The Harding Performance Golf R has little to prove after snatching the win in less modified form in 2015, but owner Guy Harding has gone all out to give the feisty little German an attitude that scares more than a few of its rivals, and on paper, a podium finish seemed a logical bet.
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However, a foreshortened development curve meant that Harding was unable to deliver the potential that exists in the car. Combine that with a gamble on chassis set-up that very nearly backfired big time, and a second place overall for the defending champ was a pretty good escape act.
Harding went to town on the R, tipping more than $30,000 into the car over the past 12 months, but a knee injury and subsequent stay in hospital meant that development time was unavoidably compromised. The large RacingLine Stage 3 turbo kit the team had fitted for the event, for example, couldn’t be properly dyno-tuned in time, forcing them to tame it to a safe level to make it through Hot Tuner.
An odd gap between engine and gearbox software, too, resulted in a soft, slightly off-kilter pause between selecting a gear and getting the required response, with Dave Morley remarking that the HP Golf R seemed to slur its shifts on the dragstrip, rather than whack him in the back. The lack of boost didn’t help, either, though the 4.29sec 0-100km/h time has a ‘d’ for damp next to it on the score sheet.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get a full ‘dry’ dragstrip run, so we didn’t quite hit our full potential there,” Harding noted. Its dyno figure, too, was a mix of our fuel issue and a safety tune, with 235.6awkW pulled on the Hot Tuner dyno. This can be compared to the Harding Performance-supplied Dynapack hub dyno figure of 317.2awkW, obtained on 98RON.
Tony D’Alberto also remarked that the R felt ‘fluffy’ on the gearchange around the track, but “when it gets through that fluff and the power comes in – whoa! It’s aggressive.” His dry lap time was impressive, too, second only to the mighty Hi-Torque GT-R at 1:03.8sec.
The majority of my brief test, though, was shaded by truly awful wet conditions and the obviously dry-biased set-up of Harding’s Golf. The front end struggled to find even a semblance of grip, sliding across the top of the water at the slightest hint of steering lock.
The rear end would, moments later, disconnect from the road surface in sympathy, resulting in a Japanese vending machine’s worth of flashing lights from the dash as the traction and stability controls worked miracles to keep us from the track fences. The uprated stoppers were thankfully strong and feelsome underfoot.
Still, the engine felt as tractable and useable as a daily driver; it actually felt like there were two of them side-by-side under the bonnet, such was the mid-range oomph from just two litres and four pots. And this was a soft turbo tune, too. Wow.
This car has, by Harding’s admission, done a lot of work, but it certainly didn’t feel it at all. Lose the vinyl wrap, and aside from the rims and the ride height you’d be hard-pressed to know that you’re about to be demolished in a sprint or back-road derby, such is its understated demeanour. The ride is civil on the RacingLine coilovers, and it’s singularly unmolested inside.
The changing conditions, and the inability to back things off for damp running, certainly played against the HP Golf R at Hot Tuner 2016. With the learnings from this year’s mixed-weather event, a final swansong for the fearsome HP Golf R in 2017 will be something to behold.
OVERALL RANKING: 2ND
2nd | Lap time: 1:03.8sec
3rd | Lap V-Max: 157.52km/h
2nd | Lap V-Max: 104.68km/h
4th | Lap V-Max: 53.65km/h
TONY D RECKONS
“It’s very nimble, gets to the corner very well, but the actual overall grip of the car is quite low. I think it’s very stiffly sprung. Power delivery’s quite aggressive, it’s got plenty there, but because the grip level’s so low I can’t actually use it. If it was gripped up you could use the corner speed and really wring its neck.”