Wolfsburg, 16 February 2018
The quick multitalents
Racing driver: a job with many roles
Across the racing driver generations: Benny Leuchter, Luca Engster and Hans-Joachim Stuck (from left).
Anybody wanting to make their mark nowadays not only has to be adept on the accelerator, but also have a way with people. They also need the gift of the gab. The three generations of racing drivers who get behind the wheel for Volkswagen Motorsport undoubtedly meet these requirements. Among them are illustrious names like Hans-Joachim ‘Strietzel' Stuck and the 17-year-old TCR youngster Luca Engstler, who has just been named ‘Rookie of the Year'.
All of them are not only masters of motor sport, but also real multitalents, representing the brand, who don't go into a spin when someone holds a microphone to their face. They play a number of roles brilliantly both on and off the racetrack. Following is a brief portrait of a profession that is virtually a byword for multitasking:
1. The media pro
A man in demand: TCR champion Jean-Karl Vernay being interviewed.
Any successful racing driver will almost inevitably find themselves in the media spotlight nowadays. In this regard, the stars of the Volkswagen customer sports teams are not that different from those in the more glamorous Formula 1, only perhaps a little more approachable, down to earth and ‘closer' to the target group.
So it is only logical that a top driver like Jean-Karl Vernay is a man in demand with the media after securing overall victory in the TCR International Series in Dubai behind the wheel of his Golf GTI TCR. ‘I don't mind,' says the amiable Frenchman confidently, while visibly enjoying the glare of the TV camera lights. ‘On the contrary, it is the reward for the hard work of the entire team.'
Benny Leuchter is another man who has understood the game. He has been a familiar face to a broad section of the public ever since setting a lap time of 7:47.19 on the Nürburgring north loop in his Golf GTI Clubsport S, a record for a front-wheel-drive production vehicle. ‘The media presence is part of it all,' admits the 30-year-old. ‘You just have to be able to sell yourself and the car a little.'
Digitalisation is a ‘huge' help to him here, whether marketing himself and his current VLN car, the winning Golf GTI TCR, via Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, or when using the ‘Race Navigator' video and data recording system, which not only delivers thrilling cockpit images in high definition quality, but also the most essential dynamics data and racetrack information.
2. The test driver
The car, the pit lane crew, and the driver: Perfect team work is the secret of any victory.
It's not about collecting trophies, but valid data! This is the best way to describe the job profile of the TCR drivers used as test drivers when it comes to tuning runs on the racetrack.
After all, it's not just the laptops that supply the engineers with data, but also the drivers. Their feedback is essential for perfecting the car's basic tuning. ‘I would even say it is extremely important,' says project manager Eddi Weidl.
‘The data ideally corresponds with what the drivers tell us,' he says. This may sound like a platitude, but it is anything but a given. ‘Drivers like Jean-Karl can always employ their driving skills in the same way,' say the engineers. This means that the test runs they drive for comparison purposes really can be compared.
Looking for the perfect line with 350 hp.
And they are not only fast, but ‘also have a good technical understanding,' says Weidl. ‘I think this is a prerequisite. They know how their car is built. Really good test drivers could probably also be constructors.'
The two men who were most recently in action in Italy are real masters of their craft. This goes for TCR International champion Jean-Karl Vernay as well as Luca Engstler, who at 17 years old may still be the age of an apprentice, but is already a real boss behind the wheel of his Golf GTI TCR.
3. The instructor
A track walk with star appeal: Professional Benny Leuchter at work.
Knowledge is power – both in ‘real life' and in motor sport. And famous drivers such as ‘Strietzel' Stuck and Benny Leuchter, who are also active for Volkswagen as instructors, like to pass on their knowledge. After all, customer sports are always popular sports as well.
Stuck and his colleagues know this best of all. They give beginners and improvers in the world of motor sport professional tips to help them on their way.
More than a fast guy on the Nuerburgring: Benny Leuchter talking to a colleague.
They do this, for instance, during the track walk, which is a mandatory part of the programme at every Volkswagen Motorsport event, and the recent journalist test drive day in Vallelunga was no exception. ‘Remember: a TCR car has a sluggish rear that will easily fishtail if you enter the bend at the wrong speed,' warns Stuck.
4. The safety officer
With a sharp eye, a lot of experience and routine: Motorsports-Legend Hans-Joachim Stuck.
‘Safety first!' This saying – more or less the eleventh commandment of motor sport – particularly applies to motor sport fans with intermediate driving skills who are interested in purchasing the car or are getting behind the wheel of a thoroughbred racing car like the Golf GTI TCR for the first time. This regularly is the case with the track tests held by Volkswagen.
At the same time, instructors such as ‘Strietzel' Stuck leave nothing to chance when they take to the racetrack with their protégés. They constantly point out particular pitfalls, exercise the patience of a saint even when negotiating the so-called ‘Green Hell' on the north loop and are always ready to answer any questions.
Sometimes it's the details that decide over victory or defeat: Benny Leuchter helps strapping the helmet properly.
And if need be, they even help race novices to strap on their helmets properly when their hands are trembling with excitement before their first encounter with the 257 kW / 350 horsepower Golf GTI TCR. It is a matter of honour among GTI drivers.