► Renault Clio Cup Junior track test
► New series for 14-17-yr-old drivers
► Top speed limited to 100mph
For 25 years the Renault Clio Cup has been one of the hardest-fought one-make series in the UK, and a direct stepping stone to the world of Touring Car racing.
And for 2017, the Clio Cup formula is branching out into junior motorsport, with the launch of a new Renault Clio Cup Junior series for 14 to 17-year-old drivers. Brings a whole new meaning to ‘Clio Campus’, eh?
A potential shortcut from karting to future touring car stardom, the inaugural season kicks off in September. In the meantime, we’ve had a taster test in the new Junior-spec car at Rockingham.
Click here to read Ben Barry’s drive of the senior-spec Clio Cup car
What’s the difference between a Renault Clio Cup Junior car and a regular, senior Clio Cup car?
Essentially they’re identical, the only real differences being an ECU change and different tyres.
The Junior-spec ECU turns the turbo’s boost down, disables sixth gear and limits the top speed to exactly 100mph. The tyres are road-legal Michelin Pilot Sport 3 205/40 R17s, the same size front and rear.
Renault says switching the ECU is only a 10-minute job, and the Junior season has been carefully scheduled to run to a different calendar from the senior championship, enabling teams to race or hire the same car in both series.
Why not slick tyres?
Apart from being cheaper, the Sport 3 road tyres are theoretically safer, with lower cornering speeds than the big-boy Clio Cup.
Treaded tyres also slip into understeer and oversteer more gradually than snappy slicks, and avoid the dreaded cold-rear-tyre accidents that affect many front-wheel-drive racing cars, which heat their front slicks quickly while the rears stay cold.
Tell me more about the car itself…
Each Cup car begins life on the regular Clio production line, before being sent to Renault Sport's Dieppe technical centre for conversion. As a result, every Cup car is left-hand-drive.
The 1.6-litre turbocharged engine is shared with the road-going Clio RS, albeit with a little exhaust and induction surgery. It’s paired with a semi-automatic sequential paddleshift gearbox.
I’d naïvely assumed the paddleshift gearbox would be an adapted version of the double-clutch transmission from the Clio RS road car – just as the Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport and Audi Sport TT Cup racers use the production gearboxes from their road-going counterparts – but the Clio Cup car’s is a full racing transmission. Electrically actuated rather than pneumatic, it bangs through the gears violently, and rapidly – each shift takes around 100 milliseconds.
Our guide is British Touring Car Championship driver Josh Cook (above), who has previously competed in three Clio Cup seasons and can be found elsewhere on this website instructing CAR editor-in-chief Phil McNamara at Vallelunga in the McLaren 720S supercar.
Josh describes the senior Clio Cup championship as a ‘Touring Car university.’
‘Everything you learn in Clio Cup can be applied to Touring Cars. So many graduates from the championship have gone on to success, and the cars use the same data logging systems – without that knowledge you’d be lost.
‘The Clio responds well to set-up changes. There are several parameters you can adjust, but not so many that you can get tied in knots. The dampers are single-way adjustable, and shims on the rear torsion bar can be used to change the rear toe. Front toe and camber is adjustable, and ride height front and rear.
‘Being a production car, it’s very safe, and quality is very high. There’s little variation in performance between the cars.’
What’s it like to drive?
The steering column adjusts like a production car, so drivers of all heights can find a comfortable driving position.
You sit behind a data-rich digital instrument panel – the same as that used on a Porsche Carrera Cup car, Josh says; ‘Clio Cup cars are often referred to as a mini-Porsche, in terms of components and in terms of how solid they feel.’
Your feet meet a racing pedalbox, with nothing in common with the production Clio. Once you’ve left the pitlane, you won’t need the clutch pedal again. It’s a short-travel switch of a thing, and needs some slipping to pull away without stalling, especially when you wind on some steering lock and the diff begins to wind up in turn.
That plated diff is key to getting the best from the Clio. Josh explains that it’s important to get the throttle on early to lock it up, and get it driving the car forward.
Key is to brake late, let the rear end get a bit light and use that floatiness to rotate the Clio into a deliberately slightly late apex, then get on the power and unwind the steering lock early as you power out of the corner. More easily said than done…
Get the line wrong, or get too greedy with the throttle and it’s easy to end up pushing the front into power understeer. Get it right and it feels great. Or at least, I imagine it does.
A racing car on road tyres? What does that feel like?
You might expect it to be all at sea, but it all hangs together very well. The Michelins offer good feedback both in terms of steering (the Clio Cup has power steering, but there’s plenty of feel, and you don’t need much lock to catch a slide) and through the brake pedal.
You can brake very late and precisely feel the point at which the tyres begin to lock. The electronically actuated gearbox munches through gears so quickly it’s borderline violent, and if you lock a front wheel while downshifting there’s a slight crunching sensation as the gear bangs home.
Our session lasted slightly longer than a race distance, albeit not at full race pace, and the tyres still felt in good shape at the end.
What does the 100mph limiter feel like?
It’s been judged well – the engine doesn’t bounce of the limiter, or lose pull as it approaches it. It just sits on exactly 100mph, all the way down Rockingham’s main straight and round the banked first corner, like a very exact cruise control.
How much will it cost to race in the Junior Clio Cup?
Renault’s championship co-ordinators reckon on a budget of around £14,000 for a season as a privateer, and estimates that most teams would typically charge around £24,000 to run a driver for a season.
What other junior car racing championships are out there?
The UK’s longest-established junior racing series is the Ginetta Junior championship, which uses the little G40 sports car, a miniature rear-wheel-drive GT car. Graduates have gone on to racing in high-level single seaters, GT racing, Touring Cars, and, ironically, the senior Clio Cup too.
There’s also the Junior Saloon Car Championship, which uses modified Citroen Saxo production cars, and the Fiesta Junior Championship which uses faster Mk6 Ford Fiesta ST cars.
What does the winner of the Junior Renault Clio Cup get?
Renault will offer the winner free registration to the 2018 or 2019 senior Clio Cup, worth approximately £18,000. Second place gets £2000 towards the above, and third place £1000.
Each race win also gets a set of tyres.
When and where can I watch the Renault Clio Cup Junior championship?
There are eight races in the 2017 season, which starts on 9-10 September at Snetterton and concludes at Brands Hatch on 18-19 November.
Registration for competitors to enter the championship open 3 July 2017.
Apart from being a lot of fun to drive, the Renault Clio Cup Junior is an established racing car with a wealth of existing knowledge for competitors to draw on.
The road-spec tyres hang on well, with more predictable responses than slicks, and the 100mph limiter feels effective in isolation – it’ll be interesting to see how it will affect the way the cars bunch together when racing in a pack.
Like all front-wheel drive cars, the Clio Cup takes some learning to get the best from, and driving one quickly is a black art. Expect close, frantic racing, and a no doubt a very talented champion at season’s end.