VW fans must have been happy that the Polo R recently enjoyed a role as the dominant force in the WRC, butSébastien Ogier has switched cars now, and anyway, I grew up in the legendary Group B era so am probably not alone in my age group in thinking that the current crop of cars is missing a certain something. In my humble opinion, the Fiesta is no RS200…
In other forms of motorsport though there are still echoes of the unlimited, brutal machines where almost anything went, and today where almost anything goes. One such place is the hillclimb. If you haven’t seen the 800bhp Audi S1, or the open-wheel Formula cars blasting up tight mountain roads, or the Fiat X1/9 slalom machine, think of a scaled-down Pikes Peak where the ethos is simply, if you can conceive it and built it, you can race it. Just about.
And while Ogier’s Polo mount might not have got me too excited, the Mk2 Golf TFSI-R I saw in Croatia at the Buzetski Dani Hillclimb certainly did. Retro and winged enough to put me in mind of Group B, while running the similar livery as the works WRC cars, and packing a daft-powerful engine echoing off the hills. Plus enough aero bits fitted to the bodywork to evoke the DTM. I had to find out more, but first a bit of primer on the Golf’s history in sport.
VW competed in the WRC in the ‘80s, winning the Group A World Championship with Kenneth Eriksson in a “showroom” spec Mk2 Golf, but they left the bonkers Group B builds to Audi, Ford, Lancia, and Peugeot. In 1987 Eriksson won the Ivory Coast Rally, the only time VW were on the top step until Ogier won the 2013 Swedish Rally, 24 years later. The in 1988, 5,000 WRC-based Golf Rallye models were made as 4×4 homologation specials, but the compressor-blown 8V 1.8L engine only put out 160bhp, so it never made much of an impression in motoring circles and was comprehensively overshadowed in terms of performance as well as popularity by the GTI. It also never took off as a works car in the WRC, 3rd in the 1990 Rally New Zealand being it’s one and only points-scoring finish before the project was pulled.
And it wasn’t because of its performance capabilities that Karl Schagerl bought a 10-year-old example in 2000. It was just a cheap four-wheel-drive runaround that would be handy for driving to work in the snowy Austrian winters, and it took 15 years for it to evolve into the beast it is today—it all started in an inauspicious slalom event, which was basically some traffic cones laid out in a car park, like a well-behaved boy-racer meet. The Golf was nimble enough and handled well, plus Karl obviously had some latent driving talent as against a Subaru Impreza and a Mazda 323 he won the “Street” class with absolutely no previous experience… which got him thinking.
Another popular form of amateur motorsport in the Alps is ice racing, probably because this is the only motorsport you can do in the winter, but again Karl was impressed with how the Rallye handled, and decided that he had a new hobby. His car was obviously lacking in the power department though, and so he began a decade and a half of tinkering, upgrading and engineering, turning his Rallye from a daily-driver to a full-blown supercar.
The previous owner had replaced the original G60 supercharger with a bigger one borrowed from a Mercedes-Benz, but it made Karl realize that the performance gain he was looking for would only come from a turbo. For one to work properly though he needed the extra valves, valves that the 16v GTI cylinder head offered. In the garage with friends who would eventually become team members, the work was done in spare time and on weekends like all good grassroots builds.
With a KKK turbo from a 1992 Audi S2 now increasing the power to a healthy 280bhp, the car performed much better, but the results were even harder to come by in this guise seeing as the car was now in the “Modified” class and competing with some serious machines. Back then it was still a weekend hobby with no more than a couple of events a year, so big budget upgrades were out of the question until one day Karl decided that the Audi turbo was just too lethargic. It was unbolted and replaced with a proper competition-spec Garrett GT28. Perfect. Except that now the 330bhp was more than double what the transmission was designed for…
So a decision had to be made. Take the Garett back off to reduce the horsepower and preserve the transmission to make a cheap and fun car to play about with in slaloms, or sink some serious money into it and race a proper competition machine—I think he made the right choice.
The first big engineering phase came in the winter of 2010/11 when the old and weak syncro gearbox and differentials were scrapped in favor of parts from a Mk4 4-Motion Golf. The suspension arms were re-designed to be adjustable so that different camber angles could be set, and the soft bushings were replaced with uni ball bearings because the torque under acceleration and cornering was enough to force the wheels out of alignment, which is understandably not something you need when you are pushing the car to the limit on twisty roads lined with trees.
With outright performance now being the aim, the interior was finally fully stripped out, a lightweight dashboard was fitted, and the front wings were replaced with much lighter carbon fiber examples. 2011 was Karl’s first full Hillclimb Championship, and with the modifications the car was now in the top 4×4 class running against some radical competition, like an 800bhp Audi and an 825bhp Escort Cosworth. Perhaps unsurprisingly for his maiden year, he wasn’t expecting too much. And yet he came away with 3rd overall.
An impressive debut, but the bottom step of the podium wasn’t enough for Karl. Compared to a BMW E30 with an IndyCar engine and F1 gearbox, the GTI-powered Mk4 transmission could only do so much. With another big investment,Karl’s VW was stripped down again, but this time the suspension was redesigned to be lower and wider, the body shell was cut out to fit 18”wheels, and all the steel body panels were replaced with carbon fiber units. The biggest upgrade though was the engine and gearbox. Power, and lots of it, now comes from a custom-made Ramler Engineering engine. The block is from your standard 2.0L Mk5 Golf, but with race-spec pistons and uprated con-rods. The direct injection was taken off to be replaced by a custom single throttle, and a dry sump and a custom exhaust manifold are the other major upgrades. With 2.2 bar of boost, it puts out a savage 530bhp and 650Nm of torque, putting this 932kg (about 2,054lbs) Golf firmly in supercar territory. The 4-Motion gearbox was struggling even with the old engine, so a six-speed sequential ‘box from KAPS Transmissions in the Czech Republic now offers bulletproof gearing.
The aero kit on the car really looks the part, but the reason that top F1 and WEC race teams spend untold millions on wind tunnels and aerodynamicists is because it’s seriously complicated and scientific work, not just a matter of checking off the boxes. The massive rear wing on the VW is from STW in Germany, and is actually a stock item. It provides extra rear-end grip in the fast corners, but all the smaller details might not add too much to the overall performance, and doing extensive wind-tunnel testing is not feasible. “It’s important that the car looks good,” says team mechanic and engineer Gerhard Moser, with a sheepish grin. In that regard, the DTM-style winglets perform quite well.
Karl knows what the car is worth in financial terms (or what he’s paid for it anyway), but was it worth it in a more general sense of measurement? From that first class win in a car park all those years ago, Karl now has an FIA Central European Hillclimb championship under his belt as well as twice being the Austrian Hillclimb champion!
And although it’s Karl behind the wheel he is at pains to point out that it is, and always has been, a team effort, with friends putting in evenings and weekends to make this Golf what it is. A great example of this was demonstrated in a Slovakian event when he hit a crash barrier so hard that he went through it and into the undergrowth. Everyone else thought that the car was finished but the team worked through the night to repair it, and it wasn’t only drivable, but able to give Karl a third place finish that would see him going on to win the championship.
But most important of all is the support to pursue this hobby from the wives, girlfriends, and children of all the guys on the team. To them, Karl would like to say a sincere thank you.