Guest Blog: Phil Mcgovern>> Dubai Mark V Track Racer

Having been a Speedhunter follower since day one, I thought a VW feature month was an ideal opportunity to show you guys the MarkV GTI that myself and some close friends built and have been racing Dubai, UAE.  After some email banter, Rod invited me to put a guest blog together tracking my racing activities, so here we are… 

Most, if not all of you, will have no idea who I am, let alone know that there is a pretty killer race series happening in Dubai.  To kill the first question off my name is Phil McGovern and I have been in and out of the Middle East since I was a child, having moved here with my parents as a baby.  I moved back to the UK when I was about 15 and from then on, had ambitions to get back.  Sadly it took until I was 26 but I made it.  So fast forward to today it is now myself and my family enjoying life in the desert. 

The idea to go racing had been eating away at me for a long while having participated in drag racing events in my numerous Cal-Look VW's I owned over the years (the GTI choice gets clearer) and stack loads of track days in my Porsche 993RS.  However going wheel to wheel in a tin top race car was the true calling.  Following an opportunity of a life time to race in the support race of the Australian V8 Supercar's Desert 400 in Bahrain a couple of years ago the bug well and truly bit.

So the to time actually pull my finger out came about a year ago now when myself and good friend Gary Francis decided to build a car to enter into the ever burgeoning UAE Touring Car Championship.  One other major benefit of being mates with Gary is highlighted in the picture above.  Gary is the Workshop manager for Gulf-Sport racing who are the exclusive distributor for the very successful British made Radical Sportscar that you can see tucked away in the back ground.  These little puppies are truly outstanding!

By now Andy Knight from Gulf-Sport had also got involved bringing his Mechanical Engineering skills to the build.  I was also very lucky to have secured an excellent sposnsorship deal with a local High Quality Paint shop called Polimar.  As expected they provided us the best base to work with.  A sano clean car!  We couldn't have landed on our feet better as Polimar keep the car looking superb race after race.

From the beginning I had always wanted to race with a car that was as reliable as possible meaning the motor was to stay pretty much as VW had intended.  So with that in mind the only changes that we initially made was the fitment of an intake (freebie) and a minor ECU tweek giving is an alledged 240BHP.  I say alledged as we have never had the car near a rolling road.  As the plan was to only have to check tyre pressures, oil/liquid levels and torque up the wheels this was about perfect.

To help me down the road with such limited fire power meant we had to enter into a rapid weight loss program and pulled everything we could think of out of the car.  First to go was the dashboard as we knew that the regulations allowed it so long as there was a suitable replacement used.  As part of the dash all the A/C system, heater matrix etc also made way.  Both the air bags left the building as well, as did all of the carpets, sound deadening and weld goop.  The car was beggining to take shape and look a bit more like the touring car I had in my mind.

As you could see from the previous picture and the one above I decided to go all out keeping myself safe.  Being a family guy meant that getting hurt out on the track was just not on the agenda.  I was put in contact with a company called Custom Cages in the UK that supplied the unit that is now comprehensively welded into the car.  Being made out of C45 it also worked with our weight mantra as it tipped the scales at 45Kgs. 

As you can see the doors where empty – Even the mechanisms where junked as we planned to hang the glass with an ingenious 'S' shaped hook early on with a view to getting a hold of some lexan items.  Plastics4perfomance in the UK supply them ready made for the MarkV GTi so I'll be dropping them a line in the near future.  All up the car weighed in at 1116Kgs with a near perfect corner weight ratio.  Weight; check!  Balance; check!

I spent a lot of time researching suspension and after looking at pretty much every brand I could I settled on some AST 3-ways.  I am not telling a lie when I say they make a huge difference to the car and quite clearly give me an advantage over the other Golf's running other brands.  Hugely recommended and mixed in with a full set of black Proflex bushings the car was going to be great fun out there.

Gary and Andy also did an amazing job with the install.  It was a conscious decision to bring them inside the car to keep them protected.

One of the major issues that we knew we would have was with the brakes so some AP Racing items made their way up front.  Gary hooked the brake cooling ducts to keep them effective for as long as possible too.  Four races in however and warping issues meant that some Performance Friction discs and pads made their way on to the car.

Some of the other really simple touches on the car.  They are not the best looking as such but they serve a purpose and are light!  Located in this little block of goodies is the battery cut-off, fire extinguisher pull and the brake bias.  This was only ever going to be a short term measure as over the summer the car is going through a major make over.

As I was following a strict budget when building the car we made use of some used Team Dynamic wheels.  I am so glad that I didn't spend any money in this area as they proved to be perfect for the job and took the pounding dished out at them without any problems.

My eldest boy and biggest fan making some final approval checks as we neared the completion of round one.

On the run up to our first race there were some midnight sessions put in, much the annoyance of our wives.  As Gary and Andy both had the Radical Championship to attend to this was the only route to completion.  Mind you, cold beer and pizza helped the evening's go by.

FInished and rolled outside for the first time – To say that we were proud of the last few months achievements was an understatement!  To say that I was apprehensive about the first race was also a pretty huge understatement.

The next time that the Golf saw the light of day was for the December Touring Car Race.  We decided that it would make alot of sense to take part in the test day on the Thursday before the race on Friday morning (Weekends are Friday Saturday across most of the Middle East) so I made my way down early morning to help Gary with a spanner check and generally check over the car.

As we hadn't shown our faces at a race weekend before we felt the force of the scrutineers as they picked over the car with a fine tooth comb.  In hindsight if we hadn't had the car painted white and it wasn't so clean I'm sure we wouldn't have attracted so much attention.  After what was a very nervous 30 mins with lots of hands on hips action by me we got a sign off so long as we made a couple of very minor changes.  One was that we would have to run Aluminium or Carbon door cards and the other being covered battery terminals.  I was happy and now racing!

One of the benefits of being friends with a Family that run a racing championship – Facilities.

Hitting those curbs hard during the race!!  After initially being cautious with the curbs I decided the best course of action was to take them on.  Having gone through every aspect of the suspension and made the necessary changes I felt the car was more than capable.  I finished the first race weekend with a 10th over all out 36 runners so was more than happy after a long wait to get it out there.  As we had also had no testing time with the car at all it was testament to Gary and Andy's skills in putting a great car together.

The growth of the series has been rapid and the variety of cars out there makes for great racing.  Having grown from a 7 car grid in '06 to 18 in '07, the registration number ballooned to 40+ for the '08 season. Now using a Golf might not seem the most sensible of routes to follow however we had a couple of binding factors that we had to play with. One was no budget and the other was that I have been a life long VW/Porsche nut! As you can imagine hittting the track in an RSR was out of the question so a Golf it was.
img: crankandpistongolf20

The Golf was now really beginning to look the part with the Sponsor logos adorning the car.  Polimar have been superb all year in supporting me with regards to any bodywork/paintwork required.  A nice safety net to have when racing.  Rubbing is racing after all.

As the season progressed and we have had time to think a little about set up I have found myself punching further up the grid than ever imagined.  Not forgetting that we only had a minor ECU tweek, Stock gearbox, stock clutch and a Quaiffe ATB diff on board. Leaving full factiory built Renault Clio cup cars behind and a bunch of heavily modified Honda's was the order of day. The plan to go light and simple seemed to be paying off!  However the bug had bitten so after some great advice from Volkswagen Racing in the UK I decided a proper LSD was required as the Quaiffe was opening up on me and whilst I was at it a paddle clutch got fitted.  The purpose of steering clear of throwing a turbo at it was to see just how far up the grid we could get with simple chassis mods.  Oh and to annoy the guys out there spending big money on their cars.

However the bug had bitten so after some great advice from Volkswagen Racing in the UK I decided a proper LSD was required as the Quaiffe was opening up on me.  Whilst we had everything apart we also fitted a paddle clutch.  The purpose of steering clear of throwing a turbo at it was to see just how far up the grid we could get with simple chassis mods.  Oh and to annoy the guys out there spending big money on their cars.

The final race of the season so the car back out with the new toys on board.  The Diff made a huge difference as did some fresh slicks that had been thrown on the car.  Lap for lap we now had just over a second benefit with the new bits and that was even taking into account ambient temperatures hitting 105F.  As you can imagine the lack of NACA ducts or a roof scoop caused lots of swearing/sweating that weekend.

As you can see the next step has now been taken!!!  70mm wider wings, front splitter, flat floor and a rear diffuser will be making their way onto the car over the hot summer months.  Next year is going to be really exciting with new rules out splitting the grid up into GT/GT3/GT4 and touring cars.  In effect we will go from being in the middle of the grid to the front.

So there you have it, our MarkV Golf GTI; built by Gary Francis and Andy Knight, Painted and made to look awesome by Polimar and supported to the highest level by, Exoto Tifosi, Gulf-Sport, James Limpan Photography, Fuel Magazine and French and Lawless.

To keep a watching brief going forward and for all things Motorsport in the Middle East come on over to

-Phil McGovern



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Sweet car ! Good luck with your racing.


Beutiful, realy amazing!

Keep up that cool project and GL for future races!


Awsome build. Your living the dream! Well my dream that is....


"However the bug had bitten so after some great advice from Volkswagen Racing in the UK I decided a proper LSD was required as the Quaiffe was opening up on me. Whilst we had everything apart we also fitted a paddle clutch. The purpose of steering clear of throwing a turbo at it was to see just how far up the grid we could get with simple chassis mods. Oh and to annoy the guys out there spending big money on their cars." < You put that paragraph before and after the pic :P Nice car and interesting to see how far it's gone with not a ton of cash thrown at it like some of the pther cars out there.



Great build and an even better story,

would love for you to check back in when the new

facelift and such is in its' final stages!

Good luck on the tarmac!


Great build. I've read you're columns in GT Purely Porsche magazine, really interesting stuff. I lived in the Middle-East for a while, how did you manage to keep the 964 and 993RS on the road there in terms of parts, service and such? Was the OPC any help?

Also out of curiosity what kind of spring rates do you run on the GTi? Do you run a front anti-roll bar?


Thanks for the comments guys - The golf is really coming on and should be ready to go by July for the summer sprint series.

Both the RS's are looked after by a local specialist and I fly all the parts in - OPC are useless when it comes to the early air-cooled stuff!