Interview : Liam Kenney
Confessions of a Cup racer
Sixteen-year-old Liam Kenney was one of the lucky qualifiers when Volkswagen held driver trials for the TDI Cup race series. We sit down with him briefly and talk about the series, how he got here, and where he wants to go.
EC: How did you get involved with the Volkswagen TDI Cup?
LK: I got involved the same way as anyone else. I saw the advertisements and thought racing a diesel would be a milestone in my career, and a milestone it proved to be. All you have to do is send in a video and some material about yourself and you're in the running. It's something I feel every driver could benefit from.
EC: How much racing experience did you have previously? What kinds of cars did you race before this?
LK: Before the TDI Cup I raced pretty much only formula cars. I started in karts when I was five and moved up through the ranks until I was 13, and moved into a formula Renault 1600. I ran this car for a full season and enjoyed a lot of success in it. After that, I moved in to the formula Renault 2000, which is a 210-hp, thousand-pound beast as I'd describe it. I scored 12 podiums and three wins that season, looked for somewhere to go after that and found the TDI Cup my best option.
EC: How do the TDI Cup cars compare to previous cars you've raced? In particular, how does racing a diesel car compare with racing a gas-powered car?
LK: To be honest, coming out of formula cars into a 3,000-pound sedan is a big change. But the TDI proved to be a great place to make that leap. The car never felt slow or heavy. The diesel engine pulled its weight forward amazingly for being an almost-stock engine. It has almost no turbo lag and it starts on power from about 1400 rpm up. It's really a great engine that people should take a serious look at.
EC: Give us a quick driving review of the Jetta TDI racecar. How would you describe the handling, braking, shifting and predictability?
LK: The Jetta was great from the first drive on. It has VW's cornerstone DSG transmission, which to me was one of the most impressive things about the car. It shifts quickly, blips perfectly and worked flawlessly all season. I'd never buy a VW without it. Handling was helped by Porsche Cup Michelin tires and despite the car being front-drive, it never had the plowing understeer you'd expect. It was very neutral, but the suspension was a bit on the soft side-that's something VW is revising over the winter. The car almost felt like it was AWD in its handling ability, which, to be honest, caught me off guard the first few times I drove it. The brakes were outstanding thanks to being sourced from the Audi R8. They were responsive and had hardly any fade even through our races. If they can stop an R8, they're more than adequate for a Jetta I'd have to think.
EC: How does the series itself compare to other series you have been in? Have you ever had this kind of education in racing previously?
LK: The TDI Cup series provided a level of competition not seen in any of the other junior ranks in racing. The fact that there were 30 identical cars and the drivers were all on a very similar level made competition close and exciting. It was a learning experience like no other for me and I learned things this season I never expected to. VW really hit the nail with this series.
EC: What was it like approaching potential sponsors? Where they excited about the prospect of being involved in something as new as a diesel racing series?
LK: I really think the TDI cup gets something other series don't when it comes to attracting companies. This series presents a new technology in a well-marketed atmosphere that helps make it a boon for sponsors. I had really good luck interesting people in the series because it cuts the image of racing being only for sub-5-mpg fuel burners. People are really interested by that and it's something that I think is revolutionary.