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Wolfsburg, 06 December 2017

Racing fun aplenty

Track test with the new Golf GTI TCR in Vallelunga

Hot wheels: The new Golf GTI TCR is a 65 per cent brother of the road-going GTI.

Over the course of the last motor sport season, the Golf GTI TCR racked up one victory after another. The 2018 model has been ready for action for the past few days. At Vallelunga Circuit in Italy, a group of international motor journalists was given the opportunity to test the new customer sports car.

Tips from the expert: Professional racing driver and TCR class winner Benjamin Leuchter was in Italy in his role as an instructor.

Vallelunga on a crisp, cold morning: the guests are standing in pit number eight on the Italian racetrack waiting impatiently for the proceedings to get under way. Instructors and test drivers are waiting. Among them racing legends like Hans-Joachim ‘Strietzel' Stuck, the reigning TCR International champion Jean-Karl Vernay, and Benny Leuchter, winner of the TCR class championship in the VLN endurance series. They are keeping an eye on the media people, who all want just one thing: to test the brand-new TCR.

Golf GTI Performance (180 kW / 245 PS) fuel consumption in l/100 km: urban 8.7-8.2 / extra urban 5.4-5.2 / combined 6.6-6.3; CO2 emissions in g/km: 150-144 (combined), efficiency class: D-C.

In the thick of it is Marko Dressel, the pit manager. He is part of the organisational and event crew. It will help to turn this track test day into a real experience for more than 20 journalists from nine countries. He is recognisable by the clipboard and the black-and-white chequered flag, which he will have to wave every fifteen minutes. His job is to ensure that the well travelled media people can test the car in the very place where it is most at home: on the racetrack!

Everything under control: Pit manager Marko Dressel (right).

Vallelunga offers everything that makes motor sport so fascinating: ‘Tight bends, wide bends, banked corners, a challenging chicane and a nice, long straight,' as summarised by professional Benny Leuchter at the drivers' briefing. In other words: 4.085 kilometres and ten bends that have it all.

Praise from a pro

‘The car handles brilliantly,' compliments ‘Strietzel' Stuck, the former Formula 1 driver, two-time Le Mans winner and Volkswagen brand ambassador. He is here today as an instructor, as he gives a delighted thumbs up in his gloves.

Fun for three: Sidney Hoffmann (presenter of the German TV show Die PS-Profis) with Benjamin Leuchter and Hans-Joachim Stuck.

The fact that the racing GTI is the spitting image of its road-going brother is no accident. The 2018 TCR model unmistakably has the genes of the latest road-going Golf GTI. With this it not only shares the technical basis, but also around 65 per cent of all parts.

The 1,984 cc engine is adapted from the 2.0 TSI familiar from the Golf R. It is capable of 257 kW/350 horsepower and delivers 412 Nm of torque to the crankshaft. The rest – such as the adjustable rear wing and a high-performance braking system – has been specially designed for racing use.

The Golf GTI TCR makes it easy for rookies and pros alike

In other respects, the Golf GTI TCR makes it easy for drivers to get their bearings, even those with less motor sport experience – and this is completely in keeping with the intentions of the inventor: ‘That was extremely important to us. In addition to top performance, we wanted to make the car accessible to a broad target group,' stresses project manager Eddi Weidl, technical director at Volkswagen Motorsport. ‘We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that we are involved in both customer sports and popular sports, where people have completely different requirements, but it is equally possible to drive really fast laps.'

These words go down well with the guests. They are in for some real fun on the racetrack, until the ‘spoilsport' pit manager waves the chequered flag. This way he signals the end of the test session.

Yet Marko, the man with the flag, does much more than just give a friendly wave to indicate the last of their seven laps: he coordinates, organises and communicates. He does everything to ensure that the media people have as much fun as possible.

Everything is going according to plan. When the first guest drivers return to the pits to change over, they are grinning from ear-to-ear: ‘This car is amazing,' exclaims one of them. ‘The braking is incredible,' says another. ‘You have to give the pedal plenty of welly,' he continues, marvelling at the absence of a brake servo unit, which really exercises the leg muscles.

At the moment, however, Marko is on a break. The next group of test candidates is currently exploring the racetrack in the series GTI. It is an opportunity for the newly arrived drivers to familiarise themselves with the circuit. It also gives the instructors a chance to show them the track's pitfalls.

There are quite a few of these, not least on the first banked 180-degree bend: ‘Remember that this here is a real racing car,' warns racing pro Leuchter. That means no ABS and no ESP. By implication, ‘If the wheels lock as a result of taking the bend too quickly, the gearbox will get in a real state, because it no longer receives information from the sensors, and the engine may die.'

The engineers are quickly on the scene

Suddenly, there is a commotion in the pit lane. One of the two test cars is a long time coming and the situation is unclear. ‘We need the safety car,' squawks the voice on Marko's walkie-talkie. Tense moments. Some news finally comes over the pit radio. ‘Yes. Marko receiving,' says the pit manager, tight-lipped. Then a look of relief spreads across his face: ‘The car is down the racetrack and currently on its way back to the pit. Don't worry. Everything is OK.'

It is a case for the six-man crew of engineers and mechanics. They are actually here to use the track time for tuning runs and to make sure that the 2018 Golf GTI is fit for the coming TCR season.

Now they are quickly on the scene and happy to help, with Eike Hennies leading the way. The data engineer has connected his laptop and is evaluating the on-board data via the interface. ‘It looks like a problem with the electronics,' says Hennies.

The test event participants also had a lot of fun away from the racetrack.

The problem is rectified a little later. The track test continues and the GTI TCR drives its next fast lap. Track time is precious – and everyone here is keen to complete the next fast lap without spinning off.

Electric blankets are not just used to heat racing tyres to the right operating temperature.

Marko's summary is suitably positive: ‘Nobody overestimated themselves. Everyone carefully approached the task and gradually improved their times.'

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