Formula Vee, Herbie, World Rally: Volkswagen does motor sports

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Racing Line

VOLKSWAGEN founded its motor sport division, originally called Formel V Europa e.V., in 1966, two years before Herbie surprised a fictional California racing scene in the Walt Disney flick The Love Bug. In 1969 the car maker held for the first time at Nurburgring’s Nordschleife track its Formula Vee series, a class for single-seat, open-wheel race cars using Volkswagen’s seminal flat-four engine and other cobbled up Volkswagen parts. The brand has not left the racing circuit since then.

On the same day that this year’s edition of 24 Hours Nurburgring started — May 12 — Volkswagen’s Philippine operation also took part in a motor sport activity, albeit one that is markedly slower, less demanding, and inarguably smaller in scale than the German endurance classic. Fielding a Volkswagen Golf GTS and a Jetta (both in TDI DSG Highline spec), Volkswagen Philippines joined what is colloquially known as a “tulip rally,” a “racing” discipline that puts emphasis on navigation over driving. The objective here is for an entry car — ideally with three people on board (driver plus route and time navigators) — to arrive at checkpoints as close as possible to a prescribed time. The challenge facing teams is that the route and the prescribed time over which a series of checkpoints — the locations of these are not revealed on the route book — have to be reached are revealed to them only at the start of the activity. Using smart phones or GPS navigation and similar devices are not permitted in plotting the route.

The local version in which Volkswagen participated — the STV Auto Rally Corporate Challenge — saw 40 cars navigating newly developed areas inside the Clark Freeport Zone, the back roads of Floridablanca and Dinalupihan in Pampanga and Bataan, and the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. Teams, which had to follow traffic laws, hunted for the numerous checkpoints along the route during the daylong event — which also proved an ideal way to enjoy driving around some less traveled places north of Manila. The spirit of a tulip rally, after all, is more road trip than road race.

In stark contrast are the highly competitive pursuits of Volkswagen Motorsport (as the outfit has been called beginning 2004). From 1969 onward the division has competed in rallies and several formula series, apart from staging its own events like the Formula Super Vee and one-make cup races using the Scirocco, Lupo and Polo, among other models. By 1980 Volkswagen, using its military-use Iltis, has clinched the overall Dakar Rally title. It repeated this achievement three more times on the trot — in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

On the circuit, John Nielsen took the 1982 German Formula 3 driver’s title aboard a Volkswagen, then the unofficial World Formula 3 Championship in Macau two years later. The brand duplicated its German Formula 3 victory in 1990 with then rising star Michael Schumacher at the wheel.

Volkswagen’s stint in World Rally is no less interesting. The car maker may initially have a very modest record in the series — it took Group A honors in 1986 — but then it made up for the decades-long lull when Sebastien Ogier, driving a WRC Polo, strung together four straight world titles for himself and the brand. Volkswagen was crowned World Rally champion in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Herbie would be proud. — Brian M. Afuang