Volkswagen has become the latest manufacturer to break the Nürburgring lap record for fastest front-drive car. We spoke to the man who was behind the wheel of the car which broke the record - the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S.
What did you think of the pre-production Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S when you first drove it at the Nürburgring?
“Straight from the beginning I could sense the potential. It wasn’t like other road cars here; it was much more stable at speed. I could take the kerbs and it was smooth over the bumps. The engineers had already done a very good job.”
What were the key areas that needed changing at that early stage?
“Although the car felt good already, there was a little bit too much understeer, so we fixed that with more front camber. At the beginning it was not possible, but the engineers worked hard to make it fit.
“A big secret for me as a race driver was at the rear. Usually in front-wheel-drive race cars we open up the toe angle to keep the tyres warm and to give good turn-in, but the funny thing with the Clubsport S is the rear is set up in the opposite way, with significant toe-in adjusted for maximum rear-end stability. But the car is very neutral due to the big mechanical grip of the front end.
“It gives a lot of confidence and stability under braking, things you need in the fastest corners. In fact, it was so fast through them that my maximum apex speed through Schwedenkreuz [a fast left-hander] was 205km/h [127mph], faster than my BMW M235i racing car from last year, which was using slicks!”
How many laps did you do before you were happy with the Clubsport S?
“Maybe 30 to 40 laps over six months. The main issue was always the weather; you always have to find a good spot. The conditions have to be quite good, but we had snow in April. It was quite difficult to find a good day, but we just managed.”
How was the lap? Did you have to manage the tyres and brakes?
“I was flat out for the entire lap, not looking after tyres or anything. This really is a major compliment to the suspension engineers, as they managed to set the car so it is not using the tyre much.
“I was not afraid, but I was respectful of the track. Of course, when you are pushing like hell, you have a tricky moment in some spots. Actually, at two points I was a bit late on the brakes; I was really on the edge. If I had hit the brakes five metres later I would have gone off.”