David Richert in Volkswagen Factory in Dresden, Germany
A race car driver’s perspective
Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to experience things which many can only dream of doing. Though the path has been filled with many risks, trials and a lot of hard work, it’s moments like these when I realize how incredibly fortunate I am.
Over the last 2 years I have been driving race cars for Volkswagen in the Jetta TDI Cup. I was fortunate enough to earn a spot as a driver in the series and then was even more fortunate to be able to win the coveted Public Relations Contest in both years as well.
Last season the prize for winning was an all expense paid trip to race at the world-famous Hockenheimring for the Volkswagen Polo Cup event in Germany. This season, the prize was an all expense paid trip to Volkswagen headquarters in Wolfsburg to attend the North American media launch of the 2010 Golf and Golf TDI together with dozens of this continents most influential automotive and lifestyle journalists.
Sitting in Executive Class on my return trip, I have had a short chance to reflect on the whirlwind events of the last few days. I was given a very unique opportunity to experience the life of an automotive journalist and also take a glimpse behind the scenes at what makes Volkswagen so special.
Allow me to give you a taste of what I’ve been privileged to experience over the last few days. The first thing that struck me was how much more pleasant it is to travel in Executive Class. It’s nothing overly luxurious but all of your needs are met every minute of the trip and you never go hungry. I met up with Jim Kenzie (arguably one of Canada’s most prominent automotive journalists) while connecting through Toronto on our way to Frankfurt and then Hannover, Germany.
Upon arriving at our destination, we were greeted by several Volkswagen staff members who sent us on our way to Wolfsburg, the “mecca” of all things Volkswagen. Our hotel brand for the trip was the Ritz-Carlton so it was a massive step up from the $40/night Motel 6s I have been staying at all race season. It was nice to be able to remove my shoes and walk around the hotel room without that icky feeling cheap motel carpet can give you.
My goal for the rest of the day was simply to stay awake after the overseas flight and combat the jet lag by staying busy. First thing on the list, a tour of Autostadt in Wolsburg. Autostadt is a visitor attraction adjacent to the Volkswagen factory that features a car museum, pavilions for the principal brands of the Volkswagen Group, a customer center for clients to pick up new cars, a guide to the evolution of roads and so much more. Autostadt attracts around 2 million visitors a year and is a must see on any vacation to the area.
(left to right) Stefan Jacoby (President & CEO of Volkswagen of America), David Richert, Dr Ulrich Hackenburg (Member of the Board of Management for Volkswagen – Technical Development), Clark Campbell (Motorsport Manager of VW of America)
The day finished with a tour of the ZeitHaus, a massive multi-level car museum, followed by a fancy dinner at the same location. Then it was finally off to bed for a good nights rest.
Our second day featured an early morning trip to Oschersleben, Volkswagen’s home race track. Around 40 VW 2010 Golf cars of various specs were provided for the journalists to drive during the trip. I paired up with Jim Kenzie and we took turns tearing down the Autobahn on our way to the track.
Once at the track, we had the opportunity to hear a presentation from Volkswagen’s Dr. Middendorf on the various technical aspects of the new 2010 Golf. Afterwards we were given the opportunity to hit the race track and take several of Volkswagen’s advanced fuel automobiles to their limits.
Some of the afternoon was spent at the Volkswagen Design Center in Wolfsburg where we were given an inside glimpse from Walter De Silva into his vision of the Volkswagen brand and fleet of cars. Before heading out to the Design Center, everyone had to surrender any cameras or cell phones they had on them as the location contained sensitive material. Mr. De Silva, in Italian, expressed a desire to see the 2010 Golf evoke an element of Simplicity and have the new Golf as the signature mark for Volkswagen.
It was during our question period of Mr De Silva where I was able to witness an aggressiveness, between journalists vying for attention, that was not unlike the aggressiveness I witnessed on the race track throughout my season. When the time for questions was about to end with numerous journalists left with their hands in the air, the desire to get that last question in turned into a frenzy similar to what you might see on the last lap during a hard fought race. Perhaps the world of journalism is as cut-throat as that of a race car driver. The things I learned on this trip certainly expanded my knowledge in many respects.
Our event at the VW Design Center was followed up by cocktails and dinner at the Wolfsburg Castle where we were joined by some of Volkswagen’s top executives, including; Stefan Jacoby (President VW of America) and Dr Ulrick Hackenburg (Member of the Board of Management for the VW Brand).
Our final day in Germany began with a drive to Volkswagens Transparent Factory in Dresden where the Volkswagen Phaeton is built. Jim Kenzie and I once again shared a ride and cruised the Autobahn in the Golf 2010 TDI version.
The Transparent Factory is a state of the art facility set into a city park right in the middle of Dresden. In fact, the location is cleaner now than it was before Volkswagen moved in. The first thing that strikes you is how quiet the production line is, with very little sound emanating considering they are manufacturing cars. The production line features a moving hardwood floor (made with Canadian Maple) as well as several robots designed to carry out specific tasks such as delivering the front console to the workers along the assembly line.
After our tour of the Transparent Factory, Jim and I made the drive up to Berlin for the final evening of our trip which would take place at several downtown locations. After champagne cocktails and supper we were given the option of going to sleep or taking an opportunity to enjoy the nightlife in Berlin. My body was screaming for sleep but my brain was reminding me that this type of experience may never come along again. Our nightlife event took us to Berlin\’s hottest nightclub, the Puro Sky Lounge located at the top of a downtown building overlooking the entire city.
After several days in Germany with journalists and Volkswagen staff, I can honestly say that I am very proud to have represented the Volkswagen brand, not just during this trip, but over the entire last two years. To visit Wolfsburg and see some of the millions of visitors who flock to Autostadt each year, as well as the amount of time, money, and energy that is invested by Volkswagen, I begin to realize what I have been a part of and representing.
This ends my relationship with the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup as a driver but I hope I will have the opportunity to continue representing the brand as I continue to advance my career as a driver in professional auto racing.