European racing Bugs take to American soil for the first time.
– Homestead, Florida
I went to Florida to watch a race last weekend, but not the one you’re thinking of. No, rather than the all-important 24-hour race at Daytona, I flew to the southern tip of The Sunshine State to witness the Volkswagen Fun Cup’s first event on American soil. This one-make series does without the pressures of winning and keeping the sponsors happy; at the end of the day, it’s all about having a really good time.
The Fun Cup is nothing but “big children with big toys,” race promoter Benoît Abdelatif tells me in the Homestead-Miami Speedway paddock. “Fun Cup is one of the easiest cars you can find for car racing,” he says, noting that, in addition to the cars being pretty easy to drive, it’s all about the friendships, the bonds between drivers, and the overall social experience.
A quick history: Fun Cup started in the late 1990's, organized by Belgian touring-car racer Franz Dubois. The event primarily runs throughout tracks in France, though events in Belgium, Spain, and Dubai have been held. The high point of which is the 25-hour endurance race at Spa (because 24 hours just isn’t hardcore enough, obviously).
The molds for the fibreglass body panels were taken from an original Bug, but aside from the flat windshield, the racers don’t share any common parts with the historic VW.
The cars themselves are all the same, powered by a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine putting out 173 horsepower, mated to a five-speed, paddle-shifted sequential transmission. Wide open, the cars will top out around 124 miles per hour (200 kilometres per hour). The engine is mounted in front of the rear axle, and inside, the cockpit boasts a single-seat layout, with a very simple row of controls in front of the driver. These cars certainly look the part of a race-ready, classic Beetle, and while the molds for the fibreglass body panels were taken from an original Bug, aside from the flat windshield, the racers don’t share any common parts with the historic VW.
Abdelatif says the Fun Cup sometimes runs more than 50 cars at a time during French races, but here at Homestead, only 30 cars are present. That’s because it costs about $22,000 (approx. $29,000 CAD) to rent each car for this race, including the cost of shipping it – by boat – to the States. To rent a car for a Fun Cup race in Europe, it’s a little less than $12,000 (approx. $15,500 CAD). Want to just up and buy the car yourself? That’ll be roughly $60,000 (approx. $80,000 CAD). An MX-5 Cup car costs about the same, so gentleman racers, choose your series wisely.
Interestingly, the point of doing this race at Homestead isn’t about trying to break into the U.S. racing scene, Abdelatif tells me. During the winter, “we are going to the sun,” he says, and the decidedly wealthy racers (and their friends and families) care more about the far-off wintertime destination cities than the tracks themselves.
“Most of them didn’t ask anything about the track,” Abdelatif says. “They don’t care!” For the teams, it’s about having a cool weekend in a hot place. After all, America has way more involving tracks than the oval at Homestead, even when the infield portion with – gasp! – a right turn, is in use. But to a wealthy European dude, there’s a lot to be said about the luxurious draw of Miami in January.
The Fun Cup is just that: fun. It’s not a competitive thing, or to be taken super seriously.
For its first (and perhaps only) U.S. event, Volkswagen Motorsport drivers Tanner Foust and Scott Speed attended the race, which ran in two stints over the course of the weekend, Sunday morning’s stint on a wet track following some rain. When asked if their presence does anything for the other racers, or the event itself, Abdelatif chuckles a bit and says, “If they have fun, that’s good. It’s nice to have them here.” But since there’s no promotion or crowd to draw at this Fun Cup race, Foust and Speed aren’t there to try and earn another win. If you’re a casual weekend racer, being able to say you kept up with a Global Rallycross champion is a pretty rad bragging right.
The Fun Cup is just that: fun. It’s not a competitive thing, or to be taken super seriously. Even during the race at Homestead, no spectators came to watch. No trophies were awarded. Pit stops are measured in many minutes of hand-shakes and smoke breaks, not painstaking seconds. When the race ends, all the drivers walk away with smiles.
Abdelatif reiterates: “To understand the spirit of the Fun Cup ... we have a beer draft open in the paddock all weekend [in France]. It’s the meeting point for everyone ... talking about their performance on the track. The beer is excellent. It’s something for friendship. The Fun Cup is beer!”
Photos: Sean Maynard / Peter Minnig / Volkswagen