Solo Nats Recap

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Update by J.G. Pasterjak to the Volkswagen Beetle TDi project car
Sep 12, 2013

Each September, more than 1200 of the best autocrossers in the country gather at a huge slab of WWII-era concrete in Lincoln, Nebraska, to test their skills against one another at the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships. It’s the largest participant motorsport event in the world, and we couldn’t help but to send in our registrations and join them.

Our VW Beetle TDI project was an unorthodox choice for Solo competition, but we wanted to find out if our project car—known for its diesel-sipping, high-efficiency road manners—could hang with the sportier crowd challenging the pylons and timers on the Nebraska pavement.

We found out once we arrived that we were the first diesel-powered car to ever run in a stock-level class, which was kind of cool. Our Beetle ran in RTF, which is for cars prepared to stock-class levels (shocks and cat-back exhausts being the only performance mods allowed), but running minimum 200-treadwear street tires.

Because of the tire restriction, there was only one real choice if we wanted to be competitive: The new BFGoodrich g-Force Rival. Our TDI Beetle is only available with 17-inch wheels from VW, so we had to put the OEM wheels back on—not the 18-inch setup we had been running on the street.

But with a set of 245/40R17 Rivals, our VW stuck like glue. We had previously experienced our Beetle in a competition setting at VIR, where we learned that the stickier the tire, the less invasive the stability control. With the Rivals in an autocross setting, the stability intervention was present, but not particularly harmful to lap times. Only when we got the car deep into a slip situation did we notice lots of undesirable intervention and power cutting.

Of course, there wasn’t much power to cut to begin with, which was the TDI’s Achilles Heel when it came to autocrossing. The Beetle TDI is geared for the long haul, not for pulling itself out of tight corners and down straightaways. On one course, we ran the entire thing in third gear, second having long exhausted what pull it had.

On the more point-and-shoot East course, we went back and forth between second and third numerous times to try and keep the diesel mill in its narrow powerband. While diesel powerplants are beginning to excel in road racing, where power is applied for much longer stretches, they are still not the preferred weapon for autocross, where on-and-off power is constantly being demanded.

Still, we managed to put forth a considerable effort and finish well out of last place against cars we had no business beating in such a scenario. We credit the benign yet sporty chassis dynamics of the VW, along with the stunning BFG Rivals for any of our success.

The Rivals even made the 3200-mile round trip to Lincoln and helped the VW deliver more than 42 mpg on the route, despite their being over an inch shorter in diameter and considerably sticker than the stock setup.

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beachbeemer None
10/15/13 1:08 p.m.

Had to be fun. If you drove the VW to Lincoln how did it do as a long haul ride?

10/15/13 4:23 p.m.

Yea! Somebody else who enjoys running autoX and 45 mpg. I often participate in the student-led autoX races at New Mexico Tech and also "... finish well out of last place against cars [I] had no business beating in such a scenario." While often teased about my finish or the audacity to run a TDI Beetle, I simply reply that I get to drive the 350 miles round trip to NMT, enjoy the day's runs, and still have almost 1/2 a tank of "gas" left!

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