iRacing.com’s Virtual Jetta TDI Cup Champ Earns Ride in Real-World Series
Last fall Wyatt Gooden bested 1,163 competitors to win the iRacing.com Volkswagen Jetta TDI® Cup online racing series, and earn his way into the selection process for the 2010 real-world version. Earlier this month, the 21-year-old computer information systems student turned in a standout performance at the three day selection trials in Las Vegas and not only made the 25 driver field, but because of his winning performance in the iRacing online racing series, qualified for a waiver of the usual $45,000 fee charged competitors for the 10-race real-world series.
“I want to have a career in racing, and this is going be a great chance to build my resume,” said Gooden, of Gates Mills, Ohio, who has successfully raced karts since the age of 11 and began playing online racing games six years ago. “The tough part is making the step from karts to cars. A lot of really great kart racers never make it or even get this kind of opportunity.”
Entering its third year in North America, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup is the only Clean Diesel racing series in the world, and features factory-prepped race versions of the popular Jetta TDI sedan. With the goal of providing for young racers a relatively low-cost opportunity to grow their developing talent and continue on to higher levels of racing, the series is open to drivers between 16 and 26 years old from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The 2008 and 2009 series’ champions have both advanced to higher-tier series: Josh Hurley went on to become the 2009 rookie of the year in GRAND-AM’s Koni Challenge, while Timmy Megenbier, the 2009 champ, will compete in the new Volkswagen Scirocco Cup in Europe.
Everyone was very impressed with Wyatt’s performance throughout the driver selection events for the 2010 Jetta TDI Cup,” said Clark Campbell, Motorsport Manager, Volkswagen of America, Inc. “The field for this year’s series promises to be very strong, and we expect Wyatt to be in the thick of it all season long.”
In addition to the physical fitness, sponsorship, and media training and evaluations necessary for building a successful career in motorsports, the 2010 candidates were judged on their driving performance in karts, in Volkswagen GTIs on an autocross course, and finally in the Jetta TDI Cup racecars on the track.
“Some of the other drivers were curious about whether iRacing had really helped me, and if I had any previous time in a front-wheel-drive car,” Gooden said later. “I totally attribute this knowledge of what to expect from the car to what I learned in the iRacing Jetta. There were some differences of course, but the feel of the car under braking and the way to get the car to rotate on the rear as much as possible was very much the same technique as used in iRacing.”
But it was on a wet track that Gooden, whose previous real-world track-driving experience was limited to five days at the Skip Barber Racing School, showed his mettle, turning in the quickest time for his group.
Perhaps surprisingly, the karting phase proved to be a tough challenge for Gooden. “I have quite a lot of experience in karts at a high level, but I had never driven a Rotax kart, which has a very different power band than the 100cc karts I’m used to,” he said. “For most of the first session I was a bit all over the place. The thing had so much power that I was getting wheel spin on the exit of a fast horseshoe corner if I used too much throttle. But by the end of the session I was really having a blast driving the kart smoothly, and got a handle on it even through the tight corners.”
In fact, reigning series champion Megenbier, who served as one of the evaluators, remarked to an onlooker how impressed he was with Gooden’s performance in the kart, even in a group that included a number of other Rotax kart veterans.
Steve Myers, iRacing.com’s executive producer, said he was pleased but not surprised by Gooden’s excellent overall performance.
The competition in the iRacing series last fall was intense,” Myers noted. “The championship came down to the last laps of the last race and Wyatt never wilted under the pressure. He has poise and maturity way beyond his chronological age. I expect in the next few years a lot of people will be hearing a lot more about Wyatt Gooden.”
But now that his real-world racing career is getting launched, will Gooden turn his back on online racing?
“Beyond the fact that iRacing is just fun to do – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. races all the time because he enjoys it – the first real-world Jetta race weekend is at Virginia International Raceway in April, and I’ll be practicing a lot for it on iRacing,” Gooden said. “One of the similarities I noted from the real car to iRacing was the effect on overdriving the front tires and how easily it will slow you down. I can see that a consistent and quick line conserving the front tires is going to be the key to being fast in the race, just like it was in the iRacing Jetta.”
And what about his competitors?
“I have a feeling that lots of the VW drivers are going to become iRacing members and get to practicing at VIR now! Late April can’t come soon enough; I’m really excited to see now how accurate VIR is in real life – as it is maybe most technical track in iRacing.”