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Jost Capito: PH Meets

The head of VW R on why the T-Roc R is better to drive than the Golf, why the Nurburgring matters and why hybrids aren't for him... yet

By Matt Bird / Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Jost Capito's CV has something for almost every fan of fast cars and motorsport. There are his early days in Porsche's racing department, the Dakar truck success, the Ford WRC titles (plus Focus Mk1 road car), his time as McLaren Racing CEO and VW's incredible recent dominance of world rallying that he helped mastermind.

Today his role is as the boss of Volkswagen R, bringing cars like the T-Roc R to market. And while that might sound like a more prosaic task than managing the Sauber F1 team (yep, another one to file under 'work experience'), Capito isn't short of an opinion or two. As we discovered in an interview from the passenger seat of a T-Roc R.

Given a certain circuit in Germany is mentioned as key to the T-Roc's development, it makes some sense to start the discussion with the Nurburgring. There'll always be something to say, right? Interestingly, Capito describes it as "important for all cars", but even more so for fast stuff: "For me, a car that is behaving well on the Nordschleife is behaving well everywhere", he says, highlighting the compressions, altitude changes and variety of corners that characterise the track as of imperative value to dynamic work. He even mentions the humble British B-road, clearly playing to a receptive audience of two English journalists; while the circuit doesn't entirely replicate that, he reckons the roads close to the track play a good imitation game.

Moreover, while "definitely not a track car", it's made clear that the T-Roc R must perform; in fact, the brakes "should be capable for lap after lap", which sounds like an excellent feature idea if ever there was one. That said, the understandable T-Roc focus has been on making it enjoyable on country roads, because that's where it's going to be driven for the majority of the time. And, well, given it's meant to be better than a Golf R to drive...

Yep, really. Perhaps not the greatest revelation to find a product boss says the new car is better than an old one, but interesting given the T-Roc's less favourable starting point. It's here though, thanks to increased stiffness, new gearbox and engine mounts, steering tweaks and more: "I believe this car drives better than the Golf R." You heard it here first.

So where does VW R go from a T-Roc? Well, we can expect the range to diversify, albeit into larger vehicles rather than smaller ones - hopes for a fiery Polo R or equivalent Up will have to remain that. Why? Because all-wheel drive isn't in the platform of either, and VW R means all-wheel drive. Furthermore, as is the often way with the viability of performance cars now, the returns are not there when investing in smaller fast cars - shame.

How about a hybrid VW R, then? Four driven wheels, all sorts of exciting torque vectoring possibilities, the environmental benefit... It's not for Jost at the moment, unless city driving legislation dictates the move. Though it is a good question, apparently. "I really do not believe in hybrids for sports cars, because you have the worst of both worlds." Capito's issue is in adding the weight of batteries and motors, which can then only provide maximum power for a limited period.

"You maybe go half a lap and the power is gone. And when the power is gone, you have just the combustion and you still carry the two hundred kilos, which I don't understand on a performance car. So that's why I see the step going to electric; either full ICE, or it's full electric." On which, he believes a fully electrified VW R might not be far off, but it rather depends on a Porsche.

Capito views the upcoming Taycan as the first electric vehicle that car enthusiasts will buy ("all the Tesla drivers I know, they are no car enthusiasts") and, as such, as a product that will inform VW on what people who like driving want from their electric car. "At the moment they [manufacturers] just tell you 0-60 - because that is impressive in electric cars - range, and how long it takes to charge. But none of these three is really what performance cars matter about. They don't tell you about how it drives, they don't tell you about braking distance, the way it handles. So we will see how the people who are car enthusiasts cope with this."

He also mentions the Autobahn; not relevant to the UK, perhaps, but a consideration in Germany where prolonged periods at high speed are more frequent. Electric range then becomes an issue, as does battery temperature and charge time. Sketches and designs are ready, Capito says, but are being sat on for a year or so to see what reaction to the Taycan is like.

Handily, it could tie in with increased VW involvement in World Rallycross, the view shared with us that it's "the ideal motorsport for electric cars." That's because the EV cars will be able to match the current ones for power-to-weight, while also allowing genuinely exciting motorsport in city environments. And wouldn't it be a nice tie-in to have a new EV VW R product enjoy success in World Rallycross? Certainly it seems more likely than VW Formula E involvement, Capito's current issues with the series centring around powertrain freedom - more scope for independent development would increase competition and further the advances made in production vehicles, he believes.

Finally, anyone hoping for the Golf R400 to at last become a production reality should, rather sadly, let it go; not only was that on a Golf 7 platform (with the Golf 8 imminent), extensive research suggested that buyers simply didn't want it. Buyers of fast VWs, the interviews tell them, want around 300hp and less than €50k - so that's what they make. More than 20,000 Golf Rs a year are sold across Europe delivering what those buyers want; Capito suggests only around half of those would want a 400. Oh well. Still, if this T-Roc really is a secret 'ring weapon, then maybe nobody will mind the R400's demise...

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