Back in June, for the 95th time, racers and builders trekked to Colorado to race up a mountain road. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is one of motorsport’s great events. With more than a century of racing, reputations have been staked, legends made, and hopes shattered along the 12-mile, 156-turn course. Perhaps best of all, though, is that the event still attracts racers of all stripes, not just global teams like Audi.
This year, for the fourth time, Sead Causevic made the pilgrimage to Pikes Peak with a 500 hp, AWD Mk5 Jetta GLI, built specifically to run the event. VWVortex was lucky enough to have Sead chronical the build in the forum and now he’s gotten in touch to share with us the video of the climb.
Sadly, Sead didn’t make it all the way up the hill. The Jetta had been retrofitted with a DSG transmission specially designed for racing duty, but the clutch casing broke part way up the mountain. The Jetta lost clutch pressure, so there was no gear engagement and heartbreakingly, the car had to stop on the side of the course.
Admittedly, it was a difficult race even before the transmission broke. About 7 minutes into the run a boost hose blew that Sead reckons cost him about 100 hp. Above, you can see him raise his hand in frustration. And that hose was important since Pikes Peak gets up into the thinner parts of the atmosphere. You may not be aware but one of turbocharging’s early uses was helping aircraft engines deal with the altitude, and in 1912 a V12 Liberty Aircraft was run at Pikes Peak to prove that it was an effective means of curbing power loss at altitude. So when Sead lost boost pressure, it was bad.
“The power requirements to manage the steep incline but only about 50% air density is a difficult combination for reliability,” says Sead. “A naturally aspirated engine loses about 1% per 300ft of altitude. I had a rental Jeep Compass a few years back that could not build RPMs in 2nd gear! Forced induction engines are the only way to go. You have to oversize the turbo so it doesn’t over spin and burn up, but then because of the size it gets pretty laggy.”
Even aero is affected at altitude. You may remember that a month or two ago planes were grounded in certain cities (including Denver) because of the heat. In Denver it was a combination of both heat and altitude causing the air to be too thin for many planes to lift off. The same principle applies for downforce, but, you know, upside down. That was important for Sead, because the team had decided to take on the weight of diffusers fore and aft and a great big spoiler. With air that’s less dense, you can’t get enough of it over wings and under diffusers to get all the downforce you can at lower altitudes. Conversely, Sead argues that what you lose in aero efficiency you may gain on the straights with the reduced drag. He admits that it’s hard to tell for sure without access to some serious scientific equipment, though.
Whatever the case, Sead thinks that weight loss is the next big priority for the Jetta. “I think the biggest challenge with this car is the weight and it will need to go on a diet to lose 200lbs,” he says. “I used to hill climb a 1,900 lb 250 hp Mk1 Scirocco and I can honestly say it is faster than a 2,975(?) 550 hp Mk5! Weight loss will make it accelerate, turn and stop faster and break less.”
Despite all the improvement he wants, Sead is still happy with the car. “I have to say this car is so fast right now and so much fun to drive hard. It really behaves well and doesn’t anything wrong when at the limit,” he says. “The car handles excellent with 285 width tires and is much improved with a lot of caster/camber and the TT spindles. The brakes are almost too good, they freak out the ABS out when I stomp on them. The DSG is really cool in theory with lightning fast shifts, but has a few weak areas.”
In fact, even though Sead admits that he’s more of a Mk2 man, this experience is really causing him to develop a soft spot for Mk5s. “I really think it is the modern Mk2 for enthusiasts as the platform is really good, cars are cheap now and the aftermarket is healthy.”
And even with all the trouble, hitting the course at all was a victory. “It really is a cool experience, the scenery, the magnitude of the mountain and the exposure of the road. Couple the amazing nature with the human quest to create these wild machines to tear up the road at sunrise and it becomes a place I want to go back to race every year,” says Sead. “You only get one try at the whole course per year, so it really is more of a ‘challenge’ rather than a race. Just showing up to start the event is victory #1. Practice days are just so much fun because you get to do what you’ve always wanted, which is to tear up a mountain road in a fun car. Lining up for the race in front of all those people and after all the hard work is victory #2.”
Sead has been going to Pikes Peak for a few years now, and as he said above, it doesn’t get old. That said, he thinks that he’s finally got a feel for the course after four years, though he admits that it’s easy to forget where you are on the course. “First couple years a lot of the course looked the same and even pro drivers get lost,” he says. And as to the potential risk, he says it’s a real consideration, but he thinks it helps him.
“I find the difficulty of the road and the potential risk sharpens me up,” says Sead. “I work pretty hard to focus on the task and only think about what I have to do and not what might happen. There are certain sketchy corners where I am happy to give up time because it gives me the confidence and ease of mind to drive better elsewhere on the 156 turns.”
Even though the Jetta didn’t make it to the top of Pikes Peak, Sead did. “This year with the DNF I hiked the rest of the way to the top of the mountain just to get a small percentage of the achievement,” he says. “It is a humbling experience, especially when you realize you’re just an average dude and people die trying to get to the top (a number of moto riders have died in the last few years).”
And the fight isn’t over. “I am very fortunate to have met a lot of helpful VW enthusiasts in Denver and Colorado Springs who will play a part in dialing in and racing the car this year in Colorado,” says Sead. “I am going to lean hard on the knowledge and expertise at Bluewater and I think this will be instrumental in getting some more speed and reliability out of this car. I will apply for an invitation to race Pikes Peak again for 2018 and hopefully challenge the mountain again with improved reliability!”