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Autocar digital editor James Attwood will be providing updates from the 2018 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Check back here throughout the weekend for insights and updates.
Friday June 22: stunning spectating at the Devil’s Playground
Noise is always a talking point when it comes to electric cars, and it’s definitely the first thing you notice about the Volkswagen ID R Pikes Peak. Not how quiet it is, mind you – but the fact that it sounds like a police car.
Confused? Me too, initially. But a lack of sleep and oxygen several miles above sea level wasn’t making me go mad – the ID R really does have a siren fitted. It’s a safety requirement by Pikes Peak International Hill Climb officials that EVs are fitted with a device that produces a certain level of noise, to warn animals and spectators. Hence the siren.
What does the electric Volkswagen ID R Pikes Peak sound like? A police car, it turns out… pic.twitter.com/celdg1yj7o
— James Attwood (@Atters_J) June 22, 2018
Back to that lack of sleep for a moment. You have to be committed to spectate on Pikes Peak. There’s only one road up the mountain, and officials obviously aren’t keen for spectators to use it when the competition cars are.
That means spectators have to get up the mountain before the runs start, and the qualifying and practice days those runs start soon after sunrise, in order the toll road can be open to the public for the bulk of the day.
Still, I’m not after sympathy: the 0300hrs alarm call was absolutely worth it – even if just to see the sun rise across the stunningly beautiful Colorado landscape from the Devil’s Playground, 12,700ft above sea level and three miles from the end of the course. Watching the cars in action was even better.
For practice the Pikes Peak course is split into three, with different classes of cars and bikes getting a session on each. For final practice, the fastest cars were tackling the final section, starting from the Devil’s Playground car park.
As Romain Dumas guided the ID R Pikes Peak to the line, the contrast of this amazingly purposeful sports prototype emitting a wailing siren was quite surreal. And that amplified when the ID R set off.
The instant torque from the machine’s mighty EV motors was astonishing to see, the car shooting forward with at an incredible rate. The whirr of the electric motors as the car accelerated was somewhere between a Formula E machine on steroids and a rocket.
And when Dumas reached the first turn after the line, clearly quicker than any other competitor, there was no lift; no hesitation. The car was rooted to the pavement as it disappeared from view quicker than your brain could comprehend. It was hard to know what was more surreal: the lack of engine noise for a car so fast, or that ever-present wailing siren. If nothing else, the ID R Pikes Peak has a future as an astonishingly fast EV police car.
The ID R wasn’t the only machine worth tearing yourself away from the stunning views to watch. The handful of machines practicing on this section of the course also included Italian Simone Faggioli’s Norma prototype, Paul Dallenbach’s mightily bewinged PVA Dallenbach Special, Briton Robin Shute’s self-run Wolf TSC Honda and Australian Tony Quinn’s unlimited class Ford Focus (a machine so unlimited it looks unlike any Focus you’ve seen before).
It was surreal watching these largely small teams of friends and family working across from the slick VW operation. Despite the contrast, everyone seemed to embrace the new arrivals. “It’s an awesome machine, and seeing it in person is amazing,” said Dallenbach, a former overall winner competing in his 25th Pikes Peak. “It adds to the event, too. It brings attention and that benefits everyone.”
Chances are nobody will get close to Dumas in Sunday’s event. But that’s not the point: much like Volkswagen are chasing a record more than the event win, Pikes Peak is more about conquering the mountain as beating your rivals.
Dallenbach added: “There’s great camaraderie here. Everyone helps everyone, and the atmosphere is great. It’s an amazing event, just wonderful – and that’s why people keep coming back.”
Thursday 21 June: why Romain Dumas has no regrets he never reached F1
Romain Dumas never made it to Formula 1. He doesn’t really care. He doesn’t have the time.
Last weekend, the 40-year-old Frenchman raced a works Porsche 919 RSR in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (his car, pictured below, retired with mechanical issues). This weekend, he’ll take on a very different challenge, driving the electric Volkswagen ID R Pikes Peak machine on the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado.
The contrast between a round-the-clock endurance race and a 10-minute blast up a hill is typical of Dumas’s career, which has included winning Le Mans outright in Audi and Porsche (below) LMP1 prototypes, the 2016 World Endurance Championship title, two American Le Mans Series crowns and multiple wins in the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
And when he’s not racing sports cars, he’s won Pikes Peak outright three times, contested the Dakar Rally for Peugeot and, in his spare time, goes rallying.
He’s pretty much done it all. Almost.
“If you ask me what was missing in my career, it’s F1 and IndyCar,” says Dumas. “I did an IndyCar test once, which was exciting — but I did think: ‘This is quite dangerous.’”
Dumas showed enough potential and form in the junior single-seater categories to earn a test with the Renault F1 team in 2002, but that was as close as he came. Still, he harbours no regrets. “F1 is possibly the only category where it’s not just about the cars, but about what is going on around the track,” he says. “It’s possibly not made for me.
“If I’d done F1, I don’t know I would have been successful, and I would never have done Le Mans and Dakar and Pikes Peak. I’m more happy about what I’ve done than what I haven’t.”
The next step comes this weekend, when he returns to Pikes Peak, this time as a works VW driver. He’s certainly the favourite for victory; unsurprisingly, nobody else has come close to his pace in practice so far this year. He was 11.049sec quicker than Norma driver Simone Faggiolli in qualifying — which took place on a 5.15-mile section of the course.
But for Dumas and VW, winning the event is a mere by-product of the real goal: setting a new hill record for an electric car. If Dumas succeeds, it will be another highlight of a CV that is all the better because it doesn’t include F1.