On June 24, Romain Dumas piloted the Volkswagen I.D. R electric car to the top of Pikes Peak in 7 minutes, 57.148 seconds. That was enough to smash the previous EV record — and crush the overall time by more than 16 seconds, becoming the first car to climb the mountain in less than eight minutes in the process.
Take note of that date — it was the moment you should have started to take electric vehicles seriously.
Sure, there are plenty of caveats to discuss and dissect here. Certainly, EVs aren't ready to contest Le Mans; the 12.42-mile Pikes Peak course is perhaps the perfect length for an EV powered by today's battery technology. The course's dramatic 4,720-foot elevation change gives EVs, which don't have to take the thinning atmosphere into account, a competitive edge. Rhys Millen proved all that in 2015 when he won outright in the eO PP03 EV, though his 9:07.222 run couldn't touch the then-record of 8:13.878 Sebastien Loeb set in 2013.
On top of that, VW brought resources — in terms of engineering talent and pallet-loads of cash — to the challenge that few contenders could have hoped to have matched.
And the real die-hards will say that Pikes Peak isn't a real race anymore, now that it's all asphalt (just like how the Indy 500 stopped mattering once the bricks got paved over, right?).
None of these caveats amount to much. Dumas' time up the mountain speaks for itself. For the first time in modern memory, an EV competed in a top-level motorsports event and won it outright, establishing an overall record in the process, without handicaps, qualifications or asterisks.
Compare this achievement with Formula E's often gimmicky, arguably competitively compromised formative years, what with the social media-actuated FanBoost system and the swapping of cars at the race's halfway mark, and the significance of the Pikes Peak run only gets clearer. If Formula E has sometimes smacked of a green-tinted publicity stunt, the I.D. R's record run feels like a real taste of what's next — a glimpse of the electrified world we've been told repeatedly is just around the corner.
The biggest complaint about the I.D. R, and EVs in general, is that they're critically lacking in soul. It's a compelling argument on the surface, but take a step back and it sounds suspiciously like what a Kentucky Derby-goer would have said as primitive gasoline-powered contraptions threatened to overtake the fastest thoroughbreds. Or what a yachtsman would have said as clunky powerboats began their sputtering quest toward the 100-mph water speed barrier.