The Clio Cup race series debuted in the UK in 1991 and, since 2006, all competitors have campaigned race-prepped versions of Renault's Clio 197 or 200. But with that car recently going off sale, the 2014 grid will instead be based on the Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC, the fourth generation of the hot-hatch legend.
What's the spec of the Renault Clio Cup?
Naturally the basics of the road car remain, but the 1.6-litre turbo engine has been tweaked from 197bhp/177b ft to 217bhp/199lb ft thanks to exhaust, induction and ECU tuning. The engines are sealed to prevent tampering, and the Cosworth ECU can, says Renault be read only by Renault Sport Technologies.
Elsewhere there's the obligatory rollcage (welded in as part of the package), bucket seats, adjustable ZF Race Engineering shock absorbers and chunkier 320mm ventilated front discs gripped by four-pot calipers.
Perhaps the biggest change is the switch from the road car's standard dual-clutch gearbox to a lighter, equally fast (shifts take 100ms) but far less refined Sadev sequential gearbox, as fitted to the outgoing racecar. All UK race cars will be fitted with a paddleshift system, though other series may vote to retain a gearstick, as found in the previous racer.
How much does a Clio Cup cost and where do they race?
The Clios will race in the Renault UK Clio Cup, which continues Renault's long-standing association with British Touring Cars until at least the end of 2016. The BTCC calendar will be announced this autumn and the Clio Cup will support eight of those rounds, including a return to Knockhill in Scotland for the first time in five years. Other possibilities would include Brands Hatch, Rockingham, Snetterton, Oulton Park and Croft.
You'll pay €39,900 plus VAT for the car, while a further £12.5k (approx) plus VAT secures entry to the races. Of the 24 people currently racing in the Clio Cup, just two run the car themselves, so you'll probably need a team to do that. Bank on £80k, which also includes four or five days pre-season testing. And you'll need tyres at £216 each. And fuel.
Yes, it's expensive and no I couldn't possibly afford it, but consider this: if you want to race in another series that piggybacks the BTCC, you'd be significantly more in debt in the Carrera Cup (£200k for a team to run your car) or the Ginetta G55s (£120k for a team).
The Clio Cup also has a proven path to top-rung motorsport, with seven or eight of its previous drivers having gone on to the BTCC, others progressing to GT driving or, in Rob Huff's case, to be World Touring Car champion.
What's the Clio Cup racer like to drive?
It's an awful lot of fun, but something that takes a bit of getting your head around – so we're happy to have 2009 champion Phil Glew in the passenger seat to give us the lowdown while we lap Stowe circuit at Silverstone.
Push down the clutch – you only need it to start and stop the Clio – press the blue button on the steering wheel and pull back on the right-hand paddle to engage first gear. Lift that clutch up slowly, waiting for its high biting-point, before feeding in the revs and moving off down the pitlane – it's not just me, they all kangaroo at this point, apparently. Thanks, Phil.
Even on exploratory laps the Clio Cup feels tight and taut and light and hyper-eager to change direction, but with Stowe being both anti-clockwise and unfamiliar to me, I initially struggle to see the apex of left-handers through the bulky A-pillar/rollcage combo – sometimes you actually do need to look through the side window to get a handle on where the apex is.
Up your speed and the Clio's strengths come into focus: the turbo engine is flexible, but never feels like it runs out of puff too soon; the gearchanges are quick and punchy, so you always feel it when a gear fires home (you don't always notice on the dual-clutch road car) and the chassis is very, very dynamic. It does, however, require quite a delicate touch. Get on the power too early and you'll get determined understeer. Instead you need to carry your speed into the corner on the brakes, bleeding off the pressure as you turn into the apex. There's no servo and no ABS, though – the high grip from the slick tyres means the lack of ABS isn't a problem, but the lack of a servo means you really have to stand on the pedal to get decent retardation, and you'll need to pull that left-hand paddle for some engine braking too. Get that right and you'll slightly destabilize the rear of the car on corner-entry, tucking the nose into the apex. It's a hugely satisfying feeling. Then it's a case of feeding the power back in and feeling the front tyres just slipping slightly as they reach the limit of adhesion.
It took me a while to work out why I was struggling with the long, decreasing radius corner at the end of the Stowe circuit, then I realised it was all down to the Clio's super-aggressive diff: get on the power and it pulls you into the corner, much like the Mk1 Focus RS would, so you can apply less steering lock than you first thought necessary and let the diff do some of the steering for you.
Yes, you need a lot of financial backing to get yourself a race seat in a Clio Cup, but it offers good value considering the level of exposure you can hope to receive in supporting eight rounds of the BTCC calendar.
Importantly too, the Clio Cup is great fun to drive, and easy for a novice to master, too. Whetted your appetite? Click renaultsport.co.uk and go to the championships section for more.