Following the sign to the Col de Turini.

Double shot in Renault’s pocket rocket

Car: Renault Sport Clio RS 220 Trophy

Drive: Col de Turini, France/Bolzano to Cortina, Italy


Pix: Dawn Green


Col de Turini, France (32km)

What could be better than tackling one of the world’s greatest drives in RenaultSport’s pocket rocket Clio R.S. 220 Trophy?

Backing up and doing another, of course.

Motor sport has its cathedrals of speed and performance, places where the elite practitioners of various disciplines come to deliver their cathartic message to the faithful.

Think Indianapolis (speedway), Le Mans (endurance racing), Spa Francorchamps (F1), Isle of Man (motorcycle road racing).

World rallying hammers out its sermon of fire and brimstone from the mount at the Col de Turini, the most famous stage of the most famous rally.

It is here, on the treacherous, snowy stepped switchbacks, that Paddy Hopkirk, Rauno Aaltonen, Sandro Munari, Timo Makinen and Marku Allen literally iced their Monte Carlo Rally victories. Ditto Ari Vatanen, Tommi Makinen, Colin McRae and Sebastian Loeb.

Best thing is, for all but that one January day a year when the WRC has control, you, too, can drive these subliminal roads. I did.

My wheels – the hottest of the then (2018) Renault Sport Clio range, the R.S. 220 Trophy. 

Coming from the coastal resort city of Nice, we’re starting at Sospel and following the D2566 up over the 1607m-high Col and down the other side to La Bollène-Vesubie.

This tight, tortuous 32km stretch is as well-endowed as it gets – 34 challenging hairpins, extreme ascent/descent and tight, testing tarmac. 

But it’s not all heavenly. Did I mention the potential of devilish changing road and weather conditions and an absence of run-off? 

Heading south-north, long, fast straights – one, 2.3km, where the WRC cars hit close to 200km/h – and a proliferation of 3rd/4th-gear corners define the run to Moulinet.

Given the sermon metaphor, it’s interesting to note that, high atop a ridge about 2.5km to the south, rests a genuine place of worship. 

Notre Dame de la Menour chapel offers not just an opportunity for quiet reflection, but an atmospheric viewing point.

Access is via a long, external stone staircase leading from a bridge over the D2566 but, be advised — nearby parking is scarce.

From Moulinet, the stacked hairpins come in quick-fire succession before the road climbs through dense forest and, at 1170m, ascent from the valley of Bevera to the Col is full-on.

Time to ask big questions of the little Froggie.

The virtues of a compact wheelbase and track with grippy rubber at each of the four extremities are immediately obvious in the tough and twisty going, making it a joy to thread the peppy R.S. through the switchbacks.

The Clio feels light, responsive and nimble and, even when pitched in a little too hot to where I have to jump off the loud pedal and stomp on the stoppers, it’s a real little Monte zoomer. 

Cresting the summit, the road flattens and we tumble into a clearing among a number of rustic chalets, restaurants and a hotel.

One fine establishment is the Restaurant des Trois Vallèes, five or six decades ago, a favourite haunt of drivers reconnoitering the stage.

Story goes that, after a drink in the bar overlooking start of the descent to La Bollene-Vesubie and the sun started to sink, they would spend well into the night fine-tuning their craft and knowledge of which way the road goes.

We give the bar a miss, instead order a Caffe Americano and check out the walls and walls of rally memorabilia that make this a shrine to the Monte.

Outside is a picture of bucolic calm – a few village folk tending their gardens and chatting over the fence; a healthy-looking goat having the run of the place and even being hand-fed lush grass. What a contrast to when the WRC comes to town. 

You’ve no doubt seen on YouTube the chaotic goings-on. Anything up to 30,000 alcohol-fuelled fans playing up like second-hand lawn mowers.

Today, on a sunny, mid-June afternoon, we pretty much have the village to ourselves

Pressing on from the Col, we point the Clio along the D70, which makes a gradual and flowing descent as it tracks towards La Bollene-Vesubie. But relax at your peril – every now and then, a curve tightens unexpectedly on exit. 

After about five minutes, we strike the first switchback. With no centre markings, the serpentine nature of the road is defined by low stone walls and the occasional strip of guard rail.

A second switchback appears about a minute later, then the view broadens and, with the sudden expansiveness, it’s all too easy to presume the road is about to open up too. It most definitely is not.

Some 10 minutes later, a series of switchbacks commands attention. The road tightens and twists and then La Bollene-Vesubie shows itself, a large mural depicting a map of the C de T and an image of a hard-charging WRC car a dead-set giveaway as to where in the world we are.

Had too much of a good thing? The hell we have. What goes down must come up. 



Bolzano to Cortina, Italy (200km)

Stepped high in the eastern end of the northern Italian Alps, the Alpi Dolomitiche (Dolomites, to use the English name) were eroded out of light-coloured, dolomitic limestone into jagged, saw-toothed ridges; rocky pinnacles and deep gorges.

With such impressive height and hardware, the Dolomites are not just the adventure playground of daring rock climbers and hang glider pilots, but drivers and motorcyclists who home in from all over on one of the greatest mountain road drives on the planet. That would be the Grande Strada Delle Dolomiti, linking Bolzano with Cortina D’Ampezzo. 

Dig a little deeper, though, and there’s another route, one (comparatively) less travelled. Driven as a loop stretching 304km, from Cortina to Bolzano and back to Cortina, the Coppa D’Oro Delle Dolomiti (Dolomites Gold Cup) is nearly three times that of the point-to-point Great Dolomites Road (110km). 

Motor sport history tells us that the Dolomites Gold Cup drive derives its name from an open road race, much loved and respected, that ran from 1947 to 1956.

The legendary Tazio Nuvolari called it the “Mille Miglia of the mountains” – high praise indeed. 

After a long hiatus, the Gold Cup relaunched in 1972 and continues today as a blue riband event on the historic rally calendar. 

Either route, it seems assured, offers a plethora of challenge and satisfaction, so, with a bit of tweaking, we come up with a little of both.

To get to Bolzano, we first have to leave Lake Garda on the drive north, through Drena and along the SP84 and 85 on a delightfully twisty run to Trento; then take the A22 and E45.

From Bolzano, the SS12 and SS242 lead to the curvaceous Passo Gardena (2136m), which connects Selva in the Val Gardena Valley, and Corvara in the Val Badia Valley.

With a thunderstorm brooding in the distance and light, but persistent, showers falling, we turn left onto the smooth, wide pass and lap up one twist and turn after another to Canazei, via Passo Sella.

It’s all OMG-going, too, through Malga Ciapela, Arabba and Corvara and soon we have another amazing pass in our sights, Valparola. 

Since tackling the Col de Turini, the Clio R.S. has added a sizeable chunk of kays to its odo – west from Nice to Provence and back, east along the French and Italian rivieras and down the coast to Cinque Terre, inland to Umbria and then up through central Italy to Lake Garda.

The athletic workout has freed up the little, 1.6 turbo four-pot, enabling it to do proper justice to the rest of the car’s dynamic package. 

The ticket to the fun park is the R.S. Drive switch, which modifies the mapping of the transmission (shift programming and paddle-shift time) and engine (throttle response and engine pitch), while at the same time weighting the steering and recalibrating the extent and timing of the ESC/ASR intervention. 

We add Valparola to the passes we blitz, hear-me-out note from the lightweight Akrapovic sports exhaust machine-gunning the sky.

The road then snakes through the winding Garde Valley before meeting another halo pass, Falzarego, close to the summit. 

At the eastern summit of the GDR, Falzarego connects Andraz with Cortina. A demanding piece of civil engineering, it was completed in 1909. Looking to the west, you can marvel over the glacier-covered Marmolada, to the south the Nuvolau group and five characteristic peaks of the Cinque Torn. 

We descend from Falzarego to the Ampezzo valley in a succession of scintillating swoops and whoops.

Although now closing in on our overnight stop at Cortina, just another 7km away, we can’t resist a quick pit stop at the tourism brochure-setting of the La Locanda Del Cantoniere Hotel. 

And raise a frosty Peroni to the day’s cracking drive that’s been. 



2018 Renault Sport Clio RS 220 Trophy

Basic price: $A42,990

Engine: 1.6-litre turbo DOHC 16v inline 4-cyl

Power: 162kW @ 6050 rpm

Torque: 260Nm @ 2000 rpm (280 on over-boost)

Transmission: 6-spd dual-clutch auto

Weight: 1204kg

Drive: Front-wheel

0-100km/h: 6.6 secs


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