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More Speed, More Fun: Project Golf GTI Returns to Autocross

The last time we checked in with our 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI Sport project, the car he just been fitted with a set of WedsSport SA-10R wheels and Nitto NT05 tires, both of which nicely complimented the previously installed ST XTA coilovers and rear sway bar.

Project Golf GTI Wheel

Even driving on the street, it was obvious that the upgraded suspension, wider wheels and stickier tires had greatly improved the GTI’s grip and balance, but we were anxious to get the car back on to the race track or autocross course where we could really let it loose.

Project Golf GTI Parked

Back on the Autocross Course

Last weekend we had the chance to do just that, as the Fresno chapter of the SCCA San Francisco Region was holding one of its regular autocross competitions at the parking lot of the fairgrounds.

Project Golf GTI Cones

Anyone who was spent any time in California’s Central Valley during the summer knows how hot it can get, and the conditions for this particular event called for temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Project Golf GTI Rear Parked

Starting out early in attempt to outrun the the heat, we arrived at the site to find a strong turnout of racers despite the scorching heat that would be tough on both man and machine.

Project Golf GTI Parked Front

Having already run at a couple autocross events earlier in the year at the same location with varying degrees of parts installed, we were excited to see how the “complete” suspension and tire setup would perform.

Project Golf GTI Starting Line

Of course, the one problem about autocross is that you can’t directly compare lap times with previous events because the course is never the same, and a huge part of succeeding is being able to quickly learn the course and the best way to navigate it, regardless of what you're driving.

Project Golf GTI Lineup

Even so, comparing the new setup to how the car felt before, as well as seeing the lap times of similarly prepared cars, should be enough to get a good idea of where the GTI sits after its modifications.

Project Golf GTI Side

Changing Classes

After handling photo duty during the day’s first season, it was time to hop into the car and have some fun. With the new coilovers, rear sway bar and wider wheels, the GTI moves from the GS class to the STH (Street Touring Hatch) class, which puts it up against lightly modified cars with similar power levels like the Subaru WRX. STH also allows for basic power upgrades even though this car has a 100% stock engine and powertrain.

Project Golf GTI Knocked Over Cones

If autocross competition is your primary goal with your car, you’ll want to make sure you follow the rulebook very closely, as you need to make sure your modifications are allowed within your desired class. In this case though, the VW is simply a daily driver and part time track car that sees occasional autocross time for fun, and we aren’t concerned about being a class winner.

Project Golf GTI Before Track

Testing the Upgrades

Heading out on the first run, we were reminded once again just how much these upgrades transform the car. Using the GTI’s factory launch control, and turning traction and stability control as far off as they’ll go, the first of the six timed runs was a 46.210—not too bad for the first time out, but it was obvious there was plenty of time to shed.

Project Golf GTI Racing Rear

In just about every area of the course, the car was quicker and more responsive. With the coilovers there was much less body roll than before, and the rear sway bar greatly helped keep the car in-line and allowed for much more rotation off throttle when going through medium speed corners and the two slalom areas on this particular course.

Project Golf GTI Racing Side

Even better were the wider and stickier Nitto NT05s, which made for a night and day difference when compared to the factory all-season tires. Their contribution could be felt on every part of the course, including quicker corner entry, increased grip in the middle of the corners and the ability to stick coming out of the corners and down the straights. These are areas where the old tires would howl and screech in protest.

Project Golf GTI Racing Front

Aiming for 44s

The goal was simply to get faster with each run, becoming more familiar with the course and the car’s limits. The next run was 45.873, followed by a 45.652 and 45.727. There were still areas that could be improved, and the new goal became to break into the 44s within the two remaining runs.

Project Golf GTI Breaking

Run number five saw a 45.057, mere hundredths away from the goal. With the event winding down, the oppressive afternoon heat approaching and just one run left, it was now or never. The strategy was the same as the one used on the previous run, save for coming in a touch slower and turning in earlier in one area where the front end had been pushing.

Project Golf GTI Turn

The result? A 44.8 lap, which we were quite happy with. We would have been able to find even more speed, had there been additional runs, but one of the biggest challenges of autocross is figuring out how to go fast in just a handful of laps.

Project Golf GTI Straight

Again, it’s hard to directly compare lap times considering each course is completely different, so all you can really do is judge the how it feels behind the wheel and look at the times compared to other cars/drivers of the same day. You can see the complete results at the link here. The GTI was car no. 3 in the STH class.

Project Golf GTI Front Corner

All in all we were quite happy with how some basic suspension, wheel and tire upgrades transformed the car on the autocross course, and now we're really itching to get the car back to a proper race track. In the meantime we’ll keep enjoying the do-it-all nature of this lightly modified hot hatch on a daily basis. Thanks as always to the members of the Fresno SCCA chapter for throwing some of the funnest events around.

Getting here has been a process. Follow along from the beginning.

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