Project GTI: Road & Track
A Contemporary Comparison

Carefully worded title aside, it’s been a pleasurable month behind the wheel of Project GTI.

When we last spoke, I was reiterating my belief of taking my time to make sure that I was doing things right. I don’t want to rush into any decisions or have anyone else make choices for me. I want the car to tell me what it needs whilst constantly reminding myself of my overall goal. That is, the one car that does all things well.

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But first, I want to start this post by talking a little bit about a car that I spent some time with recently.

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It might look completely different, but it actually has a lot more in common with the GTI than you might realise. The car in question is the new Seat Leon ST Cupra 280. It’s based on the same platform as the MkVII GTI (MQB) and features the same 2.0-litre turbocharged TSI engine mated to a 6-speed DSG gearbox.

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The main difference here is where the current GTI is rated at around 220hp (or 230hp in Performance Pack trim) the Leon ST Cupra makes a Golf R rivalling 280hp and is equipped with a VAQ-type limited slip differential. Like the GTI, the Cupras (both the ST and hatchback) are front-wheel drive.

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Despite its large estate-ness, it’s quite close to the MkVI in weight stakes at around 1400kg/3086lb. This makes it almost the perfect comparison for how I want my own MkVI to evolve.

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Anyone who has the pleasure of driving a modern fast front-wheel drive car will know just how capable they are. Traction off the line and grip mid-corner are eye opening. I spent 10 days with this car and every time I drove it, I became just that little bit more impressed. It just doesn’t feel like a front-wheel drive car at times. It’s a very peculiar feeling, but it’s representative of most modern hot hatches that I’ve driven this year.

Getting back into my own car, the difference in power was quite apparent. However, I was still happy with the MkVI’s base performance, and at least I now know for sure that I’m building on the right platform. There was one last test though…

The Hunter Becomes The Hunted
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Last month, you might remember my coverage from the first Auto Heroes event in Mondello Park. If not, it’s essentially the perfect event for petrol-heads, regardless of your taste or preferences. Once you’re through the gate, you have the choice of show and shine, drift practice, gymkhana, freestyle or a traditional grip session.

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I pretty much made up my mind on the last day that I was going to skip covering the next event and participate instead. Being a monthly occurrence, I had plenty of time to make plans and prepare.

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In the days leading up to the event, I opted for a quick oil and filter change and a quick check on brakes, bushes, tyres etc. The car wasn’t due an oil service until late January going by my current mileage, but there was no harm in giving it fresh stock heading into the track day and the colder winter months.

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It also gives me a better starting point to track any oil consumption. The car was running Castrol 5W-30 when I bought it, the same oil that coincidentally I’ve been using in my last two cars also. Regardless of the car, I would usually have to add a litre between 10,000km oil services. The GTI is no different and I’ve had to add around a litre since I bought the car. It seems to be a regular complaint amongst fellow GTI owners, that the Castrol oil seems to burn more than other brands, so many owners have since switched to Mobil 1. I’ve decided to go the same way, so will keep you updated on any difference that it might make.

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For the oil filter, I just picked up another new OE replacement which I acquired from my local dealership. Everything else on the car looked fine, so I was ready for my first track day with Project GTI.


Another early start was on the cards for the 90-minute drive to Mondello Park, but this time I was on my own as the weather forecast put nearly all of my friends off attending. It turned out that they probably made the right decision. However, I still find these commutes enjoyable and a great time to think things over in my head. Heaters on, cruise control on, The Smoking Tire podcast streaming over Bluetooth and an empty road all the way to my destination. It’s this all round functionality that I’m so keen to retain.


As the darkness slowly turned to light, it became apparent that the weather was showing no signs of easing off. Mondello Park is located on flatlands about an hour south of Dublin, and as such it’s particularly exposed to the elements.


This was going to be a wild, wild day. The one thing a photograph can rarely portray is just how bad weather can be. You don’t feel the bite of the cold wind in a photograph, or the sting of the rain being whipped across your face.


I ventured out early to get a feel for the conditions. Bearing in mind this was my first time exploring the limits of the GTI on track, I probably could have chose a better day, but seeing as this is Ireland, I figured I might as well get used to the wet handling characteristics as well.

I captured this video early in the morning sessions; as you can see the track was quiet which made it perfect for trying out different lines. I was trying my best to find a good wet line, as the rubbered-in dry line was absolutely lethal on turn-in. There’s a couple of corners where I use the middle of the track as it was the only place I could find grip. Some of the apexes were absolute no-go zones.


I wasn’t aware my phone was tracking acceleration/deceleration like this, but it was a welcome surprise. It also gives you an overview of the layout of the ‘International’ loop of the Mondello circuit too, and certainly showed me areas where I could improve. The app is called ‘Dash Command’ for those of you interested.

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Taking a breather later in the morning, I headed back to the paddock to find a pit garage just to check everything over. Tyres were looking good, brakes were good and weren’t fading (the weather obviously played a large part in this by keeping speeds down), and not a drop of oil had been consumed. There was a little blow-by in the catch can, but I was really happy at this point with how the car was performing.


Fuel consumption was a different matter. I’m still adjusting to a life post-diesel where even a lap of the Nordschleife in my E90 returned nearly 35mpg! 25.8L/100km is approximately 9.1mpg US or 10.9mpg UK. Part of me was distraught, part of me was disappointed that I didn’t make it into single figures for mpg UK.


The weather didn’t put a complete halt to the proceedings throughout the rest of the event with many still showing up. I’ve included a picture of this GT-R just because.

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My focus though was on getting back out for more seat time.

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With only a handful of cars taking part, I was still interested to watch how others were getting on. I spent some time chasing this Golf R throughout the day, but the performance difference between the two cars was staggering.

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A friend of mine popped along for a 20-minute session in his EG6 Civic SiR-II. Mondello has always suited the DOHC VTEC cars and it was immense fun running with him in the wet.

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As the day rolled on, I found myself becoming more and more comfortable with the car in the worsening conditions.

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My main goal from the day was to bring the car home in one piece, and it’s something that I’m happy to say was achieved. The car performed better than I ever could have expected and I was particularly impressed with the traction in the wet.

I still got a feel for things which I think are going to need improving however. Despite the conditions, the brakes did eventually start to fade so I can only imagine that they’re going to cook quite quickly on a warm, dry day. I would also like more power, but from my experiences with the Leon ST Cupra, I know that I’ll need to start thinking about a locking differential to be able to harness any significant power increase. And that’s before I get to any suspension modifications.

I have a feeling that 2016 just got a whole heap more expensive.

Post Track Day Blues

In the couple of days following Auto Heroes, I went over the car once more. The tyres and brakes survived quite comfortable, at least in the wear sense. The only motor maintenance required was to empty the catch can. The oil level didn’t budge which I’m delighted about, but something I’m going to track regardless going forward.


The only real issue I had on the day, minor and all as it was, was with the windows fogging when the A/C was turned off – something that’s been happening a lot as of late. I guessed it was a blocked cabin filter and looks like I was right.


I picked up a brand new OE filter and had it swapped in five minutes with no tools. It made an immediate difference, so hopefully that’s the issue remedied.


This was more of an irritant than an issue so to speak; it’s also something that I’m sure other xenon users might relate to. With such a sharp cut off in regards to the beam pattern, the lights don’t throw much/any light up the way to illuminate road signs. It’s not a problem in the city, but when out on unlit roads at night, it can be a bit annoying. To sort this, I ran a jumper wire in the car’s light plug from the car’s DRL circuit to the parking light circuit.


This keeps my LED DRLs at full brightness even when the xenons are activated (they would previously dim) and matches the OE xenon setup.  They give off enough light at night to illuminate the signs above the road, without blinding other drivers. I like a simple solution.


So, that’s pretty much it for this month.

With enough time spent behind the wheel on both road and track, I can finally start pushing ahead with the planned changes I’ve now decided on. Things should start getting interesting from here on out…

Thanks for reading.

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos

Additional Photos by Adam O’Connor & Neil Thompson



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Have ya any more info about track days at Mondello Paddy? I've never done one and would love to make the trip down some time in the Subaru or the Mk2. I've done racing before at Bishopscourt Drag Strip but that was drag racing... Circuit and Time Attack is where my heart lies. Cheers :)


Tomo Pattison This was one of the Auto Heroes events (follow them on Facebook for upcoming event information) but you can either choose to do a 20 minute session (€30), half day (€70) or full day (€130). You can either pre-book or arrive and pay on the day. It's good fun!


Paddy McGrath Ah that sounds awesome. I'll check it out, and see ya on the track.. I'll be the one with the Speedhunters stickers and over zealous enthusiasm to go fast ;)


It amazes me how cheap a track day can be over there! Nice to see you getting some track time. Best way to really know your car. Let's see what's next for project GTI :)


DriftingMindz_JP Where are you located? It would be interesting to compare the cost of both. €130 is about average for a full day here, although you usually get more of the track. That being said, I'm happy enough using one section and learning it properly.


This was a nice read! I really like your idea of letting the car tell you what it needs. It's the way I would go for too. It's very much fun to see how you enjoy your car. I look forward to your next update!


Looks like good fun. As for the video, the positioning of your hands could be better in some places - less shuffling and more gripping. Point 3 +


MJ86 Great links, thank you! I'm hoping to do a day or two of tuition in the new year, some great instructors at Mondello who I'd love to learn from.


IsaacDC Thanks, really appreciate the kind words!


Paddy McGrath DriftingMindz_JP  I live in Michigan US and the only good track is the state is Gingerman Raceway. $200 USD a day for open track.


TBrown525 Paddy McGrath DriftingMindz_JP That's not so bad! I must look up the track, haven't heard of it before.


TBrown525 Paddy McGrath DriftingMindz_JP holy crap thats expensive...Open track days in NZ are approx $80 nzd which is 50 Euro / 53 usd


Nice post Paddy. It is very nice to read, how you and the GTI are growing together and what you are thinking about where your relationship shall go. I own a Clio RS III since I am 17 ( it has 100k kilometer now) and plan to build a trackday-car out of it in 2016, that is also quite a relationship :)


Top work dude! Love the little app as well, wasn't expecting that much detail from it.
Interesting too, just got my first German FWD car and I'm trying to re-learn how to drive it, Mk4 V5 Golf. I've always had RWD turbo Jap motors...


Can't... Take... Eyes... Off... Swinging... Air...freshener....
Back and forth like the mpg meter on an e30.... Hypnotic.
I can't see English tracks running this sort of event. Far too greedy for the 100's we are willing to pay for 6 hours on half of brands hatch, or twice as much for a third of silverstone.
The Seats have always been cracking little cars. A co-worker had a Cupra R Ibiza running a massive turbo setup years back that never ever lost traction, it was a brilliant commute to the office on the days I needed a lift... The Codorba AWD was a hell of a sleeper in its time (still is!)
A good friend of mine (police trained) would regularly scare the daylights and everything else out of me in his Leon Cupra R cup too. It's a Marque a lot of people overlook which is a shame, as they build/built some really capable cars.


TarmacTerrorist Air freshener? You mean analog G-meter, of course.

Yeah, SEAT build a lot of incredibly fun cars. I mostly included it as it's something a lot of our American readers might not be aware of. The Leon Cupra is around 2 seconds a lap quicker the Golf R around Mondello in the dry too...


REKT_Disco Yup, it's a completely different driving experience and requires a lot more finesse than a RWD car too.


MaxFriedhoff I love the Clio RS IIIs, pretty rare here though in comparison to the Golf. Would love one as a track-only car!


Paddy McGrath MaxFriedhoff In Germany it is pretty much the opposite, you see a lot of GTIs here. I've got a Clio-Cup-Racecar as well, but unfortunately it is not road legal, so it is not the best idea to drive it to a trackday...


i´m curious to see what the track day and the days with the sleeper estate will bring for your GTI in 2016,
 seems you tasted some more blood 
the differential from Drexler works very well with +300ps on a mk6 :)
ps: somm other mk6 owners and myself made good experience with 0w40 or 5w40 oil ( if you are not doing too much mileage in a year or you´ve the habit to change it on yearly basis) , the longlife certified 5w30 is not the best, you will see the difference  on your exhaust tailends, also your oil gets a bit sooner to temperature without pyaing for it on the other end of the scale


Riddlah Yeah, I now have a clear picture in my head of how I would like this to progress. I'm going to aim for around ~300hp to keep it reliable and easy to run. I've a bad ass Scorpion exhaust system on the way which is going to help me achieve that, along with a mapping session with REVO for both the engine & DSG gearbox.

I've read great things about the Wavetrac LSD, but will likely have to travel to the UK to have it fitted as there aren't any DSG specialists in Ireland. That's a while off yet. 

Fingers crossed that early 2016 will see big progress on this!


Great article to read overall, but I went totally 'DAFUQ did I just read' around the middle. 

Are you seriously even considering fuel consumption when track racing? SRSLY? Dude.


Paddy McGrath MishKonn The joke's on me, then. I guess that level of sarcasm's beyond me. Good to know, though. :-))))


Paddy McGrath Riddlah 
sounds like a plan , ready to continue reading :)
make a selfie of your grin, the DSG ´Pop`will produce after your exhaust fitted and mapping has been done
DSG-Mapping, let me guess, no automatic upshifts in Manual Mode


Despite Volkswagen's troubles of late, they make a great little hatchback. The GTI has been the go-to car since the mid-80s for enthusiasts, both for affordability and fun. Good to see they haven't lost their zest, much like Nissan and even Honda (in the US at least).


One of us one of us


Riddlah Paddy McGrath I removed a resonator not long after buying the car, the 'fart' has long since been replaced with a thunder clap. The noise is hilarious :-)

DSG map as you said gives full manual control in manual mode, quickens gear shifts, removes a software enforced torque limit, raises the up-shift point and raises the rev-limit for launch control. Not sure if the REVO software gives two-step for LC...


MishKonn Paddy McGrath Smiles per gallon > miles per gallon :)


Matt_Redondo They do, in fairness. I know the GTI is quite refined compared to its rivals but it doesn't take much to bring them to life. It's also easier to remove the refinement than it is to add it back!


Not a car I'd normally be interested in but your down to earth approach has me keen for the next installment!


Great read! Wish I could buy a GTI for a reasonable price here in Thailand, don't envy the Irish weather though.


koko san I think I would literally melt if I lived in Thailand, so it might be for the best. Out of interest, what sort of price are they in Thailand?


Brentonmartian Glad you can relate!


Paddy McGrath koko san 2014-2015 Golf GTI 210 hp/DSG 6 Speed: 2,660,000 THB = 67530 Euro, don't know the price in Europe but I'm guessing a 100% import tax.


koko san Paddy McGrath Holy shiiiiit. 

A MKVII here is around €35,000-€40,000 (~1,472,994THB) brand new depending on specification.




Paddy McGrath Riddlah Wavetrac diffs are awesome!!  I've been running one in my Jetta for a year so far and I love it. It's one of the best performance mods I've done to it.   I'm glad to see you having fun in the GTI.  Enjoy!



Paddy McGrath DriftingMindz_JP I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Track Days here go from 100 to 200 USD, depending on the track (the more expensive ones being held at the Autódromo Oscar A. Gálvez where the F1 used to race back in the nineties, for example). That may not sound like much being expressed in USD, but in AR$, it's quite a lot, hehe.
You can see a great deal of coverage from these events on my site if you'd like =)


Paddy McGrath koko san The only sensible alternative here to get a hot hatch is to build one. Second hand engines from Japan are very affordable, and swapped into any chassis you like, even BMW's and Mercedes. Nothing produced here Ford, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, is exciting, they never produce the cool cars, no Focus RS, no Honda Type R etc....sadly.


This is a great build you've got going. I understand where you're coming from from regarding the functionality, I'm building my Camaro to be fun for autox and eventually road courses, while still retaining the heated leather seats, cruise control, and even Bluetooth streamed TST podcast when I'm driving two and a half hours to see my girlfriend at school. Keep up the good work!


Riddlah Paddy McGrath I've recently changed to Milers 5w40 in my mk5 GTi after having oil temp issues during a track day at Brands Hatch running OEM 5w30. Seems to be the 'go to' oil for tuned TSI/TSFI engines!


One of the most interesting reads I have found in a long time, a sincere thanks to you for sharing this. Living In South Africa I have been privy enough to a MKVI Edition 35 GTI.............. reading what you are doing it and why you are doing is inspiration to make really make my car my own in that sense.


turbozilla keeping it fresh!


the car was very good 
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