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  • Volkswagen Diesel Baja Bug - Grease-Powered TDI Race Car

Volkswagen Diesel Baja Bug - Grease-Powered TDI Race Car

Tackles The Baja 1000

Jason Thompson
Mar 1, 2009
Photographers: Jason Thompson, Justin Carven,
Photo 2/14   |   greasecar Motorsports Baja Bug left Front Angle
Getting a Baja 1000 race buggy together in six months was a major feat in itself. The challenge intensified when an untested engine and fuel setup was prototyped for race conditions. Greasecar Motorsports' goal was to prove that a diesel engine powered by pure vegetable oil could excel in the most extreme off-road race event-the SCORE Baja 1000. Diesel Power was there to capture the action from inside the shop, where this pioneering vehicle was built. Justin Carven, of Greasecar in Holyoke, Massachusetts, came up with the idea to create this project. He enlisted Tony Steingraber, a veteran off-road race vehicle builder, to get everything rolling. Tony's talented team began with a SCORE-legal Class 5 Baja Bug chassis equipped with a chromoly steel rollcage and long-travel suspension. However, the rules for Class 5 dictate that vehicles must run a 1.6L Type 1 gasoline engine-which meant that in order to race in the Baja 1000, the 1.9L TDI-powered Greasecar team had to compete in the run-what-you-brung Sportsman class.
The Diesel Advantage
The Volkswagen 1.9L TDI ALH diesel engine was mounted in the rear of the Buggy just like in earlier Beetles with 1.6L gas engines. The engine is basically stock except for the VNT 17 variable geometry turbo, cyclone style air filter, tuned ECU, and custom air-to-water intercooler. The water-cooled intercooler was more compact and less susceptible to dust contamination compared to a traditional air-to-air intercooler. The engine was rated at 150 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque, which was adequate, considering the Baja Bug only weighs 2,500 pounds.
While the engine was not extensively modified, the fuel system was. In order to compete in the Baja 1000, the team needed to meet all the safety rules. The car has two race-certified fuel tanks, which required top-mounted supply and return lines and an internal bladder. The main one holds 26 gallons of vegetable oil and the other is only 21/2 gallons and contains regular diesel used for warm-up and shut-down sequences. The next components in the grease system were the Greasecar solenoid fuel valves, which controlled whether the engine got diesel or vegetable fuel. Lastly, a Greasecar thermal filter heats the vegetable oil to the temperature of the engine coolant.
Making The Greasecar Race Ready
The car features a Diablo rack and pinion and a 10-inch-diameter ring gear in the transaxle. The front suspension retains the independent torsion axle beams, but instead of a leaf pack, this Bug uses coilover and bypass shocks. The rear suspension uses triple bypass shocks, a rear swing arm, and two springs stacked on top of each other. The top spring is rated for 450 lb-in of pressure while the bottom one is rated for 600 pounds. The BF Goodrich Baja tires (33x10.5x15) fit on 15x4-inch beadlock wheels, which pinch the tires and create a ballooning effect at 20 psi.
Encountering Setbacks
As race day was fast approaching, the team scrambled to get the car up and running. At a time when they planned to be testing the vehicle in the desert, they instead found themselves removing fragments of a blown turbo from the intercooler. Somehow a rag was left in the air intake, and when the engine was started, it met with the compressor wheel. On another occasion, the Mendeola-MD4S transaxle's shift rails bound up during testing. So instead of dialing in the suspension, Tony and the crew were back in the shop working on the drivetrain. The final setback was how the Baja 1000 race ended for the Greasecar Motorsports team. After driving 130 miles trouble-free, a malfunctioning ECU brought the car to a stop. So it was up to the three chase vehicles, which also run on vegetable oil, to come to the rescue.
Overcoming Setbacks
Through it all, the guys were able to overcome the glitches and prove their main point-that a diesel engine powered by pure vegetable oil could compete in off-road racing. It was unanimous, according to everyone who drove the TDI-powered car, that it was a perfect combination of engine and vehicle. The torque was incredible and the fuel economy was even more outstanding, considering the diesel was averaging fuel economy figures in the high teens, whereas the gas vehicles were only getting about 6 mpg. This benefit allows for fewer pit stops and less fuel weight for the car to carry. With a new computer installed, the Bug is ready for the 2009 season, as Greasecar has decided to continue sponsoring this one-of-a-kind race car.



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