The Volkswagen Beetle has enjoyed great success in US Rallycross championships since 2015
Developed at Volkswagen Motorsport, including technology transferred from the Polo R WRC
Tanner Foust (USA) crowned ARX champion for first time as the Beetle bids farewell
The champion is stepping down. After five years, the Volkswagen Beetle is bidding farewell to the American Rallycross scene. With five Driver titles in a row and two Manufacturers Championships for Volkswagen, the 412-kW (560-PS) supercar version of the car – the most powerful Volkswagen Beetle ever – has taken the Global Rallycross Championship (GRC) and the Americas Rallycross (ARX) by storm. The Beetle drivers also won the hearts of the fans with wild drifts and jumps of over 30 metres on the spectacular Rallycross circuits, which are a mix of gravel and asphalt sections with an obligatory jump. Capable of accelerating from zero to 100 km/h in a little over two seconds, the Beetle usually came out on top at the end of the races, which, with uncompromising overtaking manoeuvres and a closely-packed field, rarely passed without incident.
American Tanner Foust has now won the 2019 ARX title, bringing to a fitting end the success story of the Beetle in Rallycross. Prior to this, Scott Speed (USA) had won the championship four times for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.
“Adapting such a loveable car as the Beetle for the contact sport that is Rallycross was by no means an everyday task for us,” says Sven Smeets, Volkswagen Motorsport Director, recalling the early days of the project, which was launched by Volkswagen of America in 2014. “With four-wheel drive and 560 PS under the bonnet, the Beetle raced its way into the history books of US motorsport. Congratulations to the Volkswagen Andretti Motorsport team, which was virtually unbeatable with the Beetle for five years.
Having initially raced as the Beetle GRC, since when it has been the subject of continuous further development, the Beetle R embarked on a farewell tour in 2019, with significant support from Volkswagen R GmbH. “We work closely with Volkswagen Motorsport. It is no coincidence that the letter R in the name of our company stands for Racing. The Beetle R’s victories have helped raise the awareness and strengthen the image of the R brand in the USA,” says Jost Capito, Director of Volkswagen R GmbH, explaining the involvement of Volkswagen’s performance brand in the American Rallycross championship.
“This is a fantastic end to the Rallycross era with the Volkswagen Beetle,” says Scott Keogh, CEO Volkswagen Group of America. “We are delighted that Tanner won the title for Volkswagen and Andretti Rallycross. Every employee will share this joy with us. The Beetle has been a magnificent ambassador for the sport and our brand.”
An ambitious project for Volkswagen of America
The Global Rallycross Championship (GRC), which was predominantly held in the USA, was hugely popular, particularly with a younger public. In 2014, Volkswagen of America came up with a plan to use this platform. “At the time, Volkswagen was very successful with the Polo R WRC in the FIA World Rally Championship. Rallycross was the ideal alternative for us to present the Volkswagen brand on the motorsport scene,” recalls Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director in Hannover at the time.
The engineers, led by project manager Eduard Weidl and Donatus Wichelhaus, Head of Engine Development at Volkswagen Motorsport at the time, designed a Rallycross version of the Beetle. They benefitted from the fact that the key data stipulated in the regulations for a World Rally Car, like the Polo R WRC that won the World Rally Championship, was similar to that for a Rallycross car like the Beetle GRC: four-wheel drive with exclusively mechanical differential on the front and rear axles, a six-speed sequential gearbox, and a minimum weight of just over 1,200 kilograms.
This allowed the Volkswagen Motorsport engineers to turn to tried-and-tested technology in many areas. “For example, we developed the engine for the Beetle based on the engine in the Polo R WRC. We also configured the suspension from existing components. In the case of the gearbox, we used proven Rallycross parts,” says Weidl. “In contrast, the shock absorbers were our own development. The big challenge for us was to piece all this together to make a competitive overall package.”
Adapting the package to suit the greater engine power was another exciting task. The Polo R WRC won twelve World Rally Championship titles with a 1.6-litre engine generating roughly 232 kW (315 PS). In 2015, the fully-developed Beetle GRC was given a two-litre, four-cylinder engine with an impressive 412 kW (560 PS).
Natural born winner: Win rate of 75 to 100 percent
However, the technical basis was only one half of the story. The rest was in the hands of two real motorsport guys in Californian Scott Speed and Tanner Foust from Denver (Colorado). Both are popular with the fans, extremely quick, and robust in a battle. Speed is a former Formula 1 and NASCAR driver. Foust made his name around the world as a stunt driver in a host of hit films and as a presenter on the US version of cult TV series “Top Gear”. He also won the GRC series in 2011 and 2012.
The Beetle GRC took the American Rallycross scene by storm. With its unmistakable design, made even more spectacular by massive fender flares and a large rear wing, it even looked exceptional. The aggressive sound of the turbo engine provided a fitting soundtrack. And the car lived up to its billing. In 2015, in its first season, Speed took the Driver title. In 2016 and 2017, he repeated that feat, with Foust finishing runner-up and the Manufacturer title going to Volkswagen in both years. Speed also claimed a prestigious victory in the Rallycross competition at the X Games in Austin (Texas).
That may sound like dominance, but that would not be entirely true. Behind the naked figures lie many dramatic racing stories, featuring setbacks, heroic efforts from the mechanics, brilliant split-second decisions from the spotters and engineers in the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team, and fierce but fair battles for victories and positions.
When the GRC was replaced by the Americas Rallycross (ARX) in 2018, the Beetle success story continued. Volkswagen Motorsport sent a further-developed Beetle R to the USA. Speed promptly won the fourth title in a row. Not without a fierce battle with his team-mate Foust for the new Rallycross crown, including the happy ending in Austin (Texas). 2019 was another entertaining year, packed with stories, in which Tanner Foust was crowned champion for the first time with a Beetle R that, by motorsport standards, was extremely elderly after five years of competition. The success came after battling performances against the Subaru works team, a rough start to the season, and a perfect second half of the season. His new team-mate Cabot Bigham, a rising star and youngster from the ARX-2 junior series, finished seventh overall.
Foust’s title saw the Beetle bid a perfect farewell to Rallycross. Andretti Motorsport, the team run by Michael Andretti, son of former Formula 1 world champion Mario Andretti, has fielded a host of different cars in various racing series. None of them have won five titles in a row, as the Volkswagen Beetle did between 2015 and 2019.