GTI Track Day

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I would be doing a track day where we (Tiernan and I) would be bringing both his GTIs to the track for a showdown.

The Black GTI is a minimal build with cheap coil-overs, Federal ST1 tires (300TW), and a CARB-legal tune.

The Red GTI is a track build with KW Clubsport coil-overs ($3000), Yokohoma A048 tires (60 TW), and a CARB-illegal tune. In addition it has a bunch of trick parts like limited slip differential, adjustable camber plates, tubular control arms, tubular subframe, big brake kit, and who knows what other stuff.

If you watch Donut Media, this is like their hi-lo series where they build two cars, one with top-of-the-line parts and the other with stuff sourced from eBay. Although Tiernan doesn’t write those episodes, he actually does write Donut Media content, and if you’ve watched their channel in the last year, you’ve surely seen one of his scripts in action. No, this has nothing to do with anything on YSAR other than me name-dropping to say I know someone who writes shit watched by millions of idiots. It’s a low bar for sure, but it’s all I’ve got man.

The day started out cold (40F) and remained rather cool (60F). The conditions were clear with no wind. The nearby hills were all green and in the distance some of the higher hills had snow on them. It was a little cold for my taste, but otherwise a beautiful day.

The event was hosted by SpeedSF at Thunderhill West. On the East side there was a Hooked on Driving event. The two organizations attract really different clientele. HoD is older, whiter, and richer. Another interesting difference is that HoD allows Lemons cars while SSF does not. I find this really strange because the Lemons cars that show up to HoD events tend to be in better condition than the low-end cars at SSF events. Honestly, you could shake up the ratty cars between the two and it would be hard to tell the difference.

Looking around at the SpeedSF paddock, there was a large variety of vehicles. My count wasn’t exact, but here are the most popular cars.

  • Miata – There were about an equal number of NA, NB, NC, and ND. Lots of people are still tracking Miatas at SSF (not so at the HoD paddock though).
  • 86 – I think most of the 86s were first generation, but there were a few of the new ones. There was even an AE86.
  • S2000 – There were loads of them!
  • Porsche – Mostly 911 but some Caymans. I didn’t see any Boxsters or 944s.
  • BMW – There were 3-series from E36 to current M2 (well not 3-series but close enough). No E30s though. Of note, there was a 328ix Touring. Pretty cool seeing a true wagon on track.
  • Lexus IS – There were a couple IS300s but also ISF and maybe other things I don’t recognize well.
  • GTI – There were 3 GTIs, including the 2 we brought.
  • Supra – There were at least 2 of the new ones.
  • Lotus – I think both were Elises.
  • Camaro – I think there were 2, and at least one was a ZL1.
  • MR2 – A turbo SW20 and a swapped MR-S.
  • Maclaren – There were 2, but I don’t know the models.
  • Other notable cars include: RX8, C7, Tesla, Alfa C4, Evo IX.
  • There weren’t many FWD vehicles: Veloster N, Civic Type R, Fiesta ST, Civic sedan. I think the only FWD non-turbo was the Civic sedan.

I shot video using my DIY headrest camera mount.

This works okay if you remember to bring your RAM arm. Luckily I found someone willing to lend me one for the day. Thanks Ed! He was driving this Lotus. Does any car say “track weapon” louder than this?

Black GTI

When I got in the Black GTI to drive, I was reminded that I helped modify the throttle pedal to improve heel-toe shifting. It worked okay for the most part except that the brake pedal travel was a bit too long. The car needs a brake job as the pedal was soft and there was no initial bite.

In the video below, I do a trio of laps in the 1:34s. My 1.9L Z3 on the same model of tire is a couple tenths faster.

Other than the overly long braking zones, I found the Black GTI to be a fun track car. As it is set up, the handling is pretty neutral. This particular car has done over 20 track events with only minimal maintenance. I think that speaks to the robustness of the platform.

If you wanted to build this car today, it would cost about $4500. A quick check of Craigslist shows that the average asking price for a Mk4 GTI is $3500. Assume you bargain the seller down to $3000. Then add $500 for suspension, $350 for tune, $450 for tires, and $200 for brake pads.


Sorry, I don’t have video of the Red GTI. The handling is a little better. The brakes are a lot better. The engine pulls better initially and then not. There was something wrong with the tune. If I revved the motor past 5500, there was a very good chance it would enter some kind of safety setting and completely cut throttle for 3 seconds. Driving the car was frustrating because it was a constant battle against the fuel cutoff. Short-shifting everywhere helped, but there were some places where it seemed I would run into the fuel cutoff no matter what I did. I ended up coasting through some sections to try to trick the system into behaving better. The fastest lap I did was a 1:34.22 (one tenth faster than the Black GTI).


So who wins this shootout, Black or Red? In my mind, Black. It had the same performance for a lot less money. OK, so the Red GTI was hobbled by an engine problem. But the Black GTI was handicapped with shitty tires and soft brakes. I have to judge the cars as driven, and if was going back to the track, I’d take the Black GTI.

Now let’s imagine the Black GTI gets a brake refresh and the Red GTI gets its engine sorted. Which one is the winner? I think the Black GTI wins again. You don’t need to do much to a Mk4 GTI to make it a fun and capable track car. If you want to throw money at a car, get something else. What if you find a fully prepped Red GTI for less money than it took to build your Black GTI? Well, I guess you buy it, and that’s why Tiernan has 2 GTIs.

I’m not sure what’s going on in Tiernan’s mind. Is he selling one? I’d say only he knows, but I’m not sure he does. What would you do with two GTIs?

Here’s what I’d do. Turn the Red GTI into a rally car. Throw some rally suspension and tires on that and let the LSD do its thang in the dirt. Swap the KW Clubsports and sticky rubber on Black GTI to make it even better on track.

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