With the festive season looming at some pace, it’s inevitable that most of us will be swept into the churning whirlpool of holiday consumerism, bracing our bank accounts for the ruthless assault in pursuit of the ideal gift for our loved ones. Another inevitability however, is finding the right gesture for the person who seems to have everything.
This might seem on the face of it, somewhat irrelevant as an intro to a story on one of New Zealand’s most meticulously prepared and unique tarmac rally creations – freshly unleashed on the country’s abundant and often highly entertaining ribbons of cambered chip-sealed backroads. But purposefully perched with a ‘wheel at each corner’ stance beneath the bleak autumn sun, this 2011 Volkswagen Polo symbolises the race car built by a guy who’s seemingly had a go at it all.
Enter owner, builder and driver John Rae – a man who describes his age as “old enough to know better” leading to an extensive history of motorsport competition in a vast array of high-powered hardware. And with fresh builds like the VW still emerging from his workshop, he no doubt has intentions to keep on keeping the right foot to the floor for a while yet.
John’s colourful (amateur) career commenced some time ago behind the wheel of speedway modifieds – open wheeled, bewinged dirt-oval monsters packing thundering small block V8s with around 550hp. Eventual graduation to the speedway glamour class – full blown sprint cars – was something of a natural progression for the dirt speed junkie; a chapter of his competition journey he recalls fondly if not for the outright pace and excitement of hustling a sprint car, but also for the hijinks and camaraderie surrounding the speedway community.
Paved surfaces beckoned shortly after – although in circuit form – with the build and campaign of a particularly antisocial Holden Torana A9X classic race car. Built in the style of a period Peter Brock Group C car, the Torana proved one of the quickest classic race cars in the country, and it certainly captured my attention as a saucer-eyed child. John battle fiercely with a GTS Monaro campaigned by the man whose name is emblazoned as co-driver on the Polo, Steve Hildred.
Use of highly-strung naturally-aspirated pushrod V8s became synonymous with the Rae surname – first through a rapid fourth-gen Camaro sprouting diffusers and spoilers that sadly met its demise at the hands of fire after four years at the pointy end of NZ’s Super GT class. Then came a space-framed ‘TraNZam’ style car, and with a Corvette shell draped over the pipework this machine proved the zenith of John’s circuit foray, offering high power (knocking on 800hp), high grip, and high adrenaline.
Like any serious hobbyist (let’s be frank, racing at any sub-professional level is an expensive hobby!) the moment dawned when you take a step back and consider, ‘Well, what’s the next step?’ Transitioning from dirt ovals to continuous ribbons of tarmac had afforded John a taste of most motorsport disciplines, and with the Corvette stashed away dormant in a workshop corner, he admits the intention to get out and race again probably shouldn’t have been a priority at his point in life.
That of course, was until a MINI Cooper S happened. Bought for his daughter to compete in closed-road tarmac events, seat time in the nimble front-wheel drive hatch reignited the motorsport flame, prompting the research into a bespoke tarmac build of his own. Recently introduced, VW Motorsport’s factory WRC Polo R caught the eye – but not the budget – John had to work with. Further digging into the world of rallying unearthed Dytko Sport, a motorsport workshop based in Poland offering its own take on the Polo.
The alternative Polo met the budget requirement, and in May this year the Dytko machine arrived in New Zealand as a bare painted shell. Stark in white with distinctively WRC bodywork accoutrements sprouting from the normally staid lines of the ‘Typ 6R’ Polo chassis, the Dytko’s presence fit the bill to a tee.
Furthering the similarities between the Dytko Sport Polo Proto and Volkswagen’s WRC contender, the shell package includes the installation of a comprehensive FIA-spec rollcage, which although making ingress and egress to the cabin a slight inconvenience, safeguard both driver and co-driver should things come seriously unstuck.
With a caged shell taking up workshop space, the remainder of the Polo build fell to John and fabricator Shaun Dickie (aka Buckweed). With a combined wealth of experience building speedway and circuit cars, John openly admits tackling uncharted territory in pursuit of his perfect “clean sheet” tarmac rally build was a learning process.
Regardless, Buckweed and John took their time to prepare the car with precise attention to detail and no small element overlooked. Clean, clinical and importantly functional, the Polo has a build quality that would surely rival the factory WRC offering. But while the exterior shares cues with its WRC inspiration, what lies beneath the skin is anything but.From The Ground Up
You see, where the factory cars house a built-for-purpose turbocharged 1.6-litre Volkswagen engine and bespoke all-wheel drive running gear which are all but unobtanium to the average punter, Dytko take the Polo shell, and for intents and purpose plonk it on top of a modified CZ4A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X floorpan. Kneeling beneath the car, the telltale genuine part sticker on the front crossmember gave the game away.
Out the back, the Polo’s rear end setup employs a factory Mitsubishi subframe, swaybar and lower control arms. Center of place is the Evo X diff, equipped with Ralliart mechanical LSD internals.
Inspecting the underside with closer scrutiny makes visible the logic behind the Evo underpinnings and their relative cost effectiveness versus the WRC alternatives: parts availability. The benefits of using such a prominent platform in the tuner sphere include a wide array of upgrade parts, such as the adjustable Hardrace lower arm, toe-arm and anti-roll bar link shown above.
Speaking of bolt-on upgrades, the rear braking setup uses slotted Brembo rotors accompanied by 4-pot calipers from the same manufacturer. Hefty tarmac-spec custom Supashock struts control wheel articulation within the substantial wheel arches.
Another feature unique to builds of the rally persuasion, tarmac or otherwise, is extensive underbody protection. John’s Polo wears Kevlar vests either side of the Evo X transmission tunnel, itself home to the driveshaft and 3-inch straight-pipe exhaust.
At the pointy end of the Polo things get even more serious. Floating Brembo rotors clamped by massive 6-pot Brembo calipers make up the remainder of the ‘tarmac kit’ braking setup. Visible beyond the brakes is the tunable Supashock strut, with bump, rebound and spring platforms allowing complete tailoring of the suspension characteristics.
I’ve always thought a serious brake setup is a strangely attractive aspect of a car build and these chunky Brembo monoblock calipers are no exception. Form as a byproduct of function in its purest incarnation perhaps?
A view from where you’d rather be? Inside, the Polo is business, and nothing but. Even at a club level, a modern racecar is host to all manner of systems and controls. The stock Polo dash ‘silhouette’ fronts the cabin, while mounted back on a long steering column is the OMP suede wheel with all critical pushbuttons at fingertips reach.
Remember those big Brembos? An adjustable Tilton pedal box facilitates accurate hydraulic tap-dancing during a frenetic run through a special stage…
With a big red bias adjustment dial located on a bracket attached to the floor-mounted shifter, which itself selects from a Holinger 6-speed sequential dogbox.Motivation By Japan
As mentioned earlier, beneath the bonnet of a pukka Polo WRC you’ll find a 1.6L powerplant developing somewhere around the 300hp mark as dictated by FIA rules. Given no such regulation exists here in New Zealand in a tarmac rallying situation, the 2.0-litre 4B11T engine from – you guessed it already – the Evo X resides between the strut towers. Space is minimal, but the high build quality and time taken to make things just so blends the Japanese mill seamlessly into its German sheetmetal home.
As shot, the Mitsubishi mill features a stroker crank, and forged rods and pistons for a total displacement of 2450cc – chasing that stonking midrange torque so crucial for the point-and-squirt nature of rapid runs down twisty backroads. Up the top, a Cosworth CNC-ported cylinder head with a pair of aggressive cams tops off a potent package.
An uprated Garrett turbo nestles between the block and firewall, and on the first tune the Polo netted an impressive 512hp at all four treads. While the numbers were solid, the power wasn’t quite where John and the team wanted it, the cams proving too aggressive and the original turbo too laggy resulting in peaky power delivery. Subsequent changes meant that while power dropped to 470hp, things came on earlier and stayed solid through to redline.
A high-end car deserves a high-end engine management system, and in this department John looked no further than MoTeC, complete with one of its C127 displays. As well as displaying the Polo’s vitals (as seen here in warm-up mode), the dash also serves as a data-logger and auxiliary controller with CAN bus communication to the main ECU.
This stripped-back display mode shows the essentials only – RPM, boost, gear selected and a GPS speed readout. The less distractions the better while immersed in maximum attack.
Uniquely rally, the Coralba C-Giant tripmeter hangs beneath the dash shell on the passenger side within easy co-driver reach. Measuring distance, time and speed, the high-end unit is also able to warn if exceeding a set speed limit – something useful on the stages of Targa NZ, where cars are restricted to a 200km/h limit in the interests of safety.
Speaking of Targa, October saw the 21st running of New Zealand’s largest annual tarmac rally taking in over 1000km of special stages in addition to a further 1400km-odd of touring. With limited testing, John and the team readied the Polo for essentially what was to be its debut event, and given the first couple of stages were only just down the road, I figured that heading along to check out the car in action, not to mention getting a few shots of it in motion, would be a smart idea.
Launching for the Prologue 1 stage, the Polo demonstrated explosive acceleration. This would be the last I saw of the car however – a blocked injector caused the 4B11 to lean out on one cylinder, ventilating the block and putting the engine out of commission. It wasn’t the end of proceedings however. The team tracked down an otherwise stock Evo X engine and worked overnight to throw it in the hole and rejoin the rally on day two, albeit slightly down on power. Reliability restored, John brought the Polo across the finishing ramp at the end of the six-day event. Ultimately happy with the performance, John explained that after a lifetime of high-powered rear-wheel drive circuit cars the learning curve didn’t cease with building the Polo, but continued with learning the idiosyncrasies of a compact, potent 4WD rocket.
With a turbulent debut behind it, development is the aim of the game. The Polo retains the 2.0-litre 4B11T as swapped in during Targa, now with the addition of forged Carrillo rods and CP pistons. This will essentially remain as John’s engine package, with a re-tune on the cards shortly and a 400hp aim on 26psi of boost.
This isn’t the end of the story however. Not content with merely a single Dytko Polo Proto, John’s daughter will soon be upgrading from front-wheel drive MINI Cooper S power to a Polo Proto of her own – family rivalry for Targa 2016 perhaps?