How to build a Global Rallycross car, the Volkswagen way

Despite its short three-year history, Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross has quickly become one of the most successful teams in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, earning two driver’s championships and a manufacturer’s title since its debut. The quick success can be attributed to a unique partnership between championship-winning race team, Andretti Autosport, and the similarly successful Volkswagen Motorsport outfit in Germany. Working together, the two organizations have created a formidable team that is the envy of the GRC paddock and hopes to continue its winning ways in the 2017 Red Bull Global Rallycross championship season.

Constructive collaboration between the two parties begins well before a Beetle GRC race car hits the racetrack. In the 2016/2017 offseason, Volkswagen Motorsport in Hanover, Germany began construction of two new Beetle GRC chassis for the 2017 season. Incorporating feedback from drivers and engineers, the German racing experts aimed to make the already quick Beetle GRC even faster and more reliable—a better tool for championship-winning drivers Scott Speed and Tanner Foust to win races.

To best achieve this goal, two Andretti Autosport team members flew to Germany to assist in the final assembly of the race cars. For Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Crew Chief Tony “Boomer” Houk, the February trip to the Volkswagen Motorsport facility in Hanover was his second, after traveling across the Atlantic to aid in the construction of the team’s first set of Beetle GRCs.

Although the Beetle GRC race car looks comparable to the street-going version of the Volkswagen Beetle, the two vehicles share little in common beyond a similar shape. The Beetle GRC is crafted from the ground up as a purpose-built race car, incorporating a 2.0L turbocharged, four-cylinder engine outputting 560 horsepower mated to a six-speed, sequential gearbox. The four-wheel drive Beetle GRC can accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in the vicinity of two seconds, and features a full roll cage and special racing suspension designed to handle the jumps, bumps, and varied terrain of a Red Bull Global Rallycross course.

The exchange is a great opportunity for the two championship-winning organizations to learn from one another, establishing best practices that have served Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross well.

“I’ve learned a lot from Volkswagen Motorsport about how to build a rally style car,” says Houk. “That’s their bread and butter. At the same time, they ask for us to come over and I think it kind of simplifies things with putting the cars together. They say, ‘You guys are the ones who have run the car; you know how it should go together and how it should be built.”

While Volkswagen Motorsport has rally car expertise that is almost unrivaled on the world stage, input from Andretti Autosport mechanics and engineers can improve the Beetle GRC for the specific features of Red Bull Global Rallycross racing.

“Our style of rallycross racing in America is a little different from how it is in Europe,” explains Houk. “In our version, there’s less time between rounds and there’s a lot more body contact.”

The quick turnaround times and frequency of repairs in GRC mean that cars that are easier to work on can save a lot of time and hassle for crew members over the course of a race season. If fixes and changes to the car can be executed quickly, the team is able to work at a slower pace, ensuring that drivers hit the track in vehicles that are completely solid and without mechanical issues.

Between the first and second generation of the Beetle GRC, several changes were implemented to make it easier to work on the car.

“A very simple thing we asked Volkswagen Motorsport to do with the new Beetle GRC was to make the rear quarter windows removable, so you’ve got more access to the car in a quicker time,” says Houk. “The Beetle is very long in the back, so once you open the hatch, it doesn’t give you a lot of access to the interior of the car.”

The changes to the second generation Beetle GRC amount to more than just making the car easier to work with. The new generation was designed with performance in mind, losing weight and changing suspension geometry to gain even more speed on the track.

Developments of that sort are a bit of a new challenge for Andretti Autosport employees who are more familiar with spec-racing open wheel categories in the U.S. where car designs don’t change from year to year.

“That’s something that’s aggravating at times, but I also enjoy it because it’s a challenge and keeps you engaged in the project,” says Houk. “The rulebook in GRC is a lot thinner than the one we’re used to in open wheel, so there’ a lot more places for development and changes in the car. It definitely keeps you busy, but it also gets people to work together to make the car as good as it possibly can be.”

“With Volkswagen Motorsport and Andretti together, we have a lot of resources to make those things happen.”