The CAR In­qui­si­tion: VW’s R boss

Dakar win­ner, for­mer F1 team boss and now the man in charge of VW’s R divi­sion, Jost Capito won’t let the old-school hot hatch dis­ap­pear with­out a ight

CAR (UK) - - Contents -

THE SMALL PRINT of Jost Capito’s CV is enough to bring any petrol­head out in a sweat. He didn’t just work at BMW – he was in the high-per­for­mance en­gine de­vel­op­ment team from 1985. That same year, he didn’t just take part in the Dakar rally – he was in the win­ning truck crew. His first job within the VW Group was in Porsche’s rac­ing divi­sion. Af­ter a stint at Sauber he moved to Ford – and there he helped bring to fruition the first Fo­cus RS, no less.

Aside from a short-lived stint at the McLaren F1 team – hired as CEO by Ron Den­nis, he de­parted soon af­ter Zak Brown ar­rived at Wok­ing – he’s been pure VW in re­cent years, most no­tably lead­ing its World Rally Cham­pi­onship op­er­a­tion, which was shut down at the end of 2016. Capito’s for­mer WRC col­league Sven Smeets is now head of VW Mo­tor­sport while Capito has the less ob­vi­ous role of run­ning VW’s R divi­sion.

Which is what, ex­actly? We caught up with the youth­ful 59-year-old Ger­man in CAR’s own back yard, at the Robin­sons VW deal­er­ship in Peter­bor­ough. Capito was vis­it­ing to help Volk­swa­gen cel­e­brate its 200,000th Golf R, bought by long-time per­for­mance Golf fan Keith Wil­liamson – who, along with his

new three-door Golf R Per­for­mance Pack, also owns a Mk5 Golf R32 and Mk6 GTI.

Capito is in his el­e­ment: he loves per­for­mance cars, and iden­ti­fies strongly with the long­stand­ing British en­thu­si­asm for a hot hatch. Wil­liamson is per­haps keener than most, but Capito in­sists that Brits just love cars in gen­eral. ‘In Eu­rope, the UK is the big­gest mar­ket for R. But the UK, in my view, is the most ca­pa­ble per­for­mance car mar­ket be­cause of the knowl­edge of the peo­ple. Peo­ple are more into cars in the UK than any­where else in the world. I lived for seven and a half years in Chelms­ford work­ing for Ford, so know­ing this is based on ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘When you go to a meet­ing where car en­thu­si­asts are, you have the best con­ver­sa­tions in the UK. It’s im­por­tant for us to be here and talk to cus­tomers be­cause of their ca­pa­bil­i­ties. I think they are the most per­for­mance-based en­thu­si­asts out there, and that’s why the mar­ket here is so im­por­tant for us.’

He’s keen to em­pha­sise the dif­fer­ences be­tween the R and GTI sub­brands within VW, a source of some friendly ri­valry be­tween the two for­mer rally team hon­chos.

‘There are sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, but both are still built on the core val­ues of the base Golf – they are all proper Volk­swa­gens and they rep­re­sent real value. An R al­ways has a higher power and per­for­mance than a GTI, but that doesn’t mean an R is al­ways quicker, be­cause a GTI is usu­ally lighter. A GTI is more screamy than an R, but an R is dis­creet with solid per­for­mance. A GTI can be more shouty and ex­treme, and GTI goes into more niches than R.’

And while love is strong in Eu­rope for the Golf R, surely more R mod­els are on the way? ‘There have, of course, been more R mod­els than just the Golf – the Scirocco R and Pas­sat R36, for ex­am­ple. The cur­rent tar­get and ob­jec­tive is to make R a wider and more recog­nised brand.’ A VW T-Roc R, ex­pected to use the 4Motion all-wheel-drive sys­tem and circa-300bhp 2.0-litre turbo en­gine from the Golf R, will ar­rive next year.

VW can’t rely on the same for­mula for­ever, though. Sig­nif­i­cantly, its Pike Peak car wore joint brand­ing: ID, sig­ni­fy­ing its elec­tric propul­sion, and R. So are there moves afoot to ease the R divi­sion into an elec­tric fu­ture, per­haps by start­ing with a hy­brid? ‘It de­pends. For me, there are two rea­sons to go hy­brid. One is that leg­is­la­tion forces you to. The sec­ond is that you im­prove gen­eral per­for­mance. I’m not a fan of adding a lot of weight if it’s not go­ing to have a last­ing ef­fect on per­for­mance. A per­for­mance car needs hy­bridi­s­a­tion that re­ally does im­prove the over­all per­for­mance of the car, not just for do­ing launch starts ev­ery five min­utes.’


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