Volkswagen R Chief Says I.D. R Will Make Road Cars Better

Racing, no matter how passion-fueled, is almost always a marketing exercise. But VW’s decision run for the record at Pikes Peak will be more than just a way to advertise the I.D. brand. The technological breakthroughs made on Sunday’s record-breaking Pikes Peak run will actually find their way into the road cars that you and I drive, says Jost Capito, Managing Director of Volkswagen R.

Naturally, the I.D. R has a financial burden on its shoulders. Having been expensive to build, test, and move, it will have to bring VW a lot of attention. And according to Pietro Zollino, Executive Vice President of Communications for VW’s North American Region, the I.D. R had already brought an exciting amount of attention to the car before its race had been run. Now that it has set not only an electric record but an overall record, too, it’s safe to say that it’s bringing VW the kind of press it wants. What’s more, the attention isn’t just in the US.

“This race is almost more famous in Europe than it is in the US,” says Zollino. So VW’s investment in the I.D. R will bear fruit all over the world, not just in the US. “Of course we’re here because we want a record, but it also makes sense [from a financial perspective].”

But it’s not just winning that matters. What happens on the way to winning matters, too.

Unlike most racing series, Pikes Peak’s Unlimited class really is that. Apart from needing to be safe, you can pretty much make your car however you like. This is exciting for engineers not only because it affords them an uncommon degree of freedom, but also because the problems they face are real-world problems. And that matters to street cars.

“This is even better than Formula E,” says Capito. Unlike that series (and nearly every other racing series out there) there are no strict rules that govern the car’s design and engineering. Those rules are designed as much to pump up the entertainment value as they are to solve the problems that would make all cars better. Last I heard, creating an aero kit that encourages passing isn’t a major area of concern for the Golf’s engineers.

“This is like racing 50, 60 years ago,” says Capito, pointing to the technologies like twin-cam engines that we use commonly today and that were developed on the track all those years ago. “You start with something that is impractical in the real world and you work on it until it becomes practical.”

According to Capito, Volkswagen’s R department is looking closely at the I.D. R’s software, its power output, and perhaps most crucially the data gathered during the creation of the car. Given the I.D. R’s short gestation period, the team had to rely extensively on simulations. By using simulations, the team was able to pick a perfect compromise between power, weight, and where and how to regenerate electricity. Those simulations proved themselves valid at Pikes Peak on Sunday and, according to Capito, will become a valuable tool in designing electric performance cars.

The next motorsport frontier, believes Capito, is electric rallycross racing. The short stints are well suited to electric cars, but they also pose a problem when it comes to charging. Short races mean that cars have to be in and out of the pits quickly. That means that they can’t charge overnight.

As you may have read, the I.D. R can recharge in just 20 minutes. This may sound impressive, but the volume of energy required to make it happen means that your house will never be able to do what VW Motorsports did at Pikes Peak. But on the mountain it only needs to charge every once in a while. Rallycross will increase the frequency of recharging, meaning that teams will have to find ways to recharge quickly without spending a fortune, since cars that can hold a charge will have an advantage at the end of the day when the most important races occur.

Once rallycross teams can recharge their cars quickly, repeatedly, and safely, that technology can move on to the consumer. And as in traditional motorsport, teams will get better at designing electric race cars, using their power, their motors, and their layouts to greater and greater effect.

And according to Zollino, performance will be important to the I.D. brand. And according to Capito, racing will be an important testbed for those performance cars. That means that not only will Volkswagen be racing for your attention, it will be racing to make better cars, too.