Skoda Laura VRS – The ‘Tabahi’


Tabahi 1o

The Skoda Laura TSI/VRS comes with VAG EA888 Mk2 1.8L TSI engine with a 6 Speed Manual Transmissions and some rare 7 Speed DSG (DQ200) Transmissions. The Engine is a special one as it shares nearly 90% of the architecture with the 2.0TSI found in the Skoda Octavia VRS, Golf GTI, Golf R, Cupra R etc. etc. Why is this important? Because the listed cars have a huge aftermarket parts bucket and you can literally fit nearly every part available for these cars on the Skoda Laura TSI.
I’ve owned two of these machines, a basic Laura TSI Ambiente and more recently in 2012, a rare Laura VRS. The Laura VRS I own isn’t a true VRS.. i.e. it doesn’t come with the 2.0TSI as it does worldwide. The Indian version has the same engine and drivetrain as the regular Laura TSI. What is does come with are black interiors, sports bucket seats and a very useful 3 spoke steering wheel along with stiffer springs from the pre-facelift Laura TDI L&K.
My goal for the car was simple. We had just began participating in Track Days at the Buddh International Circuit, and I needed a cheap platform that was mod friendly and would have an affordable aftermarket parts bucket. The Laura VRS was the right answer.

Part 1: Fixing the Handling:

The car came with more than enough power for our roads and a beginner at the track. Putting out 160hp and 250NM torque, the car had more than enough push needed. Just to do a baseline, I drove the Stock Car with the Stock 205/55/16 Goodyear NCT5 Eagle tires. Track Time – 2.58 seconds, best among the 20 laps. (Also my first time on BIC so I took it easy)
First few sessions on the track it was evident that the car sat way too high, and the body roll, even with the stiffer springs wasn’t going to work on the track. Whatever little grip was provided by the NCT5 Eagles, was wasted in the roll of the car. So the Mods began.
First up: Suspension and Handling – We went about doing this the right way – Getting height adjustable Bilstien B14 coilovers from Pete’s Tuning via Autopsyche. The reason for going for height adjustable coilovers rather than the fixed perch Bilstien B6 Shocks and H&R Springs was to have the flexibility to adjust the rake of the car to suit my driving style. Also even though the B14 kit didn’t allow damping setup, you could work around that by lowering the side where you wanted the car to be stiffer as the damper throw would be reduced. Bilstien provides a default pre-set for height which you can install if you’re not too keen on fooling around but I found that the pre-set made the car understeer a bit too much on the limit. So we spent a good 3 weeks trying out different ride heights to find the one that worked best for me.
Armed with a new suspension I hit the Track again, this time being a bit more aggressive. Also having another friend with a remapped Passat 1.8TSI helped immensely as he took the lead and the chase was on. You do drive best on the track when chasing someone or being chased by someone. Net Result- Track Time: 2.49 seconds. A net of 8 seconds off my initial best time set over 10 laps.

Part 2: Fixing the Grip

Now that we had the handling of the car sorted out to a great extent, the immediate next weak point showed its head. The 16 inch rims and the NCT5 Eagle tires! The rims are too small for the car even at the stock power levels as the 55 sidewall just made the rubber flex too much. Also the 205 section tires were just not up to par with the torque of the car.
So we went about hunting for tires and wheels. A compromise had to be made as lighter wheels would add too much wheel spin in the lower gears making the car very hard to launch in a drag, and too heavy rims would bog it down. So we went for the safe option a medium weight set of Momo 17inch rims wrapped in 225/45/17 Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tires. And WHAT a difference it made. The ability to put down power in 1st and 2nd gear was an obvious welcome, along with a significant increase in cornering speeds around town and the track thanks to the smaller and stiffer sidewalls. The car was an instant handling animal allowing me to exit roundabouts at speeds that the previous setup would have me understeer into a wall. With the new setup the car was lower and honestly looked the part of the VRS badge. Track Day 3 was coming up, this time we had a group of fellow car enthusiasts book a private track day and do our timings. Net Result- Track Time: 2.46 seconds. Net of 3 seconds hived off.
Not the best results I’d expect, but then we figured out the alignment was totally off. So with that fixed we hit the track again the next month with the same group and voila! Track Time: 2.43 seconds. A respectable time. However I did spin out eventually at the parabolica exit as I was running a little too much front toe out that made my car into a lift off oversteer machine.

Front B14 Setup Front Setup
We reset the toe to a setup that made the rear step out just a bit on hard cornering and it was sorted. Handling Done (for now). By this time I had gotten the NEED FOR SPEED in me and set out increase the power levels. Now turbo cars are very easy to extract more power out of as they already have the hardware required for it.

Part 3: The NEED For Speed – Power Upgrade Part 1

A remap combined with a larger bore downpipe and cat back exhaust was in the cards. Again we went the Pete’s route via Autopsyche, ending up with a Milltek Sport Downpipe and a Milltek non resonated Cat Back System. Pete’s did their Stage 2 remap increasing boost pressure and fuel volume and let the car learn the new limits of the timing advance available. The beauty of modern ECUs is that the car adapts to the conditions around the engine, be it better fuel, more airflow or less exhaust back pressure and advances ignition timing and fuel trim levels to generate more power. Most remaps just increase these thresholds over the stock programming to account for the new hardware, and let the ECU learn its way through.
A quick data logging run showed that my factory power level of 160hp / 250NM had now increased to 210hp / 300NM thanks to the increased boost pressure coded into the remap program. Also the car was being run solely on Speed97 which allows the ECU a bit more head room to play with timing advance and generate a bit more power.

Part 4: Stopping

The stage 2 setup was adequate power for a fun drive. It was fast, doing sub 6 seconds to 100kmph on a good launch and could do some ego damage to the luxury sedan crowd if they decided to take it on. What became apparent pretty soon was that the OEM brake setup was good enough for streets but not good enough if you’re going to chase track time for the extra 1s at Buddh International Circuit. I had plans to take the power up even more but without brakes, stopping the car would become even difficult. There were quite a few aftermarket brake setups available starting with uprated discs and pads from various vendors like EBC, Stoptech, Brembo and Tarox. But that would just give enough stopping power for the Stage 2 setup, and not what had planned for the car.

Tarox Brakes Red Tarox Brakes n Suspension

So keeping that in mind I bit the bullet and opted for a Big Brake Kit, that replaces the front 2 piston floating calliper and 288mm disc setup with a 6 piston racing calliper and 332mm disc setup. Vendors available at that time with local support in India were Brembo and Tarox. Tarox were on the expensive side, but had the added advantage of the superb aftersales support provided by Pete’s. Plus Peter had a set in stock that he was willing to give me at a price that was 20% below his list price and throw in a set of semi race pads as well.

Tarox Brakes Blue

Now who can turn that offer down, and after saving up for a few months, I finally bit the bullet and opted for the set. The install was simple enough, pull out the old brakes, put in the new calliper brackets, mount the new discs and bleed the brakes half a dozen times. Skoda has a weird braking system where the ABS reservoir hold fluid and needs to be flushed via the VW VAG COM software. We didn’t know that and it took us a few tries to get the pedal feel right. Then the moment I hit ABS threshold the brakes went soft again. So finally we ordered VCDS (an aftermarket version of VW’s VAG COM software) and finally got the brakes set.

VRS Track

Next step was the Track. Time to test the limits of late braking! And what a run. The brakes give you so much confidence. As I had read in a review of these brakes, they truly allow you to pick a spot on the road ahead and stop at that exacts spot. Where I was braking way before the rumble strips on the back straight with the OEM Setup, the Tarox kit allowed me to brake at the 50m mark and bring the speed down from 210kmph to 70kmph in time for corner entry. Net Result- Track Time: 2:39 seconds.

Part 4: More Power and sorting out the smaller shortcomings

Now with a car that was doing timings accredited to cars with 2x horsepower and 5x price, I was pretty damn happy with the setup. But there were a few things bothering me. The first being the part throttle response of the car at higher gears in lower rpm band. This is a side effect of raising the boost in turbo cars, and can only be felt at higher gears when you floor the gas at a low rpm, making the car stutter a bit before picking up. This is caused due to the turbo building up more boost than the car anticipates at that rpm causing a momentary surge, and a lean condition. Easiest way to solve this is an updated bypass/blow off valve, but being a German car of the 21st century, the Skoda came with an electronically controlled valve for bleeding boost rather than the old fashioned vacuum operated ones found on most cars. The upside to this was faster boost response. The downside was faster boost response.

A company which makes its living off blow off/bypass valves, GFB Australia came up with a unique solution that gets back some of the benefits of the vacuum operated system while retaining the fast response time of the electronic unit. Ordered the unit which basically adds to the exiting diverter valve unit in the car. The GFB DV+ solved the surge issues completely and low-end power was back.

Next item on the list was to address the turbo lag. While installing the DV+, we noticed that the turbo outlet pipe was in the weirdest shape I’ve ever seen. For the lack of a better term, the VAG groups online named it the Pancake Pipe. The VW engines are shared among a variety of cars/makes/chassis of many sizes and the design of this pipe was to ensure that the pipe fitted into the engine bay of the Seat Cupra, the smallest car that you’ll find the 1.8TSI engine in. Needless to say a few lazy German engineers and over active accountants found it lazier and cheaper to just install the same pipe in every car and not redesign it for cars that don’t have the space restriction.

Fortunately, this part is also shared with the 2.0TSI engines and the aftermarket crowd took 20 seconds to redesign this part to make it hold more volume. 32% more volume to be exact. Part Ordered! Part Installed! Result was amazing. The car felt a lot smoother, and the boost build-up of the turbo was much quicker. Not wanting to go by just the butt dyno, we did a data logging of the car and found out that not only has boost response increased, the car is actually able to make more boost = more power. Net Result: 230hp/330NM and a wider power band.

With these two mods it was time to hit the track again, and after two more Track Days we ended up with a time of 2:36 seconds! Fantastic for a Skoda. For comparison, a Stock R8v8 with an average driver does about 2:35 on BIC. A BMW 530d with a crazy driver does 2:37 on BIC. And a Skoda with fat lazy Bengali did 2:36!

Part 5: The Big Guns – MOAR POWAAAH.. a lot more!

After the running the Stage 2 Setup for a year, the track times were stuck at around 2:36 mark. We had been mulling over a few options for a while and finally with a good bonus pay out I finally bit the bullet and decided to go for a bigger turbo setup. Here is where the similarities between the 2.0TSI and the 1.8TSI come into play. The turbo I was looking at is a K04 turbo, which is the OEM turbo on the Audi S3 and the Golf R. Since its OEM there is really no reliability issue with the turbo. And since it fits the 2.0TSI, there is very little modification needed for to fit the turbo. Also nearly every VAG Aftermarket company, APR, Revo, JBS, GIAC, MTM, Unitronics etc. makes a K04 Turbo kit for the 1.8TSI which comes with all the install components to make it a plug and play install.

After doing a bit of research, I decided to go with the APR K04 kit, as they were the one of the original companies to come up with the kit, and their reputation with tuning VAG Group cars. Also I had a friend who worked for APR USA from my Evo days, which provided me the extra support needed, if there were any issues.


Install was simple and done under the supervision of the local APR vendor (N1Racing) at Autopsyche. Initially there were a few teething issue but with support from APR and Autopsyche all was sorted.

An upgraded intercooler was needed to cool the 27PSI of boost the car was making. The OEM unit was struggling to keep the IATs down and we decided to go with a bigger intercooler.. a LOT Bigger. In comes Integrated Engineering FDS Intercooler for the 2.0TSI, which is a direct fit onto our cars. I went with the Integrated Engineering kit as it uses the size of the large core more efficiently thanks to their innovative flow direct system.

Intercooler install is a big job. Our cars have the intercooler sandwitched between the radiator and the AC condensor, so you have to rip the front end off and pull out the entire assembly in order to replace the intercooler. Fortunately the boys at Autopsyche were there to help and did it perfectly.

K04 Intercooler 2

With the intercooler installed, it was time to hit the track again. Lets see what this crazy car can do now.

Part 6: Tracking the new power levels. and blown Clutches : “Do you even torque bro?”

As in all project cars, there are issues that pop up. You strengthen one component and the next in line fails. It’s a constant tug of war between reliability and performance. There was no way in hell the stock cluch would hold the new power. So we went ahead with the recommendations of the Indian tuners and got a Spec Stage 3+ clutch along with a lightened singlemass flywheel.

specclutch+Flywheel

Install was straight forward. My worry that the new clutch would increase pedal effort, but to my surprise, the pedal effort was lighter than stock. Also any fear of clutch chatter due to the absence of the dual mass flywheel was dispelled as the new disc’s central springs are tuned to take care of that. The breakin period of most clutches is around 800kms or nice baby driving, no launching, no high rpm pulls. After the bed in process the clutch was ready to be tested on track.

With the power levels I am running, the Spec Stage 3+ clutch finally gave way. As per Spec its rated to 400NM and I was running 500NM through it! And it gave way in style. I was at BIC finally putting the setup thru its paces when on the 8th lap, on the grandstand straight, I shifted from 3rd to 4th, and boom, free revving engine with no transfer of power. Slowed down and pulled into the pits, let the car cooldown. Best time clocked was 2min 32secs with most of the session spent in getting used to the new power on the track.

Stage 3+ Clutch Eaten 3Stage 3+ Clutch Eaten 4

Time for a new clutch. Called up Spec US and told them that their so-called Stage 3+ clutch gave way. Unlike some Indian vendors, they were extremely courteous and very apologetic and offered to ship me a stage 5 clutch disc for free. Amazing customer experience dealing with them. The Stage 5 clutch is their top of the line unit for the MQ250 gearbox. It’s a full metal disc with an un-sprung riveted hub.

Stage 5 Clutch and Revo Engine and Transmission Mounts

Driving impressions are very similar to stock, with only the engagement point getting reduced due to the un-sprung hub. Takes a bit of getting used to as the clutch gets grabbier but once u get used to it, it’s pretty comfortable actually. What the new clutch amplified even more is the presence of the Clutch Delay Valve in the car’s hydraulic clutch system which tries to slow down the clutch engagement speed.

Part 6.5: Revo Race Spec Engine, Transmission and Dogbone Mounts

Since the transmission was to come off for the clutch install, I also decided to put in a set of upgraded REVO Technik Engine and Transmission mounts that were sent to me by Karan Shah of KS Motorsports. Since the car is generating so much power up front, the mounts would help keep things in place and ensure the front end gets tighter reducing the engine and transmission movements providing a much more responsive front end. The kit replaced the soft OEM engine mount, transmission mount and the dogbone mount with sturdier units.

IMG_1097

The mount installation was pretty straight forward and what a difference it made. Front end is tight as hell, and I can feel he coilovers working better as there is less engine and gearbox movement to counter. Also shifts have become a lot smoother as there is less transmission movement. Downside? Added NVH, but nothing that you can’t get used to. Only catch is turning on the AC when the car is at a standstill, there is noticeable vibrations, but they go away once you are moving.

Part 7: Sorting out more niggling #BecauseRaceCar issues

Now that I was finally set with the power transmission, I set out to sort some issues that have been niggling me for a while.
Top of that list was the turbocharger surge that I was experiencing since the turbo upgrade. The issue was finally isolated to the location of the factory diverter valve/turbo bypass valve. Skoda/VW locate this on top of the turbo compressor wheel. Ideally it should be right next to the throttle body acting as a true bypass to a closed throttle plate.

The reason Skoda/VW does this is because their cars run very little boost from the factory, and the pressure in the intake tract when the throttle body closes is very little. Also the bypass valve sitting on top of the compressor cover helps improve boost response. Now this works wonders in a stock car running 10-12PSI of boost. But in a car running 28+PSI of boost on a much larger turbo, the pressurized intake tract when the throttle body is closed causes compressor surge, which in the long run, is VERY bad for the turbo.

Solution: Relocate the Diverter valve to where it should be, next to the throttle body. This allows for the airflow direction to remain one way, and completely eliminates the compressor surge. Fortunately Unitronics makes such a kit for our cars.

DV Relocation 1 DV Relocation 2

Install is pretty simple, and once the car got up and running the difference in extremely noticeable. The throttle response gets better and the power build up smoothens out. Also the turbo lag improves as there is no more compressor surge forcing the turbo waste gate to open longer than it needs to.

Next up was the dreaded Clutch Delay Valve(CDV). The delay valve ensures constant flow of fluid to the slave cylinder that makes engagement and disengagement easier and smoother. For daily driven grandmas this works beautifully as this makes the car IDIOT proof. How? It basically forces a constant pressure flow to the throw out bearing no matter how fast or slow you actuate the clutch. Result, doesn’t matter if u shift gears and clutch in-clutch out like Vin Diesel or my mother, the clutch engagement speed remains constant (slow).
The downside? If you do know how to drive a manual car it will piss you off to no limits every time you want to shift fast. In some cases, faster shifts from 3-4 will result in no shift as the delay valve takes forever to react and re-engage the clutch, other cases it will just not re-engage the clutch leaving u stranded without power. How such a tiny piece of plastic can cause so much misery, only I know. Also, the CDV on the Laura is integrated into the clutch slave cylinder so there is no way to get it out.

Fortunately, I was able to locate a Brembo unit that is used for motorsport application in UK. Fits like a charm, doesn’t have the CDV and is made of metal, unlike the OEM slave cylinder. The Left one is the Brembo Unit, the right one is the OEM one.

Brembo Cluch Slave Cylinder 3 Brembo Cluch Slave Cylinder 4 Clutch Delay Valve-OEM

I cannot begin to tell you how much of a difference this made to the feel of the car. Launches are instant, gear changes are instant and the clutch pedal feels so much more connected to the actuator. This is how the car should have come from the factory!

Part 8: Chassis Tuning

Lets face it; with a stiffer front end thanks to the engine mounts, the car’s flex in corners was more evident. The rear end felt loose and all over the place. Time for some chassis bracing to cure that. Unibrace is a company that makes braces exclusive to VAG platforms that are designed to fix this very issue. A quick email exchange followed by a phone chat with the company’s owner and I was set. New braces incoming!

ACRM5614

Install again was pretty straight forward and the design of the parts was impeccable. The car felt more responsive and some of the chassis flex was gone. The extent to which the brace helps is evident from events of the next track day. I turned in as usual with the same level of effort I normally do, and VOILA, the rear came around! Yes Sir! These braces do the job well!

MORE MODS! – Part 1: Rear Sway Bar and Up-rated Rear End Links

Hotchkis 27mm rear Sway Bar and Neuspeed Rear End Links installed courtesy of Akshay, who so gladly sold them to me as he was parting out his Jetta. The impact of the rear sway bars is immediately felt. The car’s steering response increases so much and the haunting understeer of a FWD car, turns into a hinted oversteer scenario. This is quite evident on track as the steering input gave me so much confidence that I entered a few corners way faster than I was supposed to, the lifted off the throttle and voila, tail lets go! Welcome to the world of Lift-Off-Oversteer! So the sway bar does work. It significantly increases the car’s capabilities in the corners. But with the added stiffness, you also loose the forgiving nature of the factory setup that gave you a lot of warning before the rear let go. I also feel that the OEM front sway bar is becoming the weak point in this equation. Adding a stiffer front bar should make the car feel more balanced but that is left for a future mod.

Also the sway bar is 3 point adjustable, so for now I’m driving it in the middle setting, which makes the car a bit more predictable in the tail when you are driving hard. Net result another few seconds of track time reduced! Sitting at a 2.31.9sec mark around BIC with a bloody Skoda 1.8TSI!

MORE MODS! – Part 2: Super Pro Anti Lift Kit and Front Control Arm Bushings

Now any one who has ever driven a turbo FWD car knows of the transverse drivetrain wheel hop and torque steer on a hard launch. With the Laura things are no different. I had minimized this to an extent thanks to the stiffer lower engine mount (dogbone). But it was still present. And with my OEM control arm bushings worn out now, I decided to pull the trigger on the SuperPro ALK or Anti-Lift-Kit. The ALK is essentially a stiffer rear bushing for the front control arm that is offset in its mount points which adds a lot of caster to your suspension setup. The added caster do wonders to your suspension’s ability to withstand the tendency to wheel hop and torque steer. With the ALK I can dump the clutch at 4200rpm with such confidence now that the car won’t go anywhere but straight ahead. It also surprisingly has significantly reduced my wheelspin in 2nd gear as well. To stiffen things further, I added a set of front control arm bushings to ensure the slop in the drive train is further reduced. Now all I need is a stiffer front bar and the car’s suspensions setup is SORTED!

MORE MODS! – Part 3: Fluidampr Crank Pulley

When you have stiff engine mounts combined with a stiff suspension and a lightweight flywheel and solid un-sprung solid metal clutch disc, the car ends up vibrating like hell and all the unpleasant sounds from the engine, clutch, transmission are heard in the cabin. Enter the Fluidampr crank pulley, which replaced the OEM pulley with a heavier and liquid polyurethane gel filled one that does wonders the absorb a lot of the vibration. This not only makes the car more pleasant to drive, it also helps it preserve the rear main seal and believe it or not, adds more torque across the rev band. The theory behind this is a more balanced, heavier pulley with a big turbo kit slows the crank down enough each rev so the motor is able to digest more of the 30PSI of air that is being pumped into it by the K04 Turbo. The best part is the gain in torque is felt across the whole rev range and not just at one set of engine speeds. Better even my mileage has gone up!

MAF based Dyno Chart of Tabahi

Whats next now? Well, front sway bar is sitting in my dresser and waiting on endlinks first before install, then we do some more track testing. Also seems like my throw out bearing is on its way out, so got to get a replacement from Spec USA.

 

 

So Whats the bottom line?

The ‘Tabahi’ is quick.. in a straight line it has the following Kills so far. Some are documented on our YouTube Channel under Midnight Clubs.

  1. BMW 530d M-Sport (F10)
  2. BMW 328i (F30)
  3. Audi A6 3.0TFSI S-Tronic (stock)
  4. Audi S4 3.0TFSI DSG (stock)
  5. Audi S4 3.0TFSI DSG Stage 1 – even upto 210km/h
  6. Audi TT 2.0TFSI DSG(stock)
  7. Audi TT 2.0TFSI DSG Revo Stage 1
  8. CLA45 AMG (stock)
  9. Jaguar XK (stock)
  10. BMW E92 M3 DCT (stock)
  11. Porsche 911 Carerra 4 (997)

 

Photbombers

Tabahi 1

VRS K04 Rolling

VRS Rolling