From the Armchair: Racers Wanted! Racing Volkswagens in the USA and the New GTI

To be honest, the words “Volkswagen” and “motorsport” haven’t exactly been synonymous, especially here in the USA. While Audi has had large factory-backed efforts in no less than rally, FIA Sportscar, IMSA, Trans Am, Super Touring, DTM and Speed GT, Volkswagen has had pretty much next to nothing. Skoda and SEAT got WRC and Super Touring. For Volkswagen it’s seemingly a lifetimeof being always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Clearly, there needs a remedy.

Okay, you can point to some really great privately backed efforts from the people’s car company, and a couple of one-make series such as the Beetle Cup, Vento Cup, etc. etc. But, to be frank, I’m not a fan of the one-make model of a single car formula where I can watch say a New Beetle beat up on other identical New Beetles. What’s interesting about that?

So let’s say you’re Len Hunt, new head of Volkswagen of America. You’ve been at the helm of Audi in the UK during the A4 BTCC days, at the helm of Audi in the USA during the modern R8 and S4/RS6 Speed GT days, and you’re a huge motorsport aficionado. Len’s got race fuel in the blood and a great understanding of what value motorsport bestows on a brand. The trouble is, how do you do motorsport in a way that is distinctly Volkswagen?

The current series in the USA are somewhat limited in exposure if they are not associated with NASCAR, CART, IRL or ALMS. Where’s the return? Besides, how are these costly and relatively elite series fitting for the “People’s Car”.

The answer almost certainly lies in Len Hunt’s land of origin. In the UK, there is a single-make series that is getting headlines. It’s so quintessentially Volkswagen, it’s crazy and it is something that would take someone like Hunt, with his exceptional racing contacts, to make happen with style and flair.

The series itself is the Volkswagen Racing Cup. If you’re unaware, this series is open to water-cooled Volkswagens of all ages, from Rabbits (Mk1s in Brit-speak) to the latest Golf V, from Sciroccos to the newest Caddy. Engine and drivetrain are also flexible, including TDIs, VR6s, front-wheel drive and 4MOTION cars.

Costs can range, but even low budget teams running Rabbits have won races over the more expensive New Beetle Cup racecars, etc. As such, it’s much more of a “People’s” series.

The beauty behind the series and one serious key to its success is a set of strictly defined regulations that focus on maximum power and minimum weight, keeping them in line throughout the field.

The cup itself is run by Volkswagen Racing, UK under the British equivalent of the SCCA. There is not yet a Volkswagen Racing of America, but neither was there an Audi Sport North America just a few short years ago.

So here’s the proposal….

Volkswagen of America, through a newly formed Volkswagen Racing America should create a Volkswagen Racing Cup here in the states, comprised of two ongoing series. To keep travel costs down and focus on VW’s core enthusiast base, run a West Coast series and an East Coast series.

Working the series into several prominent East Coast and West Coast ALMS week events would be great for exposure, though the series shouldn’t limit itself to the ALMS. Using tracks like West Virginia’s Summit Point and Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway would put the series close to markets such as DC and New York where large enthusiast pockets are based.

A final Championship race could take place on an ALMS weekend where the top winners from East and West Coast could come together to crown an American Champion.

Here in the states, plenty of tuners and shops have gotten to a high level. Money is there to compete with cars showcasing the aftermarket products, but there are relatively few creative outlets other than several competitions held by the print magazines.

But when would be a good time to start?

Well, the answer from most enthusiasts would probably be “NOW!” But seriously, racing also needs to make marketing sense for the manufacturer. However, I think just such an opportunity could be happening about the same time as the next racing season with the introduction of the 5th generation GTI.

It’s no secret Volkswagen AG boss Bernd Pischetsrieder wants the next GTI to bring back the old magic, and maybe create some new magic at the same time. In a recent issue of CAR magazine, Pischetsrieder said of the outgoing GTI, “It was too slow, too average. It was not a proper GTI. It was a good example of marketing getting it wrong.”

He went further to say, “If it hadn’t been for those fans of the old Golf GTI, and their clubs and meetings, the icon would have completely disappeared. That’s why we decided the GTI had to be revived. And it has been properly revived now, with the new model.”

What better time to launch a series like this than in congruence with the launch of the fifth generation GTI. As with many of the one-make series, Volkswagen could sell race-prepped GTIs for use in the series either in the form of specially built racecars from Volkswagen Racing or stripped “Club Sport” versions that delete the stereo and sound deadening and are sold in sponsor-friendly colors such as white.

Only folks inside VW can begin to understand the complexities of what such a series might entail. However, I bet that if Volkswagen of America can duplicate the Volkswagen UK efforts here, they’d have folks lining up to take part. It’s this sort of grass-roots series that defines what Volkswagen and the GTI are all about, and it’d add some serious legitimacy and street-cred to the new GTI.

More info: Volkswagen Racing Cup

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