The Volkswagen Golf GTI campaigned by ECS Tuning has led and continues to lead an interesting life.

ECS Tuning did a facelift on the 2015 model-year car with a 2017 front fascia before it was displayed at the SEMA Show. Then, in a joint PR and social media campaign with Volkswagen and ECS Tuning, this car was used to tour the South American continent from top to bottom and back again. It was far different then than it is now. Dubbed the Rallywagen at the time, the car visited nine countries in South America and crossed 11 international borders.

When it returned to the states, the team at ECS replaced what had worn out during the trip across South America — with parts off the shelf at ECS Tuning, of course — and then the car began its second life as a vehicle for driver education and a NASA Time Trial car.

“All the ball joints and bushings were all just shot. A couple of control, arms were bent,” said ECS Tuning’s director of personalization Chris Armbruster. “The trans had suffered some impacts. So, we basically tore it down and zeroed it back out with replacement components. And the whole concept was that we haven’t put anything on the car that you couldn’t just buy off the shelf. So we’re trying to show the saga, if you will, of turning a daily driver into a track car.”

That’s where Ellen Stingel comes in. Stingel works in procurement for ECS Tuning, but she had never been on track before, so she started in the HPDE system with NASA Great Lakes. As Stingel has been making her way up the HPDE ladder, she’s had a film crew follow her the whole time for a series ECS Tuning has posted on YouTube.

ECS Tuning’s Ellen Stingel has used the Golf GTI to go through NASA Great Lakes’ HPDE program.

“2021 was my first season on track. I’ve done go karts and stuff before, but it was the first time I had ever been in more of a competition environment, so there was a lot to learn,” Stingel said. “Chris’ team really took me in and showed me the ways of how a weekend works and how you do track stuff, so it was a lot of fun. It’s exhausting learning everything in one weekend and coming back and doing it all over, but it’s great. I think it’s a little bit harder when you’re being filmed through all of it. Most people won’t have that experience, but I don’t regret it all. I think it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

During those same NASA weekends, Armbruster campaigned the car in TT4. Armbruster also is an instructor with NASA Great Lakes, and though the GTI has now been redubbed the “Racewagen,” the car only has a half cage, and a lot of its interior bits still intact, so it’s not a full-blown racecar. “Yet” might an appropriate word to put in there.

The ECS Tuning Golf GTI only has a half cage, so it is limited to use in HPDE and Time Trial.

Armbruster has been enjoying a good measure of success in the GTI in Time Trial. His first outing resulted in a DQ because of weight, but they finished on the podium for the rest of the season. Armbruster is hoping the new Wavetrac limited slip differential will help put more of the power down when coming off the corners and over crests, something there is no shortage of on tracks that NASA Great Lakes visits, and something that is not difficult with nearly 350 horsepower.

“Coming out of turns, I’d get hung up in some spots where it would just be all wheel spin coming out of the turn, but that was a learning experience,” Stingel said. “So I wouldn’t change it because I got to learn it one way and now I can learn it another way, and have experience on both sides.”

In addition to being used for driver education and Time Trial, it gets used as a subject for parts upgrades and maintenance as part of ECS Tuning’s YouTube channel. Second, it also serves as a test mule for new product development, like a titanium cat-back exhaust system ECS Tuning recently introduced for the Mk VII Golf GTI

When the 2015-model-year car returned from its trip across South America, ECS Tuning updated it with a 2017 front fascia.

“We just released a titanium exhaust that we were prototyping on the car last year. So we ran it around, last year, basically like a bench test of it, and now that titanium cat-back exhaust is on the market for retail sale,” Armbruster said. “We’ve done a bunch of 3D scans of the car. We now have an in-house design front lip for the lower front bumper, a rear diffuser, a boot spoiler on the hatch and a handful of other contributing scans of data. The Mk VII is a super popular platform for us.”

Engineers at ECS Tuning use an articulated arm scanner, which transfers the dimensions into a CAD program that engineers can use to create, for example, a front lip spoiler or a rear diffuser or to develop a rapid prototype on the company’s industrial-size 3D printer.

The front lip spoiler and rear diffuser and a cat-back exhaust were developed and built by ECS Tuning using the Golf GTI as a test mule.

Because Armbruster was already affiliated with NASA as an instructor and Super Touring series leader, the ECS Tuning Racewagen also has been good for NASA. Their YouTube episodes tracking Stingel’s progress have highlighted the NASA HPDE program.

For 2022, the plan is for Armbruster to continue campaigning it in TT4 and for Stingel to move from HPDE to Time Trial by the end of the season.

Valid license plates highlight that this car is driven to and from the track, not trailered.

“It’s been really cool to watch her grow. In the last episode of last season where she graduates to HPDE3, I almost start crying because it’s like watching your kid like graduate school and she passes her tests, and it was just really cool,” Armbruster said. “So I’m, I’m hoping that we can continue doing that and then get some more traction on social media with the car and maybe justify fielding two cars, perhaps a wheel-to-wheel car, and then a driver education car and sort of just running an annual campaign with both of them. But we need more likes and subscribes on YouTube.”

Now that the ECS Tuning GTI has racked up nearly 100,000 miles, it continues to lead an interesting life.


NASA Members receive $10 off any order of $100+ and free shipping on orders $49+, see website for offer details at the NASA Member Benefits Page. Log in to your NASA Account for more information.

The turbocharged 2.0-liter engine makes 350 horsepower.
Owner: ECS Tuning
Year: 2015, with 2017 facelift
Make: Volkswagen
Model: Golf GTI
Weight: 3,400 lbs. with driver
Engine/Horsepower: Turbo 2.0-liter/343
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Suspension Front: McPherson strut, H&R springs and dampers
Suspension Rear: Strut with separate H&R springs and dampers
Tires Front: Goodyear Supercar 3R 245-40-18
Tires Rear: Goodyear Supercar 3R 245-40-18
Brakes Front: Factory Performance Pack, HP+ Hawk pads
Brakes Rear: Factory Performance Pack, HPS Hawk pads
Data system: Apex Pro
Sponsors: ECS Tuning, H&R, Hawk Performance, Goodyear, Meyle, CSF Radiators, iAbed, WaveTrac, LiquiMoly


Images courtesy of Brett Becker and Brett Becker

Join the Discussion