Two years ago, Volkswagen created the Jetta TDI Cup racing series to showcase its fuel-efficient, diesel-powered cars and for ambitious young racing drivers to showcase their talent at an affordable cost.
This weekend at Mosport, the TDI Cup will be one of six series racing in support of the American Le Mans Sunday headliner and of the 24 full-time drivers chasing the championship (worth US$100,000), three are Canadians: Andrew Cordeiro of Woodbridge, David Richert of Winnipeg and Jake Thompson of Calgary.
I had a great chat with Thompson Thursday evening. A veteran kart racer – he was the 2004 Canadian national champion – he’d never driven a real racing car before starting out in the VW series and now he’s hooked.
"I actually won the second race of the year, at Viriginia International Raceway, back in April," he said. "And I’d been leading the first race until I spun out. Afterward, I thought to myself: ‘This is going to be easy!’ Then reality set in. I’ve had a up-and-down season since."
Although he didn’t finish first again, Thompson won a pole and recorded four top-five finishes in the other races he's contested to date. He’s currently fourth in the standings and still has a mathematical chance of winning the title with four races remaining.
A mechanical engineer by profession, the 23-year-old has given up his job to concentrate on racing for the rest of the season.
"Actually, I was at work, wishing I wasn’t at work, when I received an email about the series last year," Thompson said. "It might have been an omen, I don’t know, but it was an invitation to apply to become a driver and I went for it."
The VW series works as follows. Prospective drivers apply to race and submit a cheque for $45,000 that’s refunded if they’re not chosen. Then they take a driving test. Twenty-four make the cut and they then just show up and race. All cars are equal and are maintained by Volkswagen.
Thompson didn’t start karting until he was 13, but he was no stranger at car races. "My dad, John Thompson, raced Formula Ford back in the early 1990s so I more or less grew up around racing," he said.
Unlike just about every other young Canadian racer I’ve talked to, Thompson does not harbour ambitions to race in Formula One.
"I will be happy if I can find a way to continue in sports car racing," he said. "I had the opportunity a few years ago to attend the 24 Hours of Le Mans and it’s just the neatest race."
Thompson – with a little help from his dad – has financed the season out of his hip pocket but was quick to say he’d received some sponsorship for this weekend from the Woodbridge company Track Mart, which is the Canadian distributor for the Defnder head-and-neck restraint system.
"Every little bit helps," said Thompson. "I appreciate what they’ve done for me. More than anything, my first season of racing at a professional level has re-affirmed my love for the sport and my desire to find a way (funding) to stay involved."
Thompson mentioned Canadian Indy car star Alex Tagliani and his hard (and never-ending) work promoting himself.
"This type of work (self-promotion) is so much of what we have to do to be successful drivers. I am just starting to understand it."
The VW Jetta TDI Cup race will get the green flag at 8:30 on Sunday morning.
– Three guest drivers will be added to the VW series field – Maximilian Hacklander, a 19-year-old who’s racing in the ADAC Volkswagen Polo Cup in Germany, and two Canadian journalists, Marc Lachapelle and Wheels’ own Jim Kenzie.
– And Winnipeg driver Richert, through a partnership with an international charitable organization named Samaritan’s Purse, will be racing this weekend to help raise funds for people around the world who don’t have access to clean water.
For every minute Richert is on track this weekend, over $20 will be donated to help construct a BioSand Water Filter Unit. Each filter costs $100 to build and provides enough clean water for the daily needs of up to eight people.
Want to help? Contact [email protected] or phone 204-371-8700.