An interview with Volkswagen I.D. R's driver, this year's overall winner of Pikes Peak international hillclimb race and new ovner of the track record.
The Alès (in southern France) driver has been frantic for years. Sometimes he starts the year in the extreme temperatures of the Dakar Rally in January, before taking part in a whole season in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) in the official Porsche team (with which he triumphed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans) while at the same time conquering some World Rally Championship events and, of course, absolute victories at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. 'Endurance races are my career. Hill climbs and rallies are a kind of hobby. Both are passions", sums up Dumas.
The win in the 24 Hours of Spa in 2003 (in a Porsche 911 alongside Stéphane Ortelli and Marc Lieb), was the first of its eight 24 hour race victories, with special emphasis on the 2010 Le Mans win in an Audi R15 TDI Plus (with Timo Bernhard and Mike Rockenfeller) and the 2016 triumph with the Porsche 919 Hybrid (together with Neel Jani and Marc Lieb).
The glorified Frenchman had an enormous pressure on his shoulders to get the win for VW in Pikes Peak this year to close an account that was opened over three decades ago. Before raiding the hill climb on Sunday morning to become the absolute record holder, Dumas explained what this competition means to him and all the preparations that must be done for this unique race.
What fascinates you personally about this hill climb?
Romain Dumas: When I was a kid I followed the fights between Volkswagen, Audi and Peugeot at Pikes Peak, which was a major event in France, almost as big as the Le Mans 24 Hours or the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix 1. My father participated in hill climb races and I dreamed one day to take part of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. And the dream came true.
Even with two absolute victories in Le Mans among other titles, this I.D. R should impress you, considering that it is faster from 0 to 100 km/h than a Formula E and even a F1...
RD: Since day one at the Alés race track, in France, I realized that the car was as fast as a rocket. It's impressive the job that was done in such a short time and I instantly knew that I had the right material to finally get the victory deferred to VW. I've won Le Mans with Porsche and Audi and now it was time to do something special with VW as well.
One week before getting to Colorado you were racing in Le Mans. Yes these are two motorsport events but totally different races. Surely you did not have much of a chance to do a proper preparation...
RD: Yes, at Le Mans we are several hours behind the wheel and if we are not perfect in a few corners at the end it does not compromise the final result. So I think Pikes Peak is truly a competition for "grown-ups", even more so than a 24 hour race, or even rallies, Dakar ... in fact any race I have participated in. I'm racing at Pikes Peak for the 6th time but I still feel the pressure of having to do everything right on the first... and last attempt. Every day I see videos made from inside the car, I study telemetry and I try to earn tenths of second here and there. It's a complicated compromise because I always have to leave a margin on each of the 156 corners, but at the same time I have to be as fast as possible.
What impressions did you have from the driving sessions during the evolution of the car, even though it was such a fast process?
RD: One of the fantastic feelings was the way the car was able to maintain performance as it went up on altitude because an electric motor does not lose power in the presence of less oxygen, unlike gasoline-powered cars that I've driven here before. On the other hand the team worked in a very consistent way and it feels great to be able to tune the car exclusively to my likings with no need to compromise taking into account the preferences of the other drivers in the team. Here I am the only driver, contrary to what has been my experience in Endurance racing over the past 15 years of my career.
This 19.9 km ramp has three very different sections. What challenges does each of them bring?
RD: This is a beautiful mountain and with this car it becomes even more thrilling... a few metres after the start I get to the first left corner at an unbelievable speed of 160-180 km/h after an overwhelming instant acceleration. Soon after there are a lot of big trees on the side of the road, then come the huge rocks and close to the end an equally dangerous jump ... it is a kind of Nurburgring race track but even more risky. The three sectors of the ramp are totally different and you can´t really identify one or two decisive corners. So we tuned the car to a competent handling on all three: the first one (from the start line to Glen Cove) has many mid-speed curves (160 to 180 km/h), where a lot of downward pressure is required on the car and we need agility; the second (Glen Cove to 16 Mile) is less interesting because it is merely a succession of eight hairpins going up, where it becomes necessary to save the brakes and recuperate some energy; finally, the third sector (Devils Playground to the finish) is incredibly fast giving you the feeling of being in the fastest corners of Le Mans.
What does it take for a driver to win at Pikes Peak?
RD: I would say that it is crucial to have the precision of a circuit driver combined with the courage and ability to improvise of a rally driver.
Tomorrow: Interview Willy Rampf, VW technical consultant for the Pikes Peak project