It seems as though that ever since the invention of the automobile, people have wanted to race — to test the limits of both car and human. In fact, the history of motorsports, or racing two- or four-wheeled vehicles, stretches back over a century. Today, there are different classifications of motorsports, some off-road and some on-road, and different types of vehicles, too.
Any racing fan can probably tell you: Volkswagen—with Scott Speed, Tanner Foust and the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team—has built quite a reputation in the Red Bull Global Rallycross Series. Rallycross combines the best elements of motocross and traditional circuit racing, with production-based cars racing over tarmac, dirt and a 70-foot jump, all on a closed course. In 2015, the team’s second year of participation—and the first full season running the 560-hp Beetle GRC—Scott Speed and teammate Tanner Foust finished first and third respectively in the standings. In 2016, Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross followed up their 2015 result with another Driver’s Championship for Speed and an inaugural Manufacturer’s Championship for VW. Tanner Foust won four races in the 2016 season and earned a second place finish just behind his teammate, marking a dominant run since the Beetle GRC’s debut. This success for VW racers is nothing new: 2016 actually marks the 50th anniversary of Volkswagen Motorsport in Europe (the U.S. VW racing division is a few years older). Here’s a look back at the first five decades of fast wheels.
1966: Opening up with Open-wheel Racing
The Volkswagen racing division was founded on July 11, 1966, and its original name tells the tale. Known as the European Formula Vee Association, Volkswagen supported an increasingly popular open-wheel racing series introduced in the United States. What made the series so popular was the affordability of entry, and a big part of that came from the cars using key hardware from the Volkswagen Beetle. Yet while the cost of entry was low, the level of competition was incredibly high.
A Decade In: Production Cars Take to the Track
Ten years after Formula Vee racing debuted in Europe, Volkswagen Motorsport was ready to broaden opportunities for drivers, this time with the first VW Junior Cup in standard, off-the-production line vehicles. In this race, each car was the same— similarly prepared and lightly modified Volkswagen Scirocco cars — in order to level the racing field for competitors.
Changes in the Volkswagen production lineup, including different engines and fuel sources, led to changes to its one-car race series; smaller dynamic European entries like the Polo and Lupo also had runs. For 2016, the automaker unveiled the Volkswagen GTI TCR, which has been amped up to 330 horsepower for the international touring car series in Europe.
Through the Years: Rallying to the Cause
It’s the same story in rallying, where instead of events being held on short courses with built-in ramps and car-to-car action; professional drivers race the clock in multi-day, multi-stage competitions, some of which can span thousands of miles. In those grueling tests, Volkswagen has notched multiple victories in the transcontinental South American Dakar rallies, capturing its first win in 1980 and three in a row from 2009 to 2011, along with three straight World Rally Championship (WRC) titles.
VW’s winning ways in rallycross—and traditional rallying—may be the most impressive of all. For example, the Volkswagen Red Bull Global Rallycross team is far from the first Volkswagen trophy winner in the sport; Klaus-Joachim Kleint was crowned the unofficial German rallycross king back in 1978 driving a Golf GTI 1600.
Volkswagen Motorsport remains at the top of the game. Even today during its golden anniversary, the WRC winning streak alive and well.