The 94 was our express wish, as it symbolises the letters ‘I’ and ‘D’ – the ninth and fourth letters in the alphabet”, explains Volkswagen Motorsport Director Sven Smeets.
Autostadt Wolfsburg will air the „Pikes Peak International Hill Climb“ on Sunday from 17.30h live at the Volkswagen Nutzfahrzeuge Pavillon. For livestreaming, Matchsports owns the rights for live.matchsports.com.