Barry Green relives two occasions, only four years apart, where Australian motor noters got to fang the newly-released Clio R.S. 200 around a race track.
Russian Around Sandown
Car: 2010 Renault Clio R.S. 200 EDC Cup
Circuit: Sandown Park (3.1km)
An occasional reminder of your mortality can’t be a bad thing.
At least that’s what I’m trying to convince myself as we approach turn 1 at Sandown Park Raceway carrying – let’s say – extroverted attitude.
Not to worry. The young driver behind the wheel in the yellow and black race suit brakes hard and then flicks the car into the fast left-hander with such fluid motion and undiminished speed that I blink and think, ‘Do that again!’
Come in spinner, welcome to a hot lap aboard Renault’s new Clio R.S. 200 Cup with one Vitaly Petrov at the wheel.
The first Russian to race in F1, Petrov is in his maiden season in the big time after finishing runner-up in the previous year’s GP2 series.
In Melbourne for the 2010 Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix, he and Renault team leader Robert Kubica have been parachuted in (metaphorically speaking) to strut their stuff to assembled motoring media and the French marque’s local faithful at the national launch of La Regie’s upgraded light hot hatch.
It’s my first drive at Sandown, a circuit that shares its facility with a horse racing track since the early 1960s.
The 3.1km, 13-turn layout is plenty fast, thanks to front and back straights each nearly 1km long.
To tone things down and have us focusing more on the handling and stopping attributes of the sporty little Clio, the straights have been studded with witches’ hat chicanes.
But when the F1 guns appear, the cones are removed.
Peppy and athletic it might be, but the 148kW/215Nm, 2.0-litre four-cylinder front wheel-drive hatch is a far, far cry from the 550kW+, high-downforce R30 F1 car Petrov and his Polish teammate take on Sunday drives.
It matters little though, so it would seem, as they fling the little Froggies through Sandown’s high-speed esses and monster the striped kerbs and ripple-strips with consummate control, lap after lap.
Kubica, particularly, is punishing on the machinery bringing one R.S. 200 after another back with clutch stinking and brake pads smouldering (pictured).
As Petrov and I shake hands afterwards, I make a point of thanking and wishing him well for Sunday’s big race.
He DNFs, Kubica finishes runner-up to Jensen Button’s McLaren-Mercedes.
2010 Renault Clio R.S. 200 EDC Cup
Basic price new: $36,490
Engine: 2.0-litre DOHC 16v inline 4-cyl.
Power: 148kw @ 7100 rpm
Torque: 215Nm @ 5400 rpm
Transmission: 6-spd manual
0-100km/h: 6.9 secs
Running Up That Hill
Car: 2014 Renault Clio R.S. 200 Cup
Circuit: Bryant Park, Victoria (1.4km)
Not many motorsport hillclimb tracks can be configured to form a complete lap.
Bryant Park, aka Haunted Hills, about 150km east of Melbourne in Victoria’s Gippsland, is an exception.
To many, this is just one of many qualities that make it the finest permanent venue of its kind in Australia.
Able to be configured three ways, the 1.4km track surfs the walls of a natural amphitheatre, creating a mesmerising challenge of on and off-camber twists and turns, plunges and climbs.
If ever a hillclimb circuit resembled an adventure park thrill ride, this is it.
I’ve only had the pleasure of taking the challenge once – the 2014 Australian launch of the Renault Clio R.S. 200 EDC.
No F1 stars in attendance this time, but the pro setting the bench mark for the day is Luke Youlden, just three short years away from winning the 2017 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 — with co-driver David Reynolds.
For the previous seven years, the Clio R.S. had been the yardstick by which other compact hot hatches have been measured.
But with a 1.6 turbo four-pot and EDC (efficient dual-clutch auto) replacing its predecessor’s fondly-regarded, 2.0-litre, normally-aspirated engine and 6-speed manual, murmurings of discontent heralded the Gen IV’s arrival.
But much of the negativity proved to be wide of the mark.
The Clio punched out of the myriad of 2nd gear corners with real conviction, thanks to firmer springs and dampers (27 per cent increase in stiffness up front, 20 per cent at the rear) and lower ride height.
By turn 1, the speedo’s reading 80km/h, a pace we hold over the kerbs and a blind crest, downhill and through a sweeping right-hander, before preparing for the tricky, high-speed brake/down-shift/turn/balance challenge of turn 2.
Then it’s over another blind crest, turning into Oh-Shit (true!), a corner that truly warrants its moniker.
Chasing a right-left-right sequence, I use the kerbs to maintain speed and achieve a faster exit through turn 3.
Downhill through 4, a hint of understeer can be detected through the Cup’s meaty, little steering wheel, but it develops into nothing more.
Along the back straight, the esses, with their kerbs, camber and constant radii, test the Clio’s mechanical grip, but the little Froggie handles the torrid changes of direction with alacrity.
And so it goes . . .
A good lap in a quick car around here is 60 seconds or thereabouts; the buzz lasts much, much longer.