Photos Courtesy of Volkswagen Racing
On a continent known for spec-racing championships favoring the likes of Clios, Golfs, and 911s, there exists a rather unique breed of manufacturer racing in Great Britain. The Milltek Volkswagen Racing Cup is where you can find a variety of the German manufacturer's models going head to head in a championship that values close competition and rewards engineering ingenuity.
Started in 2001, the Volkswagen Racing Cup came from a successful series of racing endeavors by Volkswagen Motorsport UK, a company created by Volkswagen in 1997 with directors from both Volkswagen Racing UK and Germany's Volkswagen Racing division.
Its first foray was rally racing, with Volkswagen Motorsport UK entering and winning the British Rally Championship in its first year with the Golf GTI MkIII kit car with driver Mark Higgins. Further rally wins were later achieved when the GTI MkIV widebody kit car was introduced two years later. A second place in the one-off Super 1600 restricted Formula Rally Championship with a Polo GTI would be the closing chapter of the company's rally racing focus.
In 2001, the company name changed to Volkswagen Racing UK and the focus shifted to creating a series that would break away from the familiar spec format found in the Lupo and Beetle cup run by VW in Germany. The idea would be to give drivers and teams more freedom of choice in model, and find their own way through careful engineering and limited modifications. Also, instead of a car becoming obsolete and ineligible for further racing in a spec series over a period as short as four years, the series would allow cars to compete that are up to 10 years old, leading to lower costs and greater longevity in the series.
The current championship calendar consists of seven race weekends that support the British F3 and British GT Championships, and the Milltek Volkswagen Racing Cup is the only saloon series to do so. The races are limited to two 20-minute sprints accounting for a total of 14 races during the season. Six of the seven races are held in the U.K. at such legendary courses as Silverstone and Brands Hatch. The lone race outside the country is held at the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit, which includes the cars parading on slicks via police escort through a nearby local village en route to the track and providing a stunning photo opportunity for fans, as well as a chance to see the car and drivers close up.
To keep the competition close throughout the weekend and the season, measures are taken to mix up the field and ensure no one team or driver can walk away in the championship. The top eight finishers of a race must add 20 kg of ballast to their cars. Should they then finish outside the top eight, they can remove 20 kg. There have been cars known to carry up to 80 kg of ballast by the end of the season. In addition, the top six finishers of the first race will start from the back of the field in reverse order for the second race. Thanks to a close relationship to Volkswagen Racing in Germany, the winner of the championship will earn a one-off drive in the German Scirocco Cup supporting the final DTM race of the year.
Historically, cars have ranged from many generations of Golf GTIs to Lupos, Sciorrocos, Polos, Corrados, Beetle RSIs, and for 10 years even a Caddy Van that proved looks can be deceiving when it scored podiums and even set a class lap record at Rockingham during one weekend. The van has since been driven by high-profile racers such as David Coulthard and Tiff Needell on promotion days. "The idea is to take a car from the show and use it in the championship," says Volkswagen Racing UK Managing Director Sam Roach.
This variety is made possible by the fact that the cars are regulated by a weight-power ratio allowing for the top 10 to be within one second of each other's lap time. Currently, the full 37-car field consists mostly of Scirocco Rs and Golf GTI MkV and VIs, all with 2.0-liter turbocharged engines, but there also exists two 2.0-liter TDI-powered cars: a Beetle RSI and Golf MkV. The cars are limited to 250 hp through computer engine mapping and usually carry the same engine that the car was fitted with, which in turn means the field can have anything from turbocharged to naturally aspirated, and even diesel powered engines. The limit on horsepower is strictly for reliability reasons. "These engines can certainly deliver more power," Roach says, "but with more power comes potentially more problems. We try to keep things at a sensible level for the rest of the car." The transmissions are either manual or DSG twin-clutch. Hankook has developed the racing slicks for the series with an emphasis on economy, as one set will last an entire weekend—with no difference in performance gains should a team change to newer tires over the course of the weekend.
In an effort to cut costs, cars are limited in modifications, particularly when it comes to the bodywork of the vehicle, thus trying to keep an aesthetic bond to their road-going counterparts. The engineering of the car becomes the crucial factor in success for a team, which—in turn—provides a proving ground for young engineers looking to break into further, more advanced forms of racing.
The drivers are mostly all amateurs. Stefan Di Resta, brother to ex-F1 and current DTM driver Paul and cousin to Dario and Marino Franchitti, is currently leading the championship at the time of this writing. Some are older drivers with regular day jobs, but the young drivers seem to have their eyes set on a career in touring car racing. Some of these drivers have gone on to future success. Tony Gilham, an ex-cage fighter, won the championship in 2007 and went on two years later to the British Touring Car Championship, where he currently owns his own team. Gilham also owns a team in the VW Racing Cup, where he has selected three drivers over the years to make the transition from his VWRC team to his BTTC team.
There are currently three disabled drivers racing in the Milltek VW Racing Cup who were attracted to the sport because of the ability to drive DSG race cars. Based on the severity of disability, some race cars in the series have throttle and brake controls on the wheel while others have modified pedals that allow for a driver with a single leg. This relevant technology transfer has been a large benefit for VW by demonstrating the flexibility of its cars to the unique needs of their owners.
Another way the series has been able to translate racing technology to its road-going car has been selling modified parts to road-going enthusiasts. "Drivers can buy the same parts used in the series, same cold-air intakes, exhaust, and wheels," according to Roach. "All of the parts for our race cars can be sold around the world as car modifications for people who want high performance for their road-going and track-going cars. So there's relevant car technology transfer between the two." Certain Audi and Skoda owners who share a similar platform will also be able to benefit from these modifications.
In addition to modifications, VW as a brand has benefited greatly from the success of the Volkswagen Racing Cup championship through its seemingly unlikely success stories. Perhaps its biggest claim to fame came in 2002 when an MkIV Golf scored the first win ever for a diesel-powered engine in a sprint race. This victory sparked a whole new interest in diesel-powered Volkswagens for enthusiasts and also made Volkswagen Racing UK a valuable resource for teams in Touring Cars and Le Mans looking to emulate the same success. The success the Caddy Van achieved in the sport also became a great advertisement for VW's commercial division when plumbers and electricians began to purchase the available modifications to put on their company vans. In addition, the van held the distinction of being the first racing van in the world, which created awareness for the championship as "that one with the vans racing."
Title sponsor Milltek, a British exhaust manufacturer, has also benefitted from the VW Racing Cup, selling high-performance exhaust systems and catalytic converters based on those used in the series. Milltek has also taken the extra step and entered a team of its own in the championship, in which one seat is earned through a "driver scholarship" competition, which culminates in the top eight finalists going head to head in January for a shot at the ride.
The 2014 season has two race weekends left to go—the race at Brands Hatch August 30, and the finale at Donington Park September 13. Di Resta in his Scirocco R 2.0T leads Joe Fulbrook in a Golf GTI MkV 2.0T by only two points. With five different winners in ten races, an unpredictable finish to the season is guaranteed. The series may be followed through its website (volkswagenracing.co.uk/vwcup) and Facebook page (facebook.com/VolkswagenRacingUK).
Tech SpecMilltek GTI MK6
Front-engine, FWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback
2.0-liter 250hp/330-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16v I-4
VW Racing; software, cold-air Intake
Six-speed manual, VW Racing; Quickshift, limited slip differential, sintered-metal clutch
Six-piston calipers, 13.9-inch rotors (f), single piston calipers, 10.7-inch rotors (r), ABS disabled, adjustable bias
VW Racing; three-way adjustable coilover struts, adjustable top mounts, solid bushings, adjustable antiroll bar(f) three-way adjustable shocks, solid bushings, adjustable antiroll bars, multi-link
Wheels & Tires
18x9-inch VW Racing Wheels, 225/40-18 Hankook Racing Slick Tires