In November last year, VW Motorsport announced that none of its future race cars would use internal combustion engines. That clearly wasn’t true. Sort of…
To be honest, hearing that Volkswagen’s competition arm would be channeling its efforts into electric race cars didn’t come as much of a shock. After Dieselgate and now a fast-growing global shift towards green energy, I don’t think they really had a choice but to make this move. This wasn’t all bad news. You’ll have likely heard of Volkswagen’s ID. R, which is one helluva electric racer that shattered the overall Pikes Peak record in 2018 and the electric lap record at the Nürburgring-Nordschleife the following year, among many other achievements.
But VW Motorsport South Africa wasn’t ready to fully embrace the EV motorsport age just yet.
As you can clearly see, somehow they were able to get the blessing of VW Motorsport GmbH head office in Germany to build two brand new ICE-powered factory race machines based on the yet-to-be-released Golf 8 GTI.
On the 2nd of July, VW Motorsport South Africa virtually launched (thanks COVID-19) the cars, which to say was exciting would be a very large understatement. Online launches just aren’t the same as physical ones though, so I wrangled an invite to the pair’s very first test session held at Zwartkops Raceway near Pretoria.
For the local Global Touring Cars (GTC) series, VW Motorsport South Africa has campaigned the Jetta for the last four years. But as that model is now being discontinued for right-hand drive markets such as SA, they needed to build something new.
Both the Passat and Arteon are going the same way as the Jetta here in South Africa, so based on the current and near-future production offerings, that just left the Polo or – at a stretch – the forthcoming Mk8 Golf. The choice was a pretty simple one.Testing
We won’t be getting the road-going version of the Golf 8 GTI until 2021, so it’s pretty awesome that we already have the race car version of it In the GTC series, Volkswagen will be going up against other manufacturers, including BMW, Audi and Toyota.
When I arrived at Zwartkops around noon just over a week ago, the team was busy prepping the cars for the first session of the day. Excitement for the team was at an all-time high.
Keagan Masters, who won the GTC championship for VW in 2019, and Daniel Rowe who won the GTC2 championship in 2016, are the two young guns piloting the Golfs this season. After competing only in sim events the last few months, the guys were more than eager to get behind the wheels of actual race cars once again.
In the first test session, both drivers got a feel for the cars and fine tuned their optimal driving positions. But it didn’t take long before the two Golfs were lapping very quickly.
Mike Rowe, the head of VW Motorsport South Africa, looked truly pleased with how his new project was performing, and who can blame him. These are some seriously cool machines.
The cars in the GTC series make use of a single-specification tubular chassis with metal bodywork. For this car though, there’s a new chrome-moly tubular chassis, which is much stiffer and lighter than Volkswagen Motorsport’s previous generation GTC car.Look Closer
Visually, the car is still completely recognisable as a pre-production Golf 8 GTI. The biggest changes at the front are the large rectangular carbon fiber air-dam and the gaping intake on the hood for the v-mount intercooler. In addition, there are carbon fiber air intakes along the sides of the bonnet to help disperse heat from the engine bay.
The exhaust system exits on the left side of the car, and wide arches are required to house the series-specification centre-lock 18-inch wheels wrapped in Dunlop slicks.
Brembo calipers and rotors are used at all four corners, with custom ducts running to the front brakes to aid cooling performance.
Öhlins is the suspension choice for this car, mounted in a push-rod configuration in the front. The suspension, along with a few other parts, has been carried over from VW Motorsport South Africa’s previous Jetta race cars.
Out the back is a huge carbon fiber GT wing. I’ve never been a fan of spoilers on a hatch, but this one just somehow suits the car, as well as being very functional of course.Inner Workings
If you didn’t pick it in some of my earlier photos, this car is indeed rear-wheel drive, as per GTC specification. The engine itself is a highly-tuned version of the 2.0L EA888, and although there are no official output figures yet, rumor has it that it’s developing around 500hp and 600Nm.
In the GTC series, all vehicles have to adhere to strict control measures, some already mentioned, and this includes a Life Racing ECU. The engine is mated to a series-spec 6-speed paddle-shifted Albins sequential gearbox, the same unit run in the Australian Supercars series.
The cabin is exactly as you’d expect – stripped out and ready for racing. There’s a custom-built full roll cage, and a single Sparco Circuit QRT seat paired with a Sparco harness to keep the driver in place.
The steering wheel is a simple Alcantara clad unit with shift paddles, mounted to a Woodward column with a quick-release hub.
To match the ECU, an independent Life Racing control panel features on the carbon fibre dash. Just in case you were wondering, these cars aren’t allowed to run any ABS or traction control.
Because of COVID restrictions, racing is still prohibited in South Africa, but the motorsport fraternity is hopeful that it will resume in August or September.
I for one can’t wait to see VW’s final internal combustion race car (most likely) take on the tarmac and give the competition a run for its money. Long live the petrol-heads!