The Volkswagen Taigun and Virtus 24 hours endurance run held at NATRAX, Indore

The Volkswagen Virtus and Taigun are facing their biggest challenge yet — attempting to set a new national record for the most distance travelled in 24 hours
The Virtus GT showcased the might of its 1.5 TSI engine, setting average speeds of close to 200kmph over a single lap.
The Virtus GT showcased the might of its 1.5 TSI engine, setting average speeds of close to 200kmph over a single lap. Team evo India

The actual act of sitting at top speed isn’t hard at all. In the Virtus DSG, all you have to do is slam your right foot to the floor. The car takes over — the 1.5 TSI engine revving hard to the redline, the DSG slamming in gear after gear, until you hit seventh and an indicated (and limited) 203kmph. Anyone could do it. Until they can’t. You also need to be focused on the road ahead. The NATRAX is notorious for having wild animals and birds cross the track and you need to see them early. With five cars out there, at different speeds, overtakes needed to be precise. Plus there’s always the off-chance that something goes wrong — with man or machine — and you need to be primed to bring the car back under control. Only the most skilled drivers, with years of experience behind the ’wheel of a car, are up to the task.

The task

Back in 2021, team evo India set a national record. The most distance covered by a car in 24 hours. We were well into 2024 now, and it was time to raise the bar. We were gunning for the national record for the most distance travelled in 24 hours and were doing so with two made-in-India cars, with proper German DNA coursing through their, well, wiring harnesses. The stage for this record attempt needed to be appropriate and we honed in on the 11.3km high-speed bowl at NATRAX — the automotive equivalent of the Colosseum. A controlled, four-lane bowl with two long straights and two longer bankings, perfect for pushing these cars to their absolute limits. The older record set by cars with more displacement stands at 4384.73km, and that is exactly what we were attempting to beat with the Virtus GT. This wasn’t just one car having a crack at it, no. This was a mammoth push with a total of five cars pushing themselves hard, looking to clinch records across segments and classes. Two Virtus GTs were gunning for the outright distance records. These sedans are class benchmarks when it comes to The Thrill of Driving and they are the obvious pick for a record like this. The punchy 1.5 TSI engine ensures brisk acceleration, the DSG gearbox throws snappy shifts in there, that typical European stability keeps it hunkered down at speed and the sedan shape makes it more aerodynamic.

That said, the 1.0 TSI isn’t to be taken lightly. The Virtus 1.0 and Taigun 1.0 were heading out on track as well. Don’t be fooled by the smaller capacity. These are power plants that pack a proper punch. The engine, combined with a smart pitstop strategy would have them creating waves. We were also attempting another interesting record — for the highest fuel efficiency achieved by a turbo-petrol car over 24 hours. But first, let’s talk strategy.

Prep involved stickering the cars and putting on the Apollo Alnac 4G tyres. The cars were otherwise stock.
Prep involved stickering the cars and putting on the Apollo Alnac 4G tyres. The cars were otherwise stock.Team evo India

Game plan

A sound plan was going to be critical to a record attempt such as this. The two Virtus GTs would run flat out from the get-go but with different tyre strategies. One would change the front tyres because those wear more, and the other would be swapping tyres so wear is evened out. This is a big deal because for the first time in India, and probably the world, we were attempting a distance endurance record of this kind on a single set of tyres. The third Virtus 1.0 would be running at a constant 180kmph — slower, but it would be more efficient and thus stop less. This car wouldn’t change tyres at all. The fourth car would be a Taigun 1.0 being run flat out, with as many tyre changes as needed. And of course, the Taigun for the fuel efficiency record would be out there running at 55kmph the whole while. Cars would be flagged in for a pitstop every hour and a half. From there on, it was go time with the cars flagging off at 2pm sharp.

We’re off!

The start was just what we needed. Strong. The Virtus GT was averaging over 190kmph per lap right from the get-go, and the 1.0 Taigun wasn’t too far behind at 184kmph. As the Ed said in his editorial last issue — we didn’t have the luxury of easing into things. The older record had an average speed of 182.7kmph with stops accounted for. We needed to be pushing at the very limit from the first lap, which is exactly what we did. There was no lifting. And the results showed for it. We didn’t know it at the time but records started falling from the first hour itself — the Virtus GT averaged 197.2kmph over the one hour, smashing the older one-hour record. Meanwhile, the cars themselves were a sight to behold. From the pitlane, you only got a glimpse of them for a few seconds — a flash of red, yellow or blue accompanied by a loud whoosh as they drove off into the distance to the first banking. Those whooshes of the cars slashing through a wall of air at 200kmph were a constant over the next 24 hours, whether you were looking out over the track or not. At some point they became white noise, blending in with the rest of the chatter around the pitlane. However, ever so often I found my mind refocusing on those whooshes, and they remained a constant reminder of what we were really up to. A national record attempt of epic proportions! Approximately 1.5 hours after we flagged off, the first Virtus GT came in for a pitstop. The pitstops were needed for refuelling and driver changes, while technicians also inspected the tyres for any signs of wear. It was quick work, with the whole stop including refuelling taking less than a minute. This was critical — every minute stationary was 3km that could have been covered out on track. With such tight margins, every second mattered.

Challenges accepted!

The first, and most obvious challenge with a record like this, was that the older 4384.73km record was set by a bigger SUV with a bigger displacement engine. And you know the old saying — there’s no replacement for displacement. But then again, TSI engines have always punched above their weight and this should be no different. So what if the older engine was bigger? TSI power, baby! The other challenge was simply running for 24 hours. The engine running at full chat, the gearbox pushing out near-peak torque from the engine for 24 hours, the loads on the suspension insane, the wind blast massive, and the ESP systems fully primed. The mechanical stress was at its highest. No car is tested for this use case. We were pushing in uncharted territory. In the entire lifetime of your car, you’d be lucky to hit its top speed even once. Here, we were sitting at it for 24 hours. The machine was under an incredible amount of stress and it needed to hold strong until the chequered flag. There was also the human side of the challenge. Staying awake for 24 hours is hard enough. Doing so while under the stress of setting a national record? There’s a reason why these records have the word ‘endurance’ in them. The drivers had stints every couple of hours and couldn’t get a full night’s rest, the pit crew — from Rayo Racing no less — were on standby for a car entering the pits for the whole 24 hours. Every single person was a cog in the wheel of this record attempt. If one failed, the entire record-setting machine would grind to a halt. Much like the cars, the people needed to go flat out, in spirit. To minimise this risk, a number of our friends from the racing and rally fraternity were called on as a part of the driving team. We also invited our friends (and rivals?) from fellow media publications. They have a tonne of experience under their belts, and have the ability to amplify this epic endeavour. On most days, we compete for likes and views. But on this day, we were all working toward a common goal. Setting a new record. This team brought in their skill and know-how, and also banter and fun that you would expect from people you’ve known for decades. They were a crucial piece of the puzzle, taking up driving duties alongside the evo India team, pushing the cars to the absolute limit, and bringing them home safely all the same.

The cockpit POV

I was ready in the pits 10 minutes before the car was due to pit for fuel. At precisely 5:02pm, the Virtus GT pulled into the pits. Byram, our technical editor jumped out, gave me a nod to indicate everything was running fine and I climbed in. For the first 30 seconds or so, you’re stationary. The pit crew scrambling around you, tyres being checked for wear, pumping fuel into the tank, and wiping the windscreen and headlights while doing their routine checks. I tried to zone in. Focus, I told myself. This is when the mind races the fastest. The storm before the calm. Then I heard the fuel lid shut somewhere in the distance. A thumbs-up flashed in my line of sight. The storm cleared. It was go time. I buried my foot into the floor. The Virtus GT squealed its tyres ever so slightly before it hooked up and surged forward. I love the unbridled acceleration of these TSI engines. Often I have floored them, getting them to hit the redline but so quick is their turn-off speed that you’re doing illegal speeds and are forced to lift off in third itself. Not today. Today, we were pushing well past 120kmph and redlining every single gear until we hit VMAX. Such a liberating feeling to let an engine of this caliber loose with no restrictions! The first banking approached rapidly. I positioned my car between the third and the fourth lane, where the banking is neutral for 203kmph. This meant I could take the banking through and through with zero steering input. Any higher or lower in the lanes and I would have to steer, causing unnecessary wear to the tyres. The car was now fully up on the banking, the centrifugal forces keeping it stuck to the tarmac. Here, I had to reposition where I looked to avoid getting overwhelmed by the speed. Look far ahead, to the vanishing point, I reminded myself. The Virtus GT was unruffled by everything it was going through. That European stability we often talk about? It held it in good stead, keeping it planted

The drivers needed to stay focussed out on track, with five cars out there simultaneously.
The drivers needed to stay focussed out on track, with five cars out there simultaneously.Team evo India

The 1.0 magic

Most people would call it a ‘small’ engine. Well, most people don’t know what they’re talking about. The Virtus and Taigun 1.0s on this record run, were pushing as hard if not harder than the Virtus GT. Both these 1.0 TSI-engined cars logged an indicated top speed of over 200kmph on the record run — unlike their bigger 1.5 TSI siblings, they aren’t restricted in top gear and push hard. I’ve always said that the 1.0 TSI is the more characterful engine — the 3-cylinder’s firing order lends it an inherent sense of sportiness in the way it sounds, and power delivery is energetic as well. We were honestly taken aback at how the 1.0 TSI could nearly keep up with the 1.5s. The 1.5s have been capped but even then. A 1-litre turbo-petrol pushing 200kmph for nearly 24 hours? What a brilliant demonstration of how downsizing doesn’t mean compromise! Meanwhile, the very same engine was also out there in another Taigun attempting to set the 24-hour fuel efficiency record for a turbo-petrol engine. These TSI engines offer you the best of both worlds — performance and efficiency. For this record, we were going to be driving the Taigun at a steady 55kmph in 5th gear, holding the revs at a mere 1350rpm. We topped up the car before the start, sealed the fuel tank and it was on its way. Drivers did three-hour stints and only came in for a driver change. Why no fuel stop? Because we expected the tank of fuel to last over 24 hours! At the end of the 24-hour run, we would use the traditional fuel efficiency measuring technique of topping it back up to see how much fuel had been consumed and dividing it by the distance covered to calculate the fuel efficiency.

That this 1.0 engine can deliver confidently on both fronts is a testament to VW’s sound powertrain engineering. This engine is an International Engine of the Year winner, and at the rate it was going, it was going to set a few national records in India as well.

Darkness falls

This was when it felt like an endurance event. People started whittling away, getting cosy in their beds but the essential crew stuck around — the drivers readying themselves for their next stints, the pit crew prepared for cars coming in, the catering crew keeping the chai and biscuits going through the night. Dusk turned to dark, dinner was served and the cars continued to whiz around the bowl. We started seeing the first signs of human fatigue — tired smiles, baggy eyes, and the rest tent filling up with drivers looking to squeeze a nap in between stints. The graveyard shift is the often hardest part of the record attempt. Your body would normally be fast asleep at that point but instead, you are pumping it full of adrenaline doing 200kmph in a car in the dark. It does funny things to your mind. The track becomes a little less friendly too. At this time, visibility is limited so you’re drawing on all your experience to keep an eye out for dangers and spot them early. Nocturnal wildlife and birds from around these parts are up and about at this time too, often crossing the track. Not a fun sight at 200kmph. Driving at night is another ballgame altogether. All your senses are on high alert. Inside the car, falling asleep is not so much a problem because you’re driving hard and shooting adrenaline like a true addict. However, losing concentration is a very real possibility. You’re driving around this track without all the reference points — that one hill on the right, that one tree on the left, that one dark spot on the tarmac — that kept your bearings during the day. The track is already monotonous, now more so in the dark. You need to keep reminding yourself which banking you’re on and keep talking to yourself to stay focussed so your mind doesn’t wander off. And boy, can it wander off on a night stint. At some point in the wee hours of the morning, the drivers in my car hatched a surprisingly clever (or stupid?) plan despite being ridiculously low on sleep. Instead of having to drive every 1.5 hours and rest for 4.5 hours, why don’t we do double stints? So we drive for three hours and then get a six-nine hour gap before our next stint. So we could go and get some proper shut-eye. We all bit the bullet. Byram was the first to put in the full three hours, staying in the car during the mandatory pitstop at 1.5 hours, and putting in another stint. I went next, and once you’re in a rhythm, time passes surprisingly quickly. I enjoyed the long stint. It’s a time when your mind is fully focused, with no interruptions, no unnecessary stimulus and no nonsense. Just you, the car and the road ahead. Almost like meditation. I got out of the car with the clock nearing sunrise, passed it on to rally driver Prithveen Rajan and went to get some shut-eye. It would be daytime when I woke up next.

Your body would normally be fast asleep at that point but instead,  you are pumping it full of adrenaline.
Your body would normally be fast asleep at that point but instead, you are pumping it full of adrenaline.Team evo India

The final countdown

The sun was beating down on us hard when someone pulled off the noise-cancelling earphones that had kept me snoozing through the action outside the rest tent. The timing team from Chronopulse, now red-eyed, was still manually counting every single lap — a failsafe to their fancy automated lap counter. Shyam Kothari, representing the FMSCI as their observer at the event, was at hand making sure everything was in order. There was an energy buzzing through the pit lane that had been absent before. That’s when someone nudged me and said, “If things continue as they are, we’ll break the old record in three hours.” Three hours couldn’t have gone by any quicker. At close to 1pm, the Virtus GT finished its 386th lap of the 11.36 NATRAX HST and smashed the older national record. Those fearsome numbers — 4384.73km — which seemed like a tall mountain to climb less than 24 hours ago, were now irrelevant. A new national record had been set! The teams were on the sidelines, leaning over the armco barriers as far as the safety officer would allow, cheering the cars and drivers on. Hugs were shared, hands were shaken, and congratulations were meted out. Every single person in the pits had contributed to reaching this point in some way or another — just as much as the drivers and cars putting in the laps. This was a shared success. And it wasn’t even the end of it yet. There was still over an hour to go, and every second that the Virtus GT was out on track, it was extending this new record, making it harder and harder for whoever threw down the gauntlet next.

Where no one has gone before

The sun was beating down at 2pm when the Virtus GT was flagged in. The calculators were whipped out to figure out exactly how much distance was covered in 24 hours. 4,654.48km. The older record had been smashed to the moon, beaten by a whole 269.75km. This was a mammoth feat — beating a seemingly unbeatable record, one set by a bigger displacement SUV with more power and performance. But it just goes to show the performance and reliability of Volkswagen’s cars. These cars are a true showcase of collaborative efforts — German engineering and Indian manufacturing, coming together to create world-class products. Safety, performance, stability, confidence, driver engagement — five stars on all counts. And to think that the record setting car hadn’t changed tyres even once. This was a testament to the endurance of the Apollo tyres as well, which set the national record for the most distance covered in 24 hours on a single set of tyres.

The Taigun 1.0 also managed to beat the previous overall record — set by an SUV with twice its displacement — with a total distance of 4,423.82km. It now holds the national record for most distance covered in 24 hours in the SUV class, and the 1000cc class. Meanwhile the Virtus 1.0, on its more conservative strategy, finished with 4,357.21km. This car too managed to set a record, in the 1000cc sedan class. Meanwhile, the fuel efficiency Taigun ambled along at 55kmph the whole way, giving us a fuel efficiency of 29.8kmpl. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. These cars set over 300 national records across classes over these 24 hours. These are ground-breaking numbers. In a window of merely 24 hours, the Virtus and Taigun showcased the indisputable performance, capabilities and endurance of Volkswagen’s machines. We’ve always said that these are proper driver’s cars and this record attempt proves that exact fact. Solid power from the TSI engines, stability and confidence to push it to the absolute limit — these are the exact traits a driving enthusiast expects of their cars and the Virtus and Taigun deliver it in spades! These made-in-India cars and SUVs once again proved that they punch well above their weight.

We've always said that these are proper driver's cars and this record attempt proves that exact fact.
We've always said that these are proper driver's cars and this record attempt proves that exact fact.Team evo India

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