The green gas guzzler

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Volkswagen’s new alternative-fuelled racer is a gas-powered Scirocco that’s already proved its worth at the Nürburgring.
Time for us to get behind the wheel…
By Ed Foster

The handsome Volkswagen Scirocco was launched in 2008, but before the road car was presented to the masses VW decided to entice younger drivers by proving its sporting prowess in the Nürburgring 24 Hours. With 235,000 spectators, mostly aged between 18 and 40, it had a lot to lose. But the risk paid off – the Scirocco GT24s recorded a one-two class finish and an 11th place overall. VW’s board members must have been rubbing their hands in glee…

Such a stunning debut does present a problem, though – what do you do as a follow-up? The Scirocco was unlikely to manage a higher-placed finish at the ’Ring thanks to the pace of various Porsche RSRs, so Volkswagen decided to modify the GT24, but not in the usual sense… The German manufacturer chose to go ‘green’ at the ‘Green Hell’.

Many manufacturers have built alternative-fuelled cars – Honda has even produced a hydrogen-powered machine – but there’s limited reward if the technology can’t be used on the road. VW has already built a CNG-powered (compressed natural gas) Passat for the road, but if you live in Britain you may well wonder where CNG can be found – how many petrol stations near you stock a 98-99 per cent methane gas? Well, as usual, Germany is one step ahead. It’s possible to run a CNG car like any other there. As a result the CNG-powered Passat is only available in Germany.

Fast-forward to the 2009 Nürburgring 24 Hours: this time Volkswagen fielded three petrol-powered Sciroccos and two Scirocco GT24-CNG racers. One class win might have been enough in ’08, but two class victories was the target this time. One in SPT3 (don’t ask how the classes are named) and one in AT (for alternative-fuelled cars).

The turbocharged 2-litre, four-cylinder engine in the GT24-CNG is sourced from an Audi A3, and in order for it to run CNG the injectors are modified before VW takes delivery. As a result the engine produces slightly less power (278bhp to the petrol’s 310bhp), but the drivers were unfazed by this deficit. “When you’re racing the difference is pretty small, it’s almost the same car,” says Jimmy Johansson, who drove one of the petrol cars to first in class.

Konrad Paule, race engineer for CNG car No 115 at the ’Ring, admits the engine modifications were not the main concern: “The problem was getting used to the system. It’s a very different way of storing energy and you have to get huge amounts of gas through all the components and valves. With the petrol engine there’s been years of development, but the gas thing is still new.”

New it may be, but both cars ran faultlessly and finished one-two in the AT class and 17th and 101st overall. More impressive was that the five gearboxes and clutches for both the petrol and CNG cars – lifted straight from the road car with only 1.7kg shaved off the 80kg weight – survived without a single problem.

VW has proven that TDI technology can win the Paris-Dakar, claiming an historic one-two this year. But with the Scirocco it needed simply to prove that the CNG car was as quick as its petrol-powered sister, and in qualifying one of the CNG cars did place higher than its petrol equivalent. In the race the CNG cars couldn’t stay with their petrol cousins, but the point had been made. Alternative fuels are a viable option. A point in their favour was that it took less time to refuel the CNG car. VW made sure the team had specially dried gas which could be pumped into two huge 44kg tanks, one in the boot and the other on the passenger side of the car.

One of those tanks had been removed when we were asked to test the GT24-CNG at Oschersleben, but otherwise the car was still in Nürburgring spec. If you were designing a perfect endurance racer, the Scirocco wouldn’t be far off the mark. The steering is extremely light – almost too light for a limited number of laps – and there’s no clutch pedal, so no embarrassing stalls on the way out of the pits. The DSG ’box works just as it does in the road car, with paddles behind the steering wheel. And there’s no way you can over-rev the engine, because if you try and change down prematurely the computer just says ‘no’.

The Scirocco, like all front-wheel-drive cars, understeers a little but is still extremely predictable. The only problem I encountered was how much pressure to apply to the brakes. After 10 laps I was still braking too early for most corners and couldn’t fathom why I was running out of Tarmac. A ride beside Johansson later in the day confirmed that you need a leg of steel to make full use of the braking.

And as for the power source? If I were a seasoned pro, no doubt I would have noticed the power deficit and perhaps the noise difference, but to an amateur racer – let alone a road car driver – the GT24-CNG feels just like a petrol car. There’s plenty of power and, thankfully, the noise from the exhaust is almost the same.

VW has a long history in motor racing, but not on a large scale. Its motor sport technical director Andreas Lautner admits that the Scirocco project has taken priority over the company’s Formula 3 and Paris-Dakar TDI campaigns, especially now that KTM and Mitsubishi have withdrawn from the desert enduro. Although VW doesn’t have the facilities or support to build customer racers, it is hoping to return to the Nürburgring in 2010. “At the moment the Scirocco makes the most sense to go racing with,” says Lautner. “But where we go from here is difficult to say – we have no green light from our board, although we are presenting various packages to them, one of which is to push for a top-10 finish [in the 24 Hours]. I have some ideas of how to do this, but I can’t really speak about them now.”

Asked whether the car’s power could be easily increased to 300bhp, he replies, “Three hundred? About 400!” That might be a little optimistic, as more power would only accentuate the understeer, as stated by Johansson. But it looks like the Scirocco GT24-CNGs will be at the ’Ring in 2010 – and they’ll be even faster.

The Scirocco road car is a perfect base for a racing version with its wheels right at each corner, and it’s great to see VW getting more heavily involved in motor sport. All credit to the manufacturer for making CNG technology work seamlessly on its cars’ debut. After all, green technologies are set to play an ever larger part in motor racing, and if they can be made to work as well as their petrol equivalents, as is the case with the Scirocco GT24-CNG, then the future is not only green but also very bright.

You may also like

Related products