Jetta TDI Cup drivers, like Theresa Condict, left, are required to wash their own cars. (All photos: Volkswagen)
A few weeks back, VW released a news item that F1 Boston, the outdoor karting facility in East Bridgewater, Mass., would be conducting a six-race series this summer with the winners advancing to final selections for next year's Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup series racing.
Why Boston? It's largely because R.J. Valentine, the owner/visionary behind F1 Boston, is regarded highly by the Volkswagen racing program. It's also significant for the Boston area because iRacing.com in Bedford is an official partner of VW Jetta TDI Cup racing. The folks at iRacing have simulators that put drivers in the same Jetta TDI cars and on the tracks that the series will be using.
The story sounded like a great future opportunity for young local racers who wanted to follow their dream of becoming a professional driver. After we ran an item in this space about the coming F1 series, we got an e-mail saying, "Hey. If you're interested, there's already a local driver who has qualified and is racing in this year's VW Jetta TDI Cup."
Making the story even better is that the driver is a woman. If you want to be a minority, try being a woman in racing. It's about 1 percent of the driving population. Generally, racing is a meritocracy. Drive well, and you get recognition. But getting started is the hard part.
For women, it's often a father-daughter proposition. And, for our local driver in the Jetta TDI Cup series – Theresa Condict of Lexington – that's how it started. She began competing in local autocross events with her dad, Michael, in 2004.
Now, after graduation from McGill University in Montreal with a double major in music and physics, she's gone racing in this VW series that's designed to develop professional drivers.
Q. Theresa, how did you get into the series?
A. I applied online. Then I got an email back from Volkswagen inviting me into their driver selection program. We spent four days at Infineon Raceway near San Francisco. We went through tests involving karting, written exams on vehicle dynamics, and publicity tests. We had a good group. I'm glad I made it in. I'm hoping to show women can race, too.
Q. What are you doing when not racing?
A. Between races, I'm home working for a local company called Flatout Motorsports. They prepare Mazdas – RX7s and Miatas – for racing, and rent them. I'm hoping to get behind the wheel of those, too.
Q. What kind of car did you race in your formative autocross days?
A. A Mitsubishi Evo. The autocross time trials are a lot different from wheel-to-wheel racing. Autocross is all about car control, and the Evo was all-wheel-drive. There were a lot more turns – and tighter turns.
Q. What's different about the Jetta TDIs?
A. For one thing, there's the automatic transmission. They use the DSG transmission from the GTI and R32. It's a double-clutch system that shifts very quickly. It's easier than a manual transmission once you get used to it with the paddle shifters. There's less to go wrong. Plus, there's a fail-safe system built in. It won't let you downshift if it would over-rev the engine.
Q. How tough is the transition to wheel-to-wheel racing?
A. We saw film of last year's series. There was a lot of damage to the cars. On the track this year, our group seems a lot more respectful of each other. That's important because we are responsible for paying for repairs to any damage to our cars. You pay $45,000 up front. That takes care of everything but your helmet, travel, and damage to your car.
Q. How are the cars apportioned?
A. We all have our own car. There are VW sponsors on the sides, top and back. Each is a clean diesel engine that runs on biofuel. I'm sponsored by Hyperfuel, one of the series sponsors. The B5 diesel is cleaner burning and provides more power. Our cars get up to 25 miles per gallon when racing. I compare that to the 6 m.p.g. I got in other racing. It shows how this series is geared to be environmentally friendly. They can swap cars between drivers for any weekend to keep the racing equal.
Q. We understand that you have instructors and lots of computer data at every race. How does that work?
A. Between sessions, you get a printout of your own driving data, plus a random readout of one of the top 5 cars in that session. You can see where you gained or lost time from braking and turning.
A. iRacing is an amazing place. The simulators replicate our cars' down to tire pressure, sway bars and suspension setup. And they have most of the tracks we run on already online. You can get to know the track before you even get on the plane to go racing.
Questions for Clark Campbell, VW's Motorsports director:
Q. What is the goal of the series?
A. It's simple. We're out to develop drivers. This is a spec series with identical Jettas. We know a Volkswagen will win. We're concerned with parity of racing and driver development, not car development. The drivers can choose tire pressures and tire strategy but everything else is set. Mom and dad generally are required guests at the races, but the drivers wash their own cars between sessions. Mom and dad can't help.
Q. What are the expectations for Theresa?
A. For starters, she qualified to be here on ability out of 8,000 applicants. She will have a lot of learning and development to experience this year. We know from VW's experience in these series in Europe that the talent pool improves every year.
Q. What is the role of iRacing.com?
A. Right now, we're using iRacing to help drivers learn the tracks. The drivers already are assigned to study Road America for our Aug. 13. The driver with the fastest online time trial will get a prize. So will the driver who has the most online sessions at iRacing. By next season, at least six of our tracks will be mapped and put into their (iRacing's) system.
Q. What about TV coverage of the series?
We haven't finalized plans for this season. Last year, we had an eight-week SpeedTV series on our races plus a 90-minute documentary that turned out to be a terrific show. We're filming everything this year and will have a TV deal in the fall – a time when there's a lull in live racing.
Q. How has the series grown?
A. The first year, when we called racetrack owners, they wanted no part of us. They considered diesels smoky, noisy, and smelly. They quickly found out that the truth is the diesels are just the opposite. They're clean, powerful, and quiet. At first, the tracks said, "We don't have diesel fueling facilities." We said, "We don't need them." The cars can run all weekend on a tank of gas. We bring a couple of 50-gallon drums of biofuel to even off tanks between sessions to keep the cars at the same weight.
Q. How about for applicants?
A. The first year, we had 1,500 apply. This year, it grew to 8,000. For next year, there still will be an online application component but most will come from the karting series (F1 Boston) and online racers (iRacing.com). We're interested in seeing how the online racers make the transition from to on-track racing.
Q. You sound like a proud teacher/father figure.
A. I am. This is one of the greatest jobs in the world.
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