While many of you may not know Zac, I can't even adequately express the enthusiasm I had to interview him. While Zac may seem like just another IS38 GTI owner with a few extra stickers plastered on his car, he's actually someone pushing our platform to the next level in racing -- specifically, in the Canadian Street Car Series (CSCS). Zac has several podium finishes, and as he and the car progresses, they are looking to take the 2018 series by storm next year. So today, we get insight of what it takes to go from novice to champion in a Mk7 GTI.
[Karl]: I always like to start out by adding a bit of humanity to the article, so Zac...
What got you into cars?
[Zac]: Growing up in Toronto there was always something car related going on. Mostly pop up meets around local coffee shops and plazas. All my friends had awesome cars and I always tagged along but at that time I was more into racing mountain bikes. But I have always been involved with cars and modding them since I was in high school. I remember taking a course in grade 12 which was like shop class--we just got to work on cars all day. The teacher who was an enthusiast himself was rebuilding an old Datsun. We always had friends come by with their AutoX cars which I thought was really cool. So it's always been something I have been interested in on many levels.
What drew you toward the Mk7 platform?
[Zac]: I have always loved VW. We have a huge VW scene here in Toronto. So as soon as I could afford a GTI I got one. It was a MKV GTI in black that I loved. Ran it up to 300,000km and the timing belt snapped on me one day which led me to purchasing my MK7 GTI.
[Zac]: I had absolutely zero intentions of racing in a time attack series when purchasing it. I had never even driven on a track prior to purchasing the new GTI. I joined a local VW group (#ClubWolfsburg ) and they hosted multiple track days a year. I thought it would be fun and progressed from there.
So how'd you go from track days to time attack?
[Zac]: It was winter 2016 that things started to get serious with mods. I wanted more power, better tires, suspension, etc. All to make me faster at the track which some did and some didn't. It's a constant learning experience and the car is always changing as I get faster and learn more. After going to the track and becoming addicted to going faster and faster the joys of open lapping were becoming stale in a sense. I'm a very competitive person. Once I found out about a local time attack series and generated a ton of support from friends and family, I just figured I would give it a shot at my local track which I knew I could do well at. My first race I ended up fourth which then led me to now completing the rest of the series.
[Karl]: By the way -- it's almost unheard of for someone to go from first time on track to placing nearly podium in a year. So props to Zach -- and his car! Speaking of car...
What's the progression of mods on your Mk7?
[Zac]: This one hurts to think about. I have honestly changed so many things on my car to find what works and what doesn't. Luckily I have become pretty good at selling parts that didn't work or I would be broke. It's so easy to just want everything but knowing what you need or what works takes time, effort and money.
[Zac]: I hit the track the first time with a JB4 tune, EBC yellow brake pads, and some Michelin Pilot SuperSports. For what I knew then and the speed I was going it was fine to be honest. As I progressed I quickly grew out of the limits those tires and brakes offered.
[Karl]: By the way, this is nearly identical to my first time on track in a mk7, only without the JB4!
[Zac]: I quickly wanted more power which is the first thing everyone wants and I would probably do it the other way around now but it led me to getting a downpipe, intake, etc, to reach stage 2. Within a few months I was full bolt on's with an IS38 swap and a new tune. With more power it quickly exposed areas of my build that were lacking such as the brakes and suspension. Those were then upgraded and lap times decreased as expected.
[Zac]: I don't think I regret any mods I have done. Everything was purchased with the intentions of going faster but it's hard to know what works until you try it. For example I am on my fourth set of wheels with different offsets and widths. Tire set ups are tricky since I have run a specific tire to race with and it likes to be run a certain way (Pirelli Trofeo R).
What advantages does the Mk7 have against the competition? What pitfalls?
[Zac]: This is a tough question for me... honestly it takes a lot to make these cars competitive. When you are competing against cars that weigh much much less than you and trap the same speeds as you with half the power and every suspension mod known to man it's a struggle. Good thing is you can make tons of power with the MK7 with minimal effort to combat that but, the suspension tweaking, tire set up, wheel set up, brakes, etc. All need serious work with testing to get right. I have gone through multiple wheel and tire combos over the summer and finally just found a set up that works for my car. These cars can be great, but it takes a lot of work (which isn't saying anything bad about the car) ...it's just the competitive aspect of it and it think it's the same for everyone racing. You can make a Suzuki Swift great....no joke...I get beat by almost 5 seconds at my local track by one.
Given that, how import is tuning? Dialing coilovers, tire pressures, alignments?
[Zac]: Probably the most important aspect. I am constantly trying new tire pressures, changing alignment settings, etc. I think I have had 4 alignments done over the last few months. Working my way up to having zero toe in the rear which really makes the car rotate with the 255's up front as I found out the hard way and spun out first time out not expecting it. Something so small can cause such drastic changes which is something everyone needs to experiment with to find out what works for them.
[Zac]: In the midst of learning new tires and using the wrong size wheel I rolled the bead right off the wheel. I was pushing the limits of tire pressure and wheel fitment but it's just an example of the trial and error involved in trying to go faster.
When it comes to competition, how much is car? How much is driver?
[Zac]: I'm going to say 60% car and 40% driver for my class, at least. The limitations of the class you compete in play a huge roll. The car has it's limits and the class rules only allow so much. So someone like the guy who coaches me, who holds lap records at almost every single track we compete on, would probably jump in any car I'm competing against and win...but for the average racer it's not like that. There's no way I could get into a friends car and do the same lap times I do in mine.
[Zac]: I think I have learned that it's about the balance of the car as a whole. Adding more power won't make you faster if that makes any sense. Adding more power with better brakes, tires, suspension, alignment set ups, sway bars, to balance the car and have each mod work together to achieve a more balanced car is the goal and reaching that point takes a lot of trial and error. Its hard for me to pick one or two mods I like the best because of the reasons stated above. It's everything working together as one which is what I think everyone end goal should be with their builds.
[Karl]: I'm going to interject just a bit here, because I think this a really good point. Zac had to run a reverse stagger (255 front, 225 rear) to get his car to rotate properly. He's running OTS KW Variant 1's. A great shock, but unfortunately, a spring rate that is proportional the weight distribution of the car, rather than the natural frequency. Alternatively, I run aggressive spring rates, 8K front, 9K rear. That enables me to run square (and rotatable!) tires (235/235), and get similar rotation. Same result (balanced cars) but totally different approach!
For new drivers out there, can you weigh the investment of track time vs. mods?
[Zac]: I always encourage new drivers to run a decent track oriented pad in the front at least, fresh brake fluid, and a decent set of tires. This will get you a long long way. Learn what your car drives like somewhat stock and go from there. Once you feel like you've reached its limit and you can't drop time you will know what it needs next. Could be a rear sway bar to help with understeer or a better set of tires since you are just simply progressing past the limits of a Pilot Super Sport like I did. You may then find yourself wanting to carry more corner speed so some better suspension comes into play with a more aggressive track oriented alignment.
[Zac]: Seat time at the track and trying new lines, making mistakes, gaining time in one section, loosing it in another is all part of it. It's a constant growing experience that makes you want to dump stupid amounts of money into your car when realistically you don't know what you even need 2 months from now when you are 3 seconds faster. Start with the basics, learn why you need to add a certain mod to the car and what it will don't benefit you on the track. Easier said than done.
[Karl]: Couldn't agree with this more! Hopefully these articles help you set up your Mk7 (or other car) with a bit less trial and error!
Clean slate, $2500. What do you buy?
[Zac]: First and foremost would be good set of tires. I'm not saying to go get an R comp set of tires off the bat but get something meant to go on the track and withstand some heat RE71R, RS4, etc. I would invest in a track dedicated set of pads and fluid that will also hold up after multiple laps and high temps. Some stainless steel lines wouldn't hurt either. It's not hard to swap pads before a track day and sound like a truck driving there. Your stock calipers are fine as well. Coil overs would also be a safe bet. Get something decent that's meant to take some abuse with a good dampening system. $2500 doesn't go very far...
[Karl]: Seriously awesome choice. And guys -- 200TW tires are an amazing investment. They are streetable but can handle track abuse. Hankook RS4's and Maxxis VR-1's are my two favorite on the market right now. Not because they have the aboslute most grip, but because they can take the abuse without melting away in a few track days. However, if you're used to street tires like Firehawk Indy 500's or Michelin PSS, these will blow you away.
Zac, anything else you want to add?
Thank you Karl Taht for this interview opportunity. It was a lot of fun and hopefully encourages others to get out there and have some fun.
Thank you to all my friends and family who make racing possible for me. Especially the guys at Autobliss who have honestly helped build my car from the beginning. Tons of late nights and good times to be remembered.
Thank You to all other sponsors who are a part of this as well. DBV2, CLUBWOLFSBURG , AUTOBLISS and BOOSTED SLOTH RACING.