Jost Capito, head of Volkswagen MotorsportsEnlarge Photo
Capito then moved to Formula 1, holding down executive positions with Sauber Petronas and Sauber Red Bull Formula 1. In 2001, he joined Ford and became the driving force behind such vehicles as the Ford Focus RS, the F-150 SVT Raptor and the Focus ST.
These days, Capito hangs his hat at Volkswagen, where he heads the brand’s motorsport efforts. During this weekend’s 50th anniversary of Formula Vee celebrations in Daytona Beach, Capito took some time out from his busy schedule to talk with us about what is (and isn’t) in the cards from Volkswagen Motorsports.
For now, the brand is concentrating its motorsport efforts on campaigning the Polo WRC in the World Rally Championship. Despite achieving a remarkable second-place finish in the season-opening event in Monte Carlo, Capito is guarded about the team’s chances in 2013, which he views simply as “a learning year” for Volkswagen.
While the WRC may draw viewers from other countries, it doesn’t have a wide audience in the United States. Since the U.S. is the birthplace of racing for VW (which began with the first Formula Vee race at Daytona in 1963), and since VW has a huge fan base here, we asked Capito what the brand’s next likely steps in motorsports were.
“We need to decide what is right,” Capito said, “and a single marque series (like the VW TDI Cup) isn’t necessarily it.” Citing the old 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday' philosophy, Capito was clear that, ”motorsport is essential to bring emotion into the brand.”
Capito acknowledged that the Global Rallycross Series could be interesting to Volkswagen, but also acknowledged that no current Volkswagen-backed series exists to take the place of Formula Vee. In Europe, Volkswagen is looking into the potential of a feeder series to the pro ranks, much like Europe’s Formula Ford or Germany’s Formula ADAC.
Of Formula Vee, Capito admitted that the series endured due to its competitiveness and affordability. “Talent,” Capito quipped, “wasn’t related to a racer’s budget.”
By way of example, Capito cited Klaus Niedwiedz, a German Formula Vee star who crashed his car in qualifying, drove to a nearby junkyard to buy a Beetle front end and rear axles for 200 German marks, then put his car on the podium the next day. A similar feat isn’t possible in today’s high-dollar world of racing.
Volkswagen knows it’s still the peoples’ brand, and Capito sees it staying closer to the grassroots enthusiast that other VW Group companies. Audi has an extensive R&D budget for motorsports, and it campaigns cars at the highest levels of racing (as evidenced by the brand’s GT class win in Daytona); Volkswagen’s fans, on the other hand, race production cars.
Don’t look for Volkswagen to engage tuning partners in its motorsports efforts, at least in the short term. For now, Capito indicated, Volkswagen is happy with its R-Line being the sole performance route for VW (though in the United States, R-Line is more of a trim upgrade than a performance upgrade).
Volkswagen Motorsport isn’t putting any kind of a time line on announcing new efforts or new series, but Capito seemed clear that no changes would happen in 2013. That makes sense, given the brand’s current focus on winning events in the WRC.
Once that program starts winning stages on a regular basis, we’d expect to hear a lot more about Volkswagen's future racing efforts. Capito was clear that “there are no family restrictions within the Volkswagen group,” meaning that a Golf R could be campaigned against an Audi RS3, given the right future series.
This much is clear: with Capito at the helm, Volkswagen Motorsport has a very bright future ahead of it.