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The Beetle's familiar profile will be instantly recognizable among a field of hard-to-distinguish hatchbacks. (Dan Carney)

Volkswagen reveals Beetle Global Rallycross racer

Volkswagen entered the 2014 season of the Global Rallycross (GRC) series racing a pair of Polo rally cars used last season on the European Rally circuit. The company has unveiled its purpose-built contender, a Beetle racer that will take to the track starting at the Los Angeles race in September.

The Polos weren’t optimized for tight circuits of the GRC’s format, but Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team drivers Scott Speed and Tanner Foust found sufficient performance for Speed to lead the championship after the first three races.

The GRC races on both asphalt and gravel, sometimes on the same track. The one-half- to one-mile circuits also incorporate jumps and are small enough to let fans see the entire race as it happens, which places a premium on acceleration and agility.

The old cars use turbocharged 2.0-L four-cylinder engines that carry a 95-kg (210-lb) weight penalty compared to the new Beetle’s turbo 1.6-L engine. That new engine produces 544 hp (406 kW), which it puts to the ground through a fixed-ratio all-wheel-drive system that uses multiplate limited-slip differentials front and rear.

The race Beetle is built on the production car’s unibody and retains that car’s MacPherson strut suspension configuration front and rear. Naturally, the components are upgraded, with ZF Sachs dampers that have 9.1 in (231 mm) of wheel travel, and they mount to slotted camber plates to permit adjustability.

The Beetle is 168.8 in (4288 mm) long, 71.7 in (1821 mm) wide, and weighs 2668 lb (1210 kg), as specified in the regulations. The cars were built by the rally division of VW’s SEAT subsidiary in Spain, reported Jost Capito, Volkswagen’s Motorsports Director, using parts from various divisions, including VW, SEAT, and Skoda.

The need for acceleration motivated a switch to a rear-mid-engine location for the race Beetle, he said. The car is predicted to sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 2.1 s.

The transverse sequential ZF 6-speed transmission contributes to the engine’s rearward location for more rear weight bias, with a small penalty in terms of a higher center of gravity than with a longitudinal gearbox, Capito said.

The Yokohama Advan tires mount to 17-in aluminum wheels that enclose Alcon 14-in front brake rotors and 11.8-in rears. The Alcon aluminum calipers have four pistons in the front and two in the rear.

Although titled the Global Rallycross, with a season-opening race this year in Barbados, the remaining races occur in the U.S., where VW doesn’t sell the Polo, so there is naturally much corporate interest in getting the Beetle on the track. But additionally, the hatchback contenders from Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, and Subaru can be difficult to distinguish at speed, so the Beetle’s unique silhouette will provide valuable identification for Volkswagen at the races.

“The Beetle boasts a unique appearance and state-of-the-art technology,” said Capito. “It will sweep fans off their feet.”

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