The TDI Cup car fires up like any other Jetta; a quick jerk from the starter motor and it springs to life. The motor mounts are much stiffer, so there is more vibration in the car, but still less than my old Mk II with polyurethane mounts. Shift the DSG tranny into Drive or Sport, and you're off. Acceleration in the pits is swift, but there's a speed limit in here. I quickly get an idea of how direct the steering is. Small twitches are instantly translated to direction changes. When the pit wall ends, I drop the pedal, and the rush of torque is staggering. This thing isn't that much lighter than a standard Jetta because of the full cage, but it feels quick. The first few turns I take at extremely conservative speeds. I've made mistakes on cold race tires in the past and I'm not going to do that again. These Jettas ride on Michelin slicks, reportedly the front tires off of a 911 Cup car. It takes a little while to get some heat in them. On the back straight we got the chance to open up a bit, and the torque hits hard in your lower back again. A few more turns taken at increasing speed gets the heat going. Blasting through the gears on the front straight shows just how fast the DSG is. Hitting nearly 120 mph, I see the braking markers come for the quick right-left chicane. I dive on the pedal, cinching the R8 calipers onto massive front rotors. Apparently the rear tires didn't have as much heat as the fronts, and I head into the chicane slewed a good 30 degrees sideways across the track. The car is easy to control and brake feel is phenomenal. I drift all the way into the corner with slight counter steer until the turn-in. I rotate the car a little more... and it almost looks like I meant to do it.
The car changes direction with ease in the chicane-even with a shift in the opening right-hander on the way out doesn't upset the car. I back up another gear in the short shoot going into a hard right. The car sticks with a ferocity you can't experience on street tires. Accelerating hard to the outside of the track, I lift for another right. It gets a little unnerving as you're lifting right at the exit point just before your next turn-in. I get in early and stay inside coming up to the next left, which the car handles flat-out. Plenty of room to let it run to the outside, but get it back to the left for turn 7, the most entertaining turn on the track. I struggled with that one all day. It looks like a 90-degree bend, but just doesn't act like it. It leads onto the back straight, so exit speed is paramount.
There are a couple big bangs from the suspension working, lots of wind noise, and the back straight ends in a fast left-right combination which is straightened out into a big braking zone for 11 and 12, which are classified as two corners but really involve one big, graceful, fast arc. Get them right and you end up speeding onto the straight right next to the wall. A little late and you end up speeding into the wall right next to the straight.
The cars are amazing. It makes you think how many people drive their Jettas back and forth to work or the grocery store every day, not knowing the kind of potential wrapped up in them. While the suspension calibration may be different and they're running on full slicks, in the grand scheme of things, these cars aren't that much different from our new long-term tester (see the next page).
Volkswagen says these cars achieve roughly 24 mpg even under full race conditions. According to their calculations, each car will run the entire season on one tank of diesel. As amazing as that sounds, it doesn't surprise us that much. Diesel is the hot ticket right now in endurance racing partly because of less time spent in the pits. We hope the success of the TDI Cup series will inspire VW to move into more forms of sports car racing in the U.S. Not only would it be a great transition for the company, but also for the group of young drivers in training.