TOPEKA, Kan. (Oct. 21, 2008) – As the inaugural SCCA Pro Racing Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup season came to a close at Road Atlanta, during the prestigious Petit Le Mans event, it was clear the series had accomplished what it had set out to do; prepare talented young race drivers for a career in motorsports, while showcasing the exhilarating performance of Volkswagen’s clean diesel technology. With the innovative new series now introduced to North America, plans are already underway for season two.
Volkswagen received more than 800 applications for the first TDI Cup season, from which 100 candidates were invited to audition at Firebird Raceway, in Phoenix, Ariz. Following a three-day selection process, 30 drivers and five alternates were chosen. Placed in factory-prepared clean-diesel Jetta TDI’s, they would face an eight-race schedule at some of the nation’s most lauded tracks. Not only were they expected to perform on the track, the young drivers were responsible for acquiring sponsorship and were challenged to promote themselves in the media. The winner would receive $100,000 with an additional $150,000 bonus for signing with a professional racing team within six months of the season’s end.
The racing produced by the young Volkswagen prodigies was nothing short of spectacular. Though the stats say the series averaged just over two lead changes per race, seven alone at Portland International Raceway, lap charts cannot capture the number of changes that took place through each corner beyond the start/finish line.
That’s not to say that every pass made was a wise one, but that’s what the TDI Cup and instructors Jan Heylen, Mark Miller, and Ryan Arciero were there to do: teach. Nothing better illustrates the growth TDI Cup drivers experienced than comparing the season opener at VIRginia International Raceway to the finale at Road Atlanta. At VIR, a quarter of the race was run under yellow and 17 cars returned to the paddock with significant damage, three of which did not finish the race. At Road Atlanta, a track equally as challenging as VIR, the race ended without a single full-course yellow or DNF.
On display just as much as the drivers was the performance of the clean-diesel Jetta TDIs. Sitting in the paddock, the cars appeared quite harmless, but once unleashed on the track, spectators and other racers were often amazed by the Jetta TDI’s high speed and agility. Not only were the cars fast, they were efficient, using less than a 1/4 tank of fuel per race, and safe, not a single driver was seriously hurt throughout the season.
Only Liam Kenney managed to produce repeat wins (Thunderbolt Raceway Race Two and Road Atlanta), while Mark Pombo (VIR), David Jurca (Mosport), Josh Hurley (Portland), Chris Castagna (Lime Rock Park), Jimmy Underhill (Iowa Speedway) and Shane Williams (Thunderbolt Raceway Race One) took home one win apiece. While he may have finished 24th in the season opener following contact while fighting for the lead, Hurley kept his nose clean the rest of the season, posting consistent finishes that never dipped lower than seventh, and earned the very first TDI Cup Championship by a slim five points over two-time winner Kenney. Pombo ended the year third and, notably, set the fastest race lap in five of the eight rounds.
“The 2008 Jetta TDI Cup was a complete success with great racing action from our young drivers and the awesome Jetta TDI clean diesel,” said Clark Campbell, motorsport manager, Volkswagen of America. “This series attracted more attention in the North America market to the advantages of clean diesel and we look forward to what the next season brings.”
In addition to his $100,000 prize, Hurley will be sent to Germany this month to participate in an ADAC Polo Cup race at Hockenheim. Going along with Hurley is David Richert, who won Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI Cup Media Contest. Though the farmer from Manitoba, Canada finished 25th in the final point standings, he worked hard to amass more media coverage for himself than any other driver.
“I could not be more proud of the first Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup season,” SCCA Pro Racing President and CEO Bob Wildberger said. “This series really hit the mark. Not only did it give young drivers a great opportunity to learn the industry, it did it in a way that acknowledged the environmental challenges this business is facing. I applaud Volkswagen for their forward thinking and I thank our diligent SCCA Pro Racing staff for their hard work this season.”
Plans are already underway for a 10-race 2009 Jetta TDI Cup season and prospective entrants can sign up to receive more information at www.vwmotorsportusa.com.
All eight races of the 2008 Jetta TDI Cup will be televised on SPEED, beginning with Round One from VIRginia International Raceway on Oct. 25, at 6 p.m. (EDT).