Did we beat the Golf R? | PH Project Car

Our Mk5 track build goes up against a Golf R 20 Years for one last time. Let battle commence! | Promoted

By Cam Tait / Sunday, 20 August 2023 / Loading comments

After nearly a year of planning, months of filming and countless hours spent tearing up and down the M40, the final video in our inaugural series of PH Project Car is now live. Our Mk5 Volkswagen Golf has gone from a (rather peachy) 17-year hot hatch with a creamy leather interior to a track weapon built to take on its far newer and considerably more expensive sibling: Mk8 Golf R 20 Years. Curborough-bound, we set out to see if our maxed-out GTI can take the heat.

First, a quick recap of all the bits we’ve bought on eBay to make our giant-slaying machine. With a budget of £10,000 (include the car, if you haven’t heard), we first set about upgrading the platform with new BC Racing BR Series coilovers, Nankang NS-R2 semi-slicks and front brake callipers from an Audi S3 with new Brembo discs and Ferodo pads. The first round of mods made a huge difference to our lap time, lowering the deficit to the Golf R from 5.5 seconds to three seconds flat. 

Next up: upgrading the driver. There’s a huge amount of time to be gained here and, particularly if you’re not a track day regular, and it’s a good way of figuring out where the car is weak and where you’re just rubbish. So Charles Rainford, last year’s Porsche Carrera Cup GB Pro-Am champion and our Golf R driver, passed on some much needed insights during a tuition session on the GP course at Brands Hatch. While there were some glaring gaps in my driving ability (track use, trail braking, general bravery), it was clear the GTI was lacking pace on the straights. With 200hp in stock form – and probably a little less after 17 years and nearly 100,000 miles – the time had come to finally dial up the power. 

Heading back onto eBay, we picked up an upgraded intercooler, induction kit and high pressure fuel pump from VAG tuning wizards Revo, as well as a Milltek sports cat to go along with the cat-back system that had been fitted to the car by a previous owner. And with a stage 2+ remap (also courtesy of Revo), our Golf GTI is now developing a heady 272hp and some rather wonderful induction noises to boot. Kitty dried up, we headed back to Curborough one last time to see whether our upgrades were enough to overcome the (still sizeable) gap to the Golf R.

Surprisingly, track conditions were chillier in July than they were when we first benchmarked the cars back in April. In the name of fairness, I sent Charles out again in the Golf R to clock a time that was more representative of the cooler conditions. A 28.4-second run ensued. Some 0.3 seconds slower than his initial run, though I’d face the same low track temperatures for my run in the GTI.

After a couple of sighting laps (Charles did the same, before you ask!), it became clear that a 36 per cent increase in power had made traction something of an issue. We’d run out of budget for a proper diff, and the GTI clearly wasn’t happy about it. Exiting turn one in second gear allowed me to hit the torque curve earlier, but the side effect was huge amounts of understeer and smoke billowing from the far side front tyre. Leaving it in third meant I could use the turbo lag to prevent the wheels from lighting up, even if it wasn’t the fastest method on paper. 

The extra punch was noticeable through the right-left chicane in the middle of the figure-of-eight circuit, and Charles even noted that the GTI look better than the R under braking into the second hairpin. Traction was again an issue on exit, but the boost thankfully kicked in once the tyres found some purchase, firing me towards the fast left-right chicane before crossing the line. I’d given it everything. The GTI felt alive on corner entry and the extra grunt was noticeable throughout the lap. But it wasn’t enough. With a 30.15-second run, I was still 1.7 seconds off the Golf R. Even Charles couldn’t get near the R, lowing the time I set to 30 seconds flat.

Needless to say, we’re gutted. We knew we had a mountain to climb with this challenge, but it doesn’t make the final result any easier. Still, it’s all about the journey, isn’t it? We’ve taken a hot hatch that’s probably lived a very ordinary life and turned it into a track car that’s only fractionally slower than a £50,000 super hatch for a fifth of the price. Of course, we couldn’t have done this without the support of eBay, and features such as My Garage and Certified Recycled make builds like this a complete breeze. 

Now, it’s over to you. Follow the link here, enter our competition and you could be the new owner of PH Project Car. I’ll be terrifically jealous of the winner, and I’m hoping its new owner will bring it along to Sunday Services and PH track evenings for many years to come. It’ll be difficult to let go – better start a new project to take my mind off it.

This video is presented in partnership with eBay. Shop for motoring parts and accessories here. To be in with a chance of winning our project car, click here, answer the question and cross your fingers. You’ve got until 11:59 on 5th November to get your answer in. Good luck!

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