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Volkswagen smashes electric vehicle record at Nürburgring

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Chinese EV startup NIO’s record falls after two years

Image: Volkswagen Motorsport

The wild all-electric racecar Volkswagen built to compete in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb last year has smashed another record, this time at Germany’s world-famous Nürburgring. Early Monday morning, the company announced that the I.D. R completed the Nürburgring Nordschleife loop in just 6:05.336 minutes, which is more than 40 seconds faster than the previous record set by Chinese EV startup NIO’s EP9 supercar in 2017.

Volkswagen originally built the I.D. R with the express purpose of running at Pikes Peak, a century-old competition where drivers race up a grueling 156-turn, 12.4-mile course to a finish line more than 14,000 feet above sea level. Electric cars have flourished over the last few years at Pikes Peak because they don’t struggle at high altitudes like combustion engines do. But with Volkswagen’s might behind it, the I.D. R set the fastest Pikes Peak lap ever and broke the EV record by just shy of a whole minute.

After that competition, Volkswagen quickly turned its attention to breaking records at the Nürburgring, which is home to arguably the most coveted lap time in the world. It redesigned some of the I.D. R’s internals to prep the car for the 12.9-mile run. Today, it let the 670-horsepower EV loose. It set the record after just a few hours of trying.

Automakers test their cars at the Nürburgring so often that there’s essentially a constant cold war being fought over who can complete a lap the fastest and across a number of different categories. Sometimes the runs are done in near-total secrecy, while others (like this one) are heavily promoted beforehand. Since automakers love bragging rights, every new record that gets set tends to come with a side dish of controversy.

NIO, for example, not only set the fastest lap for an all-electric vehicle in 2017, but it also took home the crown for fastest production car, beating out a time set by Lamborghini’s Huracán Performante. Just two weeks later, though, McLaren edged out NIO’s time with a limited edition but street-legal version of its hybrid P1 GTR track car. Both automakers had received credit for setting the “production car” record at the track, even though neither car was widely available or even close to mass-produced. (Lamborghini’s Aventador SVJ beat McLaren’s production record in 2018, and it was quickly eclipsed by a modified version of Porsche’s GT2 RS, though there have been arguments about whether the latter should be considered a “production” car.)

NIO’s time was still good enough to hold on to the all-electric record at Nürburgring until Volkswagen’s run today. But even the I.D. R’s impressive run wasn’t the fastest ever. That title still belongs to Porsche, which lapped the Nordschleife in just 5:19.55 minutes last summer in its Le Mans-winning 919 Hybrid Evo racecar.

While the team behind the I.D. R has acknowledged that the battery’s limitations might ultimately hamper any attempt to beat Porsche, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them try at some point. The larger Volkswagen Group is spending billions of dollars to shift its fleet toward electric propulsion technology, and two of its subsidiary brands — Audi and Porsche — are competing in the all-electric racing series Formula E. The more EV bragging rights the company can claim, the more distance they can try and put between themselves and the Dieselgate scandal.