Volkswagen Vento ITC - Track test
Volkswagen Motorsport India takes on the fast ‘n’ loud Indian Touring Car series with the powerful turbocharged Vento ITC race car
For decades now, the Indian Touring car scene has been dominated by older-gen saloons that are no doubt seriously quick but aren’t really taking the sport forward. In an effort to push manufacturers and tuners to bring in new cars, the Federation has opened a new chapter. New regulations in the Iindian Touring Car (ITC) class are now giving manufacturers a chance to showcase their new-generation monocoques with stronger powertrains to better help set a benchmark. Turbocharged saloons are a huge change in direction, considering the fact that all previous ITC cars have only been naturally aspirated screamers.
“The Esteems are super light, but the Ventos, for us, are the future,” said head of Volkswagen Motorsport India, Sirish Vissa. While Maruti Esteems and Honda Citys still exist on the ITC grid, the new turbo cars will drive the future of Indian motorsport.
Modern machinery does not necessarily mean the cars would have an outright advantage, as the TC4-A regulations are ground rules for turbocharged cars in the ITC category of the national car racing championship. The engines have been restricted to a displacement limit of 2000cc and the cars also require a strict diet plan, as they cannot exceed 1150kg. Finally, to keep a tab on the power and performance upgrades, a 30mm inlet restrictor is mandatory.
“It is a big challenge to extract adequate horses from an engine with a 30mm restrictor on the intake. However, our technical development team, along with the drivers, will make it easier to overcome such hindrances. 2018 was successful and we only take it further from here,” said Sirish Vissa.
Putting the foot down
Volkswagen Motorsport entered the 2018 season of the MRF National Car Racing Championship with three race-prepped and red-hot turbocharged Vento ITC cars.
The Ventos, unlike the other saloon cars, did not need wild aerodyamic upgrades to keep them glued to the tarmac. However, this Vento was no longer your reliable, comfortable family car. With stripped-out interiors making way for a roll-cage fabricated in India and welded onto the shell rather than bolted. Structural rigidity went up two notches and so did the safety, which was essential for track racing. As for the driver, the Vento is fitted with racing bucket seats and a four-point racing harness. The drivers were also left to the mercy of their thirst for speed, robbing them of the air-con.
Just about a month ago, Volkswagen Motorsport India was celebrating its tenth year of racing in India. We happened to test all the race cars right from the diesel Polo that started the ruckus. I firmly believe in keeping the best for last and as tempting as the red Vento was to look at, I told Karthik, “That’s the last car I will be driving before I head back to Pune,” to which Karthik exclaimed “Are you sure you can resist that monster?” “I shall try.”
Making matters interesting, it wasn’t just the shell that was red-hot. The roll cage was too, and my body temperature gauge was somewhere close. Under that ventilated hood was a 1.8-litre TSI EA888 motor, cross-bred with a six-speed sequential manual shifter, or what I call a ‘neck breaker’ if you’re not ready for it. Once I strapped myself into the OMP bucket seat, there was no moving out until I set fire to the track... or my trousers. Thankfully, this was nothing at all like the road car. Nothing at all that can distract you from the fun you are going to have. Similar to the Ameo racer, you only need to touch the clutch pedal to get the car rolling. But how do you manage that? “Clutch in, grab the shifter and yank, I repeat yank it towards you.”
So as I tapped the throttle to get the car moving, the straight-cut whine shut all my connection to the outside world. The 210-horsepower, turbo-four banger coupled with a sequential made the cabin super noisy, or at least I found it so. I remember oh-so-well how the sequential in the Polo R2 gave me a reality check when I shifted up without my foot on the throttle. I had no intention of screwing this lap. Note to self: “No lift until I am back in pit limits.” I dug my foot deep into the floor and all hell broke loose around me, as 320Nm from as low as 3000rpm pushed this projectile to triple digits way too fast!
All that power and I was able to put the car into corners the same way I did back in the 2004 in Need For Speed Underground 2. The suspension on this monster was not even distantly related to the stock car, as on both ends run adjustable KW Dampers with Eibach springs, significantly lowering the centre of gravity. The revised suspension geometry, along with the MRF-sourced slicks, made sure I was able to hit every apex (when I did). I remember Karthik Tharani changing his tone when I asked about this car. “It’s an absolute monster, this. So fast already, yet so much more potential. Proper race car,” he exclaimed.
Karthik, Rayomand Banajee and Ishaan Dodhiwala raced this car in the 2018 Indian Touring Car series at Coimbatore and MMRT. Compared to the top dogs at that time – Race Concepts and Arka Motorsport, VW has had quite a promising start for the Vento ITC car.
“At Coimbatore, the Ventos were fast, but lacked the cornering speed when they were brought to Chennai. This year we brought the Ventos in the same condition they were in during last season. But after Coimbatore, they will be tweaked for Chennai,” said Sirish Vissa, talking about the upgrades the team has planned for the 2019 season.
2018 Ameo Cup champion Dhruv Mohite piloted the Vento ITC alongside Karthik and Ishaan at the second round of the 2019 MRF national car racing championship at Kari. Both Dhruv and Karthik were able to keep their competition in their rear view, except Race Concepts who now have a turbocharged Honda City which is lighter than the Vento. At 1150kg, the Vento is still heavier compared to its rivals, but the advantage of the turbo-motor gives it that much of an edge over the competition.
“Moving to the Chennai round, the Vento will have revised front suspension geometry. Which means we adjust the spring rate, upgrade the dampers and lower the ride height even more. All these changes to overcome the deficit of cornering speed that we experienced last year,” said Sirish.
The main aim for Volkswagen Motorsport India now, is to match the handling that the Honda City and the Esteems have while also retaining the outright speed on straights. The round in Chennai, as per race officials, will be neck and neck, as there were talks of Arka Motorsports also bringing a turbo-ITC car, giving both VW and Race Concepts a tough fight. Judging by what I had driven, the Vento in its ITC race overalls makes for an edgy racecar that tops off their customer sport programme in India.
How much would it cost?
Well, it starts at `25 lakh, but with full options, ticking everything on that list, a good `40 lakh would suffice. Mind you, the car is extremely reliable even in its race-spec demeanour, and only needs a major service once every season or year. If you’re in the market to quench your passion for racing or just a track day, I doubt you'd need to call anyone but Volkswagen Motorsport India.