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Volkswagen Motorsport’s racecars have come a long way since kickstarting tin-top one-make racing in the country
Building a full-fledged international-spec racecar aimed at bringing young racing talent up to international standards has been the utmost priority for Volkswagen’s motorsport division. That’s where the idea behind the one-make series materialised. Granted, it would mean a significant investment, considering the amount of professional wrench time that goes into building up their road cars into track-spec tin-top racecars, it was worth the cash (and the wait) .
A little perspective is in order here. Prior to 2010, the only racecars you could see darting down the tracks were tricked-out, super-light Maruti Suzuki Esteems and Honda Citys. They were, let’s face it, blisteringly quick but were old, the road cars were out of production and didn't connect with the masses. It was one of the reasons crowds started deserting race tracks and also running these cars weren't cheap, not in the least.
This is the exact time that Volkswagen Motorsport India attempted to raise the standards of tin-top racing, first with the Polo, then the Vento, and now the Ameo and the Vento TC-4, emulating the programme that Volkswagen Motorsport had been successfully implementing around the world with the Volkswagen Golf and the Scirocco Cup, creating a platform that allowed young racers to work their way up to greatness. So just how have these machines evolved over the course of a decade? We find out on the Madras Motor Race Track.
The kickstarter, the Polo Cup car, was a relatively simple, raw hatch-turned-track slayer, developed and built by the boys at Volkswagen Motorsport in Hanover, Germany. The already torsionally-rigid monocoque was strenghtened with a bolt-on roll cage, and fitted with a racing bucket seat, race harnesses, race suspension and JK race rubber. In the engine-bay was a 1.6-litre turbo diesel mill that debuted later in the Vento road car. The motor was tuned to make almost 130 horsepower transmitted straight to the front wheels. With 250Nm available right from 1500rpm and a close ratio six-speed transmission, the turbo-diesel Polo was a rorty beast.
Put your foot down, and you'll realise that this isn’t a regular hatchback. The power surge is just instant and the stiff suspension, courtesy the stock dampers being swapped for one-way adjustable Sachs race dampers, let you feel every undulation on the track and also find the limit of the car. Due to the static weight of the diesel motor on the nose, the Polo was super sharp around the corners. To be honest, I felt this car suited intermediate drivers, because although predictable, the car would snap on its limit.
“For a rookie, it was easy to lock up the wheels going too hot into a corner.”
Now, when on track, because of the amount of torque, I barely needed to move down past fourth gear, save for maybe turn 10 and 11 which are third gear corners. The brakes on the diesel Polo were straight off of the UK-spec Seat Leon Cupras with 320mm discs with four-pot calipers up front and no ABS. The rear setup was borrowed from the Skoda Octavia. For a rookie, it was easy to lock up the wheels going too hot into a corner. However, if you get the hang of the bite, you could brake late into the corner and also trail brake if you were polished enough. The Polo Cup did set the bar for saloon race cars in terms of technology and safety, not to mention the dramatic improvements in the professionalism of race organisation that VW brought it.
Volkswagen Motorsport India then took a huge leap in 2012 with the Polo 'R' Cup car. Speaking to VW’s development driver and racer, Karthik Tharani, I remember him calling it a “proper racecar”. Mind you, the Polo TDI was fast, and he said this is faster! So I got my hands on the 'wheel to find out.
It carried over the same bolt-on roll cage, wiring harness but a completely different powertrain, upping the ante. The engine bay was now prepped to guard an even more powerful force-induced, 1.4-litre TSI four-pot petrol motor. A lethal fusion of a turbocharger and a supercharger made sure the 50 more horses it made would slam you into the seat if you weren’t ready for it. The motor was mated to a super precise and blisteringly quick six-speed DSG operated using the paddle shifters behind the steering that were sourced from XAP Technology. The mass was now close to 70kg heavier due to the motor and the DSG transmission adding weight on the front end of the car.
"I won the 2011 Polo R Cup Championship in this racecar. For a front-wheel drive car the Polo R handled a lot better than I expected" said Vishnu Prasad
While there was more of German influence, the car was also tested by Aditya Patel for its suitability on Indian tracks. Once off the clutch in first, it was all up to the paddles, and in the ten seconds I took to get out of the pit, I had already imagined hitting and devouring all of MMRT’s apexes. As I left the pits, I felt I lacked the vigilance to deal with such menace. Beyond 1700rpm, both the chargers went wild, only to slam me into the bucket seat.
The gear shifts were precise on both upshifts and downshifts, but how was it putting that much power down in the corners? Well, unlike the ‘open’ differential in the TDI, this one was fitted with a limited-slip diff that made sure the power translated to max grip in the corners. I really could put my foot down and it would drag me through every possible corner. Yes, it understeered if you free-wheeled into corners, but I could correct that with a bit of trail braking and a lot of throttle. Back on the main straight, a heavy right foot catapulted me to triple digits in a matter of seconds, bringing up the first turn too darn fast! The 324mm disc and caliper front brake setup from the older-gen Golf R32 does manage to put a leash, while also being aided with race-ABS helping me brake much later.