Volkswagen, having proven with its remarkable, record-breaking ID.R that - yep - batteries in racing cars is a good thing, is going to take on some of the toughest off-road racing terrain in the world with a modified electric ID.4 SUV.
1,700km off-road race
Driven by professional racer and Volkswagen brand ambassador (and former Top gear America host) Tanner Foust and managed by Tanner Foust Racing, the Rhys Millen Racing-modified rear-wheel-drive ID.4 1st Edition model will run its stock powertrain and 82kWh battery pack with a modified off-road suspension and racing interior for the 1,770km (1,100-mile) National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) Mexican 1000 race. Taking place from the 25th to 29th of April, the event uses much of the same territory as the legendary, car-braking, Baja 1000 race.
"It's exciting to be part of an ambitious challenge like this that pushes the limits of electric vehicles," said Foust. "We've learned a lot about the capabilities of the Volkswagen electric vehicle hardware in an environment that's tough for any vehicle, and it's performed well beyond our expectations."
Given that cacti and desert rocks don't tend to come with charging points, Volkswagen will bring along a portable 50kWh charger for the car, which runs on renewable biofuel. Thanks to Covid, the race isn't run in a point-to-point fashion, but rather does big loops out into the desert and back, making the layout ideal for a long-ranged electric racer.
Showroom standard battery and motor
While the ID.4 will be basically showroom-standard in terms of its battery and motor, the Foust team has modified it to protect some of its more vulnerable bits, as well as stripping needless weight out of the cabin, and adding a roll cage, safety racing seats and supplemental screens for key data like battery temperature.
The suspension has been modified, too, with rally-style coil-over struts, and chunkier tubular control arms. The radiator which helps to cool the battery pack has been moved, both to protect it and to allow for a sharper approach angle on the nose, and the underside of the ID.4 is peppered with hefty 3/8th-inch steel bash panels. Oh, and the standard 19-inch alloys have been swapped out for 18-inch rims, which work better with the off-road racing tyres.
Hilariously, Foust has said that - along with co-driver; writer and off-road racer Emme Hall - the ID.4 races best when it's left in its standard road-going settings; with traction control and the "B" level battery-regeneration setting engaged. Apparently, the instant-torque nature of the 204hp electric motor makes it ideal for hauling through rough ground.
Finding the right driving style
"We worked closely with Volkswagen engineers to find the right driving style for various types of terrain that could hit the balance of speed and battery consumption," Foust said. "It's early days for competing with electric vehicles, but we already have several ideas of what we'd like to do next year."
"It takes great confidence and preparation to present a stock-based vehicle to the starting line of a race like this, especially an electric one like the ID.4," said vehicle preparer Rhys Millen. "We've been pleasantly surprised at how well the ID.4 has taken to the terrain."
Volkswagen, of course, has form in US off-road racing. Back in the sixties, heavily modified Beetles became so common in such events that they spawned a whole genre of cars, and even a Hot Wheels toy; the Baja Bug. Maybe the ID.4 might kick off a renewal of that trend? Will VW start building a rival to the Ariel Nomad? We can but hope...