DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – For the first time since January of 2013—when a pair of Volkswagen Jetta models competed in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge here at the Daytona International Speedway—the brand is back on the high-banked track.
A lone Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR, fielded by a gutsy little privateer team from Virginia, re-introduced VW to the 3.56-mile road course inside the legendary oval track for the 2018 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge season opener on January 26, a prelude to the weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The four-hour CTSC race saw 41 cars in three classes both start and finish the event, including the number 31 Rumcastle LLC GTI, with brothers Luke and Tanner Rumberg at the wheel—both Daytona rookies—and experienced racer and coach Jon Miller helping out. They finished 28th, commendable not just for the fledgling team, but for their brand-new GTI, which was running as strong at the end as it was at the beginning, with only minor teething problems in between.
The CTSC series, beginning with this race, now has three classes: The fastest class, Grand Sport, has race versions of sports cars like the McLaren GT4, the Audi R8 and the Aston Martin Vantage. The Street Tuner class includes less powerful cars like the Mini Cooper, the BMW 328i and the Porsche Cayman.
In between, in terms of speed, is a new-to-the-series class called Touring Class Racing, or TCR, which is expected to replace the Street Tuner class in 2019. ST cars are converted from street cars to race cars by the teams, while the TCR cars are built at the factory as race cars, then sold to the teams.
Audi already had a significant presence in the Continental Tire series, so it comes as no surprise that six of the seven TCR cars at Daytona were the new Audi RS3 LMS TCR, with only the Virginia-based Rumcastle team opting for the VW GTI.
Why? “Because the GTI does really well in the European TCR competition,” said Owen Rumberg, grandfather of Tanner and Luke, and president of the Ashland, Virginia-based Manchester Hydraulics, a hydraulics repair company that sponsored the family-owned team.
“Plus,” said Luke, 18, “it’s by far the best-looking car in the class.” No argument there—the Manchester Hydraulics GTI’s photo was featured on multiple web sites even before it took the green flag.
The Rumberg family is no stranger to motorsports, having raced for years in series ranging from the National Auto Sport Association road racing club, to the modified ranks of the notorious little South Boston Speedway oval track, a training ground for multiple stock-car racing stars.
But moving to the IMSA-run Continental Tire series is their first attempt at true national competition. The team hopes to run the entire schedule of 10 races, which take place as far from the team’s home as California and Canada, and as close as Virginia International Raceway. They definitely plan on making the next race at Florida’s Sebring International Raceway on March 16.
Between now and then, they are hoping the series rule-makers might address an advantage the Audi vehicles have, namely better aerodynamics that allowed them to pass the GTI on Daytona’s long straightaways. Also distressing, Luke Rumberg said, was the way the Audi drivers could work together in the “draft,” when the cars line up nose-to-tail and sail down the straights at speeds much faster than one car can run by itself.
“We just need more Volkswagen race cars!” he said. And that’s likely to happen, as the TCR class gains popularity in the next year.