Driven: Volkswagen Polo R 2012
When it comes to racetrack prowess, this year’s Polo R Cup car goes up a notch
When Volkswagen started the one-make Polo Cup Championship in India two years ago, it injected new life into the local motorsport scene. Since then, many more car companies, namely Toyota, Maruti, even Mahindra have followed suit. Not necessarily a direct fallout of the VW presence but it helped nevertheless.
Tin-top racing isn’t new to India. It’s been going on for donkey’s years but mainly as a privateer sport down south in Chennai, with individuals modding their own cars – some of them being pretty high-tech machines. The Polo Cup Championship began as a good starting point for aspiring racers – a level playing field, with cars that are identical in technical ability and tweaked only on a driver-to-driver basis, that too minimally.
VW broke the norm and started with its 1.4 diesel Polo, which was a bit of a surprise. But the point was to establish the notion that diesel-powered cars can be quick. Also, the championship was a showcase for what the company could do with this unconventional race fuel.
The car has evolved now. The new Polo R Cup car has dumped the 1.4 diesel for a more efficient and powerful petrol engine of the same size. So the driver can now unleash a massive 50bhp more when it’s needed.
Of course it’s petrol, so he needs to rev it a bit higher – another 2000rpm – for maximum effect. And you can note the difference more on the longer straights as the car hurtles past the 180kph mark. Technically, the car is capable of doing 220kph tops, but that’s practically achievable only on seriously long stretches like the one at the BIC, not at the other smaller tracks where these cars will typically compete.
What the TSI does is intelligently switch between supercharging at lower revs and turbo-charging later on to make the car quicker yet more efficient. You don’t get the massive lug of the earlier diesel Polo R cars when you floor the throttle from standstill but in reality it’s still quicker.
The biggest change, and the one that this year’s drivers will have to get used to the most, will be the 6-speed DSG gearbox. While the engine has been sourced from the Polo GTi, which is available in certain foreign markets, the auto ’box has been borrowed from an earlier version of the Golf. It comes with paddle shifts because in Europe, where the drivers are expected to compete at the next level, they don’t use the manual ’boxes seen in last year’s cars. The DSG, VW says, will make Indian race drivers better prepared for the bigger European series such as the Scirocco Cup.
And it is a very a typical VW DSG ’box. Intelligent and tuned more to safeguard the hardware and make better use of it. The shifts may not be nano-second quick as they are on the more expensive racecars but then, it’ll be the same for all cars in the system. In fact, the DSG ’box is so good you could even put it in Sport mode and just concentrate on the lines and the mirrors during the race.
Sticking to racing lines is what this Polo Cup car will do easily. The steering is very typical of a racecar – sharp and surprisingly precise and it can make the car dart around corners like a go-kart. Body roll is minimal and grip from the specially-made JK Tyre slicks is enough to last a typical race distance.
Visually, the car has changed. Up front, the slightly darker, European headlights have made their way in. Also in, is a wider, more aggressive looking air dam, for better breathing. The more obvious change is the road-going rear wing, which has been replaced with a proper race version.
And that’s a sign that after giving young Indian drivers a taste of racing, the Polo Cup is now ready to grow, to run faster. And that should make it a treat to race in. And watch.
7 out of 10
1.4-litre, in-line 4, petrol, FWD, 6-speed DSG gearbox, 180bhp, 250Nm, 220kph max speed, 1195kg kerb weight, Rs 16 lakh (approx)
A quicker, more high-tech machine that is better-equipped to enhance the race spectacle