Romain Dumas has conquered the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, and won 24-hour races at the Nürburgring, Le Mans and Spa. Yet even he describes the Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road as “completely crazy”.
The road was built in 2006 to improve access to the 999-step climb to Heaven’s Gate, a huge rock arch at the summit of Tianmen Mountain in China. But Volkswagen has now turned it into a hillclimb course as the latest challenge for the record-breaking ID R electric prototype.
It's an interesting challenge, packing 99 tortuously tight corners and 1100 metres of elevation into 6.776 miles. And since the road has never been used for a hillclimb before, simply learning it was a big challenge for Dumas and the team. VW visited the site in December to study it and capture data, and were able to create a video game version - but not a full simulation. So the first time Dumas drove it in anything approaching anger was his first practice run - two days before his ‘record’ attempt is shown live on Chinese TV.
The full challenge offered by the road becomes apparent when you head up it. Since the ID R doesn’t have a passenger seat, Autocar’s view came aboard one of the huge fleet of Golden Dragon XML 6700 buses that shuttle the many tourists up and down the mountain.