Last weekend was a rather exciting one for the local motorsport scene. The Super GT made a stop at Sepang, the one and only race outside the land of the rising Sun. As always, it brought along the much anticipated GT race queens and some interesting support races as well. As mentioned earlier, the Volkswagen Scirocco Cup China made its debut right here in Malaysia and even had local hero Hammond Lai crowned as winner of race 1 on Saturday.
As the top eight grid positions were reversed for race 2, spectators were entertained with an uphill battle as quicker drivers were fighting their way up the field and who can forget the ‘delicious’ on-track squabble between the top two drivers. Overall it was definitely a successful stop over for the series.
Us journalists who were covering the progress of the series at Sepang were delighted to find out what Volkswagen Malaysia and Scirocco Cup China had in store for us, after Sunday’s race! Yes, as the title suggests, we were given the opportunity to try out an actual Scirocco Cup China race car on track. The event took place on Monday while the Super GT guys were packing their bags en route to Japan.
Furthermore these were the actual race cars, the cars that were raced a day before with some still carrying minor damage as result of on-track collisions. So when I was told that I will be part of this, I said bring it on! Continue reading to check out my driving experience.
As with any other on-track driving events, participants had to undergo several practice sessions to familiarize themselves with the car and the track. After a quick brief about the proceedings of the day off we went on to the first practice session: Slalom. Cones were positioned adjacently and we had to drive through them, while swerving left and right.
This gave us an initial feel of the car. As I strapped my self in, I straight away noticed the lack of things in the car compared to a road-going Scirocco I’ve driven a while back. Only the three major equipments were familiar to me including the stock dashboard, steering wheel and the DSG gear lever. The rest were all stripped out. An instructor revealed that up to 200 kilograms of weight have been shaved, although the car was fitted with a roll cage and a fire extinguisher system.
I went on to perform the practice and straight away noticed the precision in handling, of course much sharper than the road version which has adaptive dampers. This feature was removed from the race car, giving way to good old racing suspension. Everything felt rigid and planted. The car was basically letting me be the boss as it turned whenever I wanted it too. I also noticed that the race car had a heavier front end weight bias, which is expected considering most vital parts such as the engine and gearbox are placed up front and most of the items at the rear such as the seats were removed.
Soon after the first session we moved on to the second one where we had a taste of the race-prepped Scirocco’s acceleration performance. Unlike the R Cup car that is being raced in Europe, this one is based on the 2.0 TSI model. Which means it has a 200hp 2.0 litre TSI and it is linked to a standard DSG twin-clutch transmission, exactly the same one sold right here in Malaysia.
When I had a go in the standard Scirocco and even the Golf GTI, I remembered that the exhaust made a distinctive ‘pop’ sound during gear changes. This was also the case with the race car, but much more intensified thanks to the sport exhaust. As always, the ‘flappy’ pedal shifters were a joy to use and compared to the standard Scirocco I felt better sprint performance. The car was more eager to go. This wasn’t much of a surprise, considering I had a lighter car at my disposal.
Although the exercise in this session was quite simple, it was worth every single second of it as the instructor of the session was Ronnie Quintarelli, who with his partner Tsugio Matsuda went on to win the GT500 class at Sepang with their blue Calsonic Impul GT-R less than 24 hours before the session! Not bad at all! And I thought I was feeling tired just after a couple of hours under the Sun!
Next up was driving lines. We tried out turns 1 and 2 of the circuit to better understand the fundamentals of a racing line, in preparation for the full track driving later in the evening. The car felt like it was part of the track around those bends as it felt effortless changing directions with almost zero roll.
Moments later we moved on to the fourth and final practice of the day. We basically had to accelerate the hot hatch and jam the brakes while swerving away, in an attempt to avoid something on the track. The race car uses a front braking system taken off the Audi R8 and the brakes caught up very quickly and stopping from about 80km/h was almost instantaneous. Mental mechanics play an important role as well. When a race car driver sees an unlikely obstruction on the track, he or she has to react quickly. There is no time for brain freeze here.
After a quick tea break, the went on to the main order of the day, you’ve guest it, the full track driving, yeah baby! We left the pits in a group of six and I was right behind the pace car, driven by one of the Scirocco Cup China drivers. I left the pits with a sense the calm but as soon as I approached Turn 1 adrenaline kicked it. I felt anxious but very excited at the same time.
We were given only two laps around the whole circuit and my first lap was incident-free. The car felt very good on track. Understeer was extremely minimal and I only felt it when I was pushing a little too hard. A quick release of the accelerator pedal fixed it. The car turned in nicely and very predictably. However the car tended to twitch under hard braking while approaching a corner. This could well be due to a lighter rear end which becomes tail happy when all the weight transfers to the front under hard braking.
Power delivery was very commendable as well and the noisy but lovely exhaust note gives the driving a better sensation too. The car was bumpy though, but it should feel so on the track. I hit every single apex and followed the right line and on the straights, I felt that the car was going through a hail storm. Debris was being kicked out the pace car in front and I was preparing for a cracked windscreen! Imagine what a race car driver has to go through when he or she is right at the tail of the car in front.
Everything went well on the final lap, until between Turn 12 and 13. This is a chicane section comprising of a left hander and subsequently a right hander leading up to Turn 14 before reaching the back straight. I noticed that I was a little too close to the pace car in front and I decided to lift off the gas pedal to increase the gap. Unfortunately, without noticing I did so mid-way through a corner. I forgot an important lesson. Never lift off the pedal abruptly while driving fast through a chicane.
It so happened that I released pressure on the pedal while negotiating the chicane and car suffered from a sudden weight shift and the back end stepped out. This is called lift-off oversteer and it caught me off-guard. As soon as I spun the car, my basic instinct kicked in and I straight away slammed the brakes. I managed to stop the car in time and avoided potential catastrophe. Furthermore the driver who was behind me managed to safely swerve away. What I learned from various training sessions paid off and I am sure the guy behind me was thankful for the same too!
When the coast was clear I continued driving, although I decided to go easy on the throttle, which was a good idea. We slowly got into the pit lane and nestled nicely into the our designated spots. Overall it was a fun drive and the Scirocco really delivered. Before I started driving the car I thought 200hp was a lot on the road but probably not that much on track. I was proven wrong with the race-prepped Scirocco.
I just hope that Volkswagen kick starts a Malaysian series of the Scirocco Cup. In China, to run a car in the series costs RM171,438, inclusive of the car which sounds relatively affordable, if this is the eventual figure that is. Its even cheaper than buying a brand new Scirocco!
We conclude our report with an image gallery and a video of the race car in action for your enjoyment.
GALLERY: Volkswagen Scirocco Cup China Race Car Driving Experience
[zenphotopress number=999 album=1237]
VIDEO: Volkswagen Scirocco Cup China Race Car In Action