That massive rear wing looks cool, but it also serves a purpose...
- shares

Volkswagen isn't necessarily the first brand that springs to mind when you say 'Pikes Peak', but the German giant has its eyes set on all-electric glory at the legendary Colorado hillclimb.

Central to the charge is the I.D. R, the first factory-backed Volkswagen to enter the event since the twin-engine Golf GTI it ran in 1987. Where that car was a hacked-up GTI with engines on the front and rear axles, the 2018 car is an utterly modern statement of battery-powered intent.

The only link between the two, beside the Volkswagen badge on the nose, is the fact they're both all-wheel drive.

With 507kW and 649Nm on tap, the I.D. R will sprint to 60mph (97km/h) in just 2.25 seconds, as it chases the existing 8:57.118 record for electric vehicles up the hillclimb.

Chief among the challenges facing cars is altitude: the race starts at 2862 metres above sea level, and runs to a peak altitude of 4302m. Willy Rampf, technical consultant at Volkswagen Motorsport, says the sky-high race has forced some interesting compromises.

"The altitude on Pikes Peak means that the air we are driving through is on average 35 per cent thinner," Rampf explained.

"As a result, we lose 35 per cent of our downforce compared to a racetrack at sea level. The huge rear wing allows us to compensate for some of this lost downforce.

"The imaginative aerodynamic development means that we will still achieve maximum downforce greater than the weight of the car during the hill climb."

The company used a 1:2 scale model to hone the R's aerodynamics, having 'borrowed' the Porsche wind tunnel in Weissach to develop the car. Volkswagen is also keen to point out the fact parts were quickly turned around on a 3D printer – in fact, it developed around 2000 parts during the development process.

A few things became clear during that process. Although the electric motors need to be cooled, they don't require nearly as much air as an internal-combustion engine, helping create a more aerodynamically-efficient design. These benefits transfer to production cars too, by the way, although the fact grilles are central to car design means a lot of electric vehicles follow internal-combustion conventions.

The I.D. R will tackle Pikes Peak on June 24.