The CAR Inquisition: VW’s R boss
Dakar winner, former F1 team boss and now the man in charge of VW’s R division, Jost Capito won’t let the old-school hot hatch disappear without a fight
THE SMALL PRINT of Jost Capito’s CV is enough to bring any petrolhead out in a sweat. He didn’t just work at BMW – he was in the high-performance engine development team from 1985. That same year, he didn’t just take part in the Dakar rally – he was in the winning truck crew. His first job within the VW Group was in Porsche’s racing division. After a stint at Sauber he moved to Ford – and there he helped bring to fruition the first Focus RS, no less.
Aside from a short-lived stint at the McLaren F1 team – hired as CEO by Ron Dennis, he departed soon after Zak Brown arrived at Woking – he’s been pure VW in recent years, most notably leading its World Rally Championship operation, which was shut down at the end of 2016. Capito’s former WRC colleague Sven Smeets is now head of VW Motorsport while Capito has the less obvious role of running VW’s R division.
Which is what, exactly? We caught up with the youthful 59-year-old German in CAR’s own back yard, at the Robinsons VW dealership in Peterborough. Capito was visiting to help Volkswagen celebrate its 200,000th Golf R, bought by long-time performance Golf fan Keith Williamson – who, along with his new three-door Golf R Performance Pack, also owns a Mk5 Golf R32 and Mk6 GTI.
Capito is in his element: he loves performance cars, and identifies strongly with the longstanding British enthusiasm for a hot hatch. Williamson is perhaps keener than most, but Capito insists that Brits just love cars in general. ‘In Europe, the UK is the biggest market for R. But the UK, in my view, is the most capable performance car market because of the knowledge of the people. People are more into cars in the UK than anywhere else in the world. I lived for seven and a half years in Chelmsford working for Ford, so knowing this is based on experience.
‘When you go to a meeting where car enthusiasts are, you have the best conversations in the UK. It’s important for us to be here and talk to customers because of their capabilities. I think they are the most performance-based enthusiasts out there, and that’s why the market here is so important for us.’ He’s keen to emphasise the differences between the R and GTI subbrands within VW, a source of some friendly rivalry between the two former rally team honchos.
‘There are similarities and differences, but both are still built on the core values of the base Golf – they are all proper Volkswagens and they represent real value. An R always has a higher power and performance than a GTI, but that doesn’t mean an R is always quicker, because a GTI is usually lighter. A GTI is more screamy than an R, but an R is discreet with solid performance. A GTI can be more shouty and extreme, and GTI goes into more niches than R.’
And while love is strong in Europe for the Golf R, surely more R models are on the way? ‘There have, of course, been more R models than just the Golf – the Scirocco R and Passat R36, for example. The current target and objective is to make R a wider and more recognised brand.’ A VW T-Roc R, expected to use the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and circa-300bhp 2.0-litre turbo engine from the Golf R, will arrive next year.
VW can’t rely on the same formula forever, though. Significantly, its Pike Peak car wore joint branding: ID, signifying its electric propulsion, and R. So are there moves afoot to ease the R division into an electric future, perhaps by starting with a hybrid? ‘It depends. For me, there are two reasons to go hybrid. One is that legislation forces you to. The second is that you improve general performance. I’m not a fan of adding a lot of weight if it’s not going to have a lasting effect on performance. A performance car needs hybridisation that really does improve the overall performance of the car, not just for doing launch starts every five minutes.’ JAKE GROVES