“This is the best front wheel drive track car I’ve driven.”
On a very wet day at Snetterton, we had a blast running a test in Ben Davis’s Renault Clio Cup car.
You might know Ben from his years of racing in Superkarts. Running a 110mph kart must teach you a thing or two about driving technique, as anyone who’s seen Ben’s onboard footage will attest to how smooth (and fast) he is behind the wheel.
This is the Gen 4 version, the model currently racing in the 2017 Clio Cup, the support series to the BTCC.
Cosworth Dash Display in the Clio Cockpit is incredibly easy to read.
We started the day with a bit of a briefing on the car; learning the dashboard layout, start procedure and so on.
Given the track conditions we agreed a structure for the day, deciding to concentrate on getting used to the car and finding grip in the first run and focusing on technique and pace in the sessions after.
Ben talks me through the interior of the car, switches, dashboard functions and start procedure.
This Clio Cup car is ready and eligible to compete in the 2017 Clio Cup Series.
The car is priced at €44,900 Euros plus VAT from R Sport, although you’d be well advised to speak to a team like Pyro or WDE first as they’ll likely be able to help you find a good second hand example.
On the second hand market, £25k seems to be the going rate. For that it’s fair to expect a recently reshelled car with a gearbox and engine refresh. Don’t be put off too much if the engine has seen some mileage, they’ll need a refresh around every 10,000kms which is almost two seasons of running!
Similarly, the gearbox is “bombproof” as Ben likes to put it, so as long as you’re changing oils regularly and looking after it, you should get a really reliable service life.
The Cup car uses the standard road car engine with and uprated turbo and a sealed Cosworth SQ7DI race ECU.
The six-speed Sadev sequential paddle shift gearbox is mated to the engine by an AP Racing competition clutch with built-in stop.
PFC Brakes supply all the stopping power you need (really the brakes in this car are surprisingly good) via ZF shocks and specification racing tyres developed by Dunlop.
The diff in this car is good. A bit of throttle can really pull the car around if it’s oversteering.
For an extreme example of the car doing just that take a look at this:
As Ben put it, it seems counter intuitive at first but if you get out of shape, use the throttle to get the car straightened out.
4 pot PFC brake calipers on drilled discs in rotation as car engine and gearbox warm up.
Before we get started, we leave the car in gear running on tickover to warm the gearbox.
It’s a small race car but there are still important procedures to follow to ensure reliability on this car, like letting the turbo run down for a few minutes with the engine running, instead of just killing the engine when you come into the garage.
At the start of the day, it’s cold and wet. These are the worst conditions I’ve seen for a while with standing water over most of the circuit.
This nice and warm Clio Cup car with new wet tyres and a wet throttle map will do just fine:
The car was immediately easy to understand and a very forgiving drive. It was easy to forget just how technically challenging the conditions were that day, simply because this is such an accessible and easy to get to know race car.
It’s to be expected that the car has a tendency to understeer in the entry phase of slow corners if you’re greedy on entry speed. You have to take some patience in with you, focusing on getting the car turned and subsequently, achieving a good exit.
Getting corner entry right took some time, especially in the medium speed corners. Trail in too much and you’ll end up with some unwanted over rotation.
You soon learn the trick to driving this car is getting it balanced and ready for a corner early. Distribute the grip of all 4 tyres evenly, managing weight transfer thoughtfully and you’ll find a grippy, balanced car in the mid corner.
Once you’ve nailed that technique you’ll begin to learn just how communicative this car can be. In the High speed corners this car feels almost perfectly balanced.
As Ben explained, this Clio is running just a little tow out at the rear. Their set up seems to be delivering the goods.
In Riches, the front pushes in perfect harmony with a little looseness at the rear – a nice, neat 4 wheel drift at 100 mph is the result.
Surprisingly, I’m aware of the tyres at the front and the rear of the car within 10 laps. A vibration through the seat tells you everything you need to know about the rear of the car while the steering wheel is passing along plenty of detail about the front.
Ben explains why I’m feeling that sensation, and why the Clio Cup car is so good. It has a well stiffened chassis thanks to the way the cage is installed inside the shell. The rear cage mounts are mated to the top of the suspension mounts. This makes the rear extremely feelsome through your seat, which makes the car very easy to get to know.
That moment in the car tells everything I need to understand it. This is a car you can learn quickly. But, there’s a subtlety to extracting the final few tenths.
You can’t be greedy in a Clio Cup car. Nor can you be reckless with your inputs. The Clio rewards smooth driving and (I suspect) is designed that way to teach junior drivers an important lesson – driving on the car’s grip limit feels pretty good, but take too much and your time will drop like a stone.
With thanks to Ben Davis and Pete Bennett for support during the day and last minute wet tyre runs!
Interested in being a sponsor in the Clio Cup? Ben’s looking for sponsors for his 2017 campaign. Get in touch to find out more.
Ben’s track day Clio Car is available for hire – take a look for more details.
Photos by Oliver Read. Thanks Oliver!