Inside the Volkswagen I.D. R's Nüburgring record

04th June 2019
Ben Miles

It’s a quiet June morning in the Eifel Mountains, a predicted morning thunderstorm has failed to materialise and the blue sky is instead filled with just a few scattered clouds.

Unlike most days at the Nürburgring though, today the morning quiet isn’t set to be shattered by the clatter of a thousand badly-tuned M3s. In fact, there isn’t going to be any engine noise at all on this particular day.


It’s barely a year since the world looked on in absolute astonishment as Volkswagen not only beat the overall record at the iconic Pikes Peak hillclimb, but absolutely obliterated it. Now the eyes of Wolfsburg have turned from the California hills to something a little closer to home.

Last year Porsche smashed the outright lap record, which they had already owned, with a specially-modified version of their 919 Hybrid World Endurance Championship racer. VW aren’t expecting the I.D. R to record such times (although privately they think they could get close), instead today is all about the outright electric record.


The current holders are Nio, the Chinese electric startup that stunned at the Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard last year to record the second fastest electric time ever up the Goodwood hill, a time of 44.32 seconds, only beaten by the I.D. R itself.

Volkswagen’s head of motorsport and the man who oversaw its wildly successful WRC programme, Sven Smeets, is in charge of I.D. R. He has been the main man for the electric record breaker since the idea came into being in the middle of 2017.

“This is the toughest race track in the world,” he says, standing beside VW’s impressive setup in the old pit lane at the ‘Ring. “For us it was the obvious next challenge from Pikes Peak. There are so many synergies here, a lot of road cars are tested here and we wanted to bring our ultimate car here to beat the electric record.”

“Three installation laps with one car, and then one car will be prepared to do the record run. Then we’ll do more laps to hopefully improve the time that we do.

“We try to make it as comfortable as possible for Romain [Dumas] in the car. It’s been a really busy few weeks for Romain, but he’s ready for it and he says the car is ready for it.”


It’s six weeks since the VW team first put their astonishing I.D. R on this fearsome circuit, and, just like driver Dumas, the car has not sat still. Nor did it sit still over the time between crossing the line at Pikes Peak and arriving in Nürburg. This I.D. R might look similar on first glance to the car that climbed the hill at Goodwood last year, but it’s actually undergone a radical overhaul for the challenge of the ‘Ring.

The I.D. R that competed in America was set up for maximum downforce, ready for the ultra-twisty confines of the legendary Peak. The ‘Ring’s challenges differ largely due to the incredible areas of maximum velocity. The Ring has some very long straights, areas where the downforce required on the mountain would be a literal drag.

VW might not be in Formula 1 (not yet anyway) but that is where they looked for inspiration to overcome these top speed hurdles. “On the Nordschleife the I.D. R will reach an average speed of more than 180km/h, with a top speed on the straight of up to 270km/h,” says François-Xavier Demaison, Technical Director of Volkswagen Motorsport.

“We developed a completely new aerodynamic package with DRS [Drag Reduction System], as well as optimised the energy management, which controls the power output of the two electric motors and energy recovery under braking.

"We want to come back with a proper battery developed by ourselves. We need to develop batteries for the future and it is really interesting, a few years ago I thought electric cars were not so fun, but for an engineer every day is exciting, we push the limit every day with this.”

Not only has the car been developed into a new high-speed machine, there’s now two of them. One car was to spend the day ready for simulations and small setup checks, the other ready to be the record-breaker. By the middle of the day both had broken records.


Around the paddocks the main man Dumas cuts an understated figure, casually drinking coffee with journalists and chatting to anyone who wants his attention. But 15 minutes before the first simulation lap, his second lap of the day, he disappears into the motor home.

The call for the first simulation attempt is made at around 9.50am. The French double Le Mans winner emerges from the motorhome, still looking completely at ease, before asking a mechanic “we go now?”.

Suddenly the mood changes, Romain, already suited, slips on helmet and HANS and climbs the awkward route into the I.D. R, dropping himself through the roof rather than the side.

All eyes turn to the track as the I.D. R is wheeled away from the paddock, back beyond sight through the final few corners for a run up to the start. The world’s media crowds to the barrier, waiting for the glimpse of the blue machine on its way.

The silence is expected, but still takes almost everyone by surprise. All there is to hear is the TV helicopter hovering overhead, until, without warning, Dumas appears out of the final corner. There’s no doubt he’s ready, the I.D. R sideways as it enters the start straight. As fast as he appeared he’s gone, and somehow the world gets even quieter.

The entire team, VW’s PRs and directors, and a handful of journalists decamps into the makeshift media centre, where the helicopter is live streaming a grainy vision of the run to a TV. The silence is palpable, with no one daring to breathe as Dumas enters the Karussell.


No one has time to run to the pit wall, all we hear is the whirr of the I.D. R as it whizzes past. This is just the first lap for a proper systems check, but a screen tucked away in the corner flashes up 6.25.385. The old record is gone and it’s not even 10.30am. This was only meant to be an installation lap.

While out being heroic it’s left to another legend of the Nürburgring to explain the challenge he faces. Not many have experienced this astonishing ribbon of tarmac as much as Hans-Joachim Stuck. The German legend is here to bring some insight into this weekend’s attempt

“The ‘Ring is the most exciting track in the world, the biggest challenge, it is unique in the world,” says Stuck.

“The main factors here will be the respect for the track, if you don’t respect this track it will be painful. Secondly Romain needs confidence in the car, if it’s tricky today then the driver has to be stupid to set a proper time.

“He needs to be relaxed, confident and to have a car that is specifically made for the track. There is no other track in the world this demanding on the car, on the driver, on the senses.

“It’s so important that Romain knows the track. I’ve had a number of co-drivers who have come here without any real knowledge of the track. One did over 100 laps with me in a hire car, but it still took another 20 in a race car to really know it. I would say you need at least 500 laps here to know what you’re doing.

“This is a very special pressure. We all know Romain is a very special racing driver, but to go for a record, to be the only car on the track, the pressure is higher than any other before. I hope he has some very good pants on.

“If I had the chance to do it, it would be the day of my life I tell you that.”

This being a very German effort, breaking the record does precisely nothing to change the plan. There are ‘proper’ runs planned through the day, and they will set the time that VW really want. Before that Romain is to jump into the second car.


Car one is back in its tent. Smeets explains that while the record is gone, they weren’t happy with the run. “There were some issues,” he says. “The brake-by-wire wasn’t dialled in properly and there were some other things we want to fix.

“The pressure is still on, but it changes, we’re working toward faster times and our personal time, but that biggest pressure is relaxed now, and that pressure of the weather is reduced.”

Later in the morning car two is rolled out (this one has more downforce), and yet again Dumas crosses the line with a new record time.

Back and filled with his lunch Dumas says he just hit Flugplatz at 250km/h and is thinking about lifting now. “Confidence is getting higher and higher,” he adds. “Everything is going according to plan. There is a little bit less stress than Pikes Peak here, you know you have more than one shot.

“It’s an adventure every lap, today I took the corner before the Döttinger Höhe flat for the first time ever. I’ve never taken it flat in a GT and never with this car, so it is an adventure.

“You have to push yourself a little bit more each lap, and this is the hardest moment, to find that extra bit. Clearly this car is more stiff than a GT car, we cannot use the inside of the Karussell, but it has more lateral grip, we even had more than 3G this morning in the corners.

“I didn’t sleep much last night so I am tiring, but the limiting factors here are not the car or the tyres, it’s your body. In GT cars you can feel the slide and you know the limits, with this you don’t feel the slide, if you do, you know you are going to lose the car.”

The car crosses the line for that second run at nearly a crawl. “It has the same batteries as Pikes Peak,” adds Dumas. “This has a lot more straights, so battery management is more important. Next run we maybe thing about conserving more during the middle of the lap, using DRS more to make sure we can be on the limit.”


Later in the afternoon a third systems check run is completed, again just a run to check the final setup and again a new record. This time 6.09.039. Suddenly we’re wondering if we could see something below six minutes today. Dumas has shaved over 16 seconds off his time in just a few hours. For a man who says he’s tired and hasn’t slept much Dumas shows no sign of flagging.

With a series of what could be called banker laps, but should be called heroic attacks, down the final record attempt comes as the day’s heat is at its height. Track temperatures have soared toward 50C as the baking sun beats away any surrounding rain.

In the afternoon the call is made for one final run, this time the ‘official’ record attempt. The problem is Dumas has sliced heavy margins out of his previous times with each passing run, so doubt begins to creep in as to whether there's too much left.

As he disappears into the forests again he's clearly on it, and the call comes from a photographer out on the course "this is fast".

After what seems like an eternity, but is actually just six minutes Dumas blasts across the line, this time at full tilt. The data collected over the previous runs allowing him to manage that might electric output better across the lap.

The timing screen pauses for a few seconds, seconds that for the team here creep on until it finally reveals the time. Six minutes, five seconds and change. Dumas has done it again, slicing another four seconds from his time and sending the iconic Bellof lap further down the leader board.

As Dumas climbs from the car to rapturous applause, it's clear his work is done for the day. But does he think they could go faster? "You always realise after a race it's importance and how much you enjoyed it," he says. "A year ago everyone was surprised by the time we achieved, now we were able to play a bit with the limit and that makes it very exciting. You always want to reach the top of what you do, my last run I was pushing more and more, in fact I would love to stay here all week and keep going.

"I would love to compare in one year's time the progress, and I think if we returned to Pikes Peak we could now go even faster.

"This last lap I actually lost a little time breaking too late into the Karussell. It was all quite a good lap, nothing special, I cut the second Karussell knowing that it was the last run, so damage didn't matter too much for later in the day.

"We were really looking for the absolute limit, it was OK, so next time I can cut even more."


Dumas and his VW crew make the challenge of the ‘Ring look easy, but you only have to listen to him talk about the laps to realise it is far from thus. The I.D. R is pushing the boundaries of current electric tech, and because there are no inherent rule-based compromises in the car, every lap is a true learning experience given the complete lack of data available at the start of the programme.

As the pack up begins the celebrations aren’t wild, the only question that remains is whether this is the end for the I.D. R. Will it follow the Porsche 919 Evo into immediate retirement following its finest moment, or are their more challenges that await this ground-breaking machine? "It's a big relief, I knew Romain and the team would not have been happy with just breaking the record first run, and I think if I allowed them to keep going they will, says Sven Smeets. “But hopefully we come back."

Photography by Jochen Van Cauwenberge

  • Volkswagen

  • ID R

  • Nurburgring

  • Romain Dumas

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