In my last blog I went up north to Bishopscourt for the All Ireland Fiesta Challenge and had a tough weekend that ultimately became successful with a victory from the back of the grid in race two. Well, just a couple of weeks later I was once again headed northbound on the M1 but this time to Kirkistown and with a car in tow that couldn’t be more different to my Blackchurch Motors Fiesta. The car in question is a Formula Renault….a carbon fibre monocoque racing car with a 2.0 litre RenaultSport engine putting 200bhp to its 9 inch rear slicks via a Sadev 6 speed sequential gearbox! In short…a bit of an animal.
Having never driven such a car before I tentatively completed a 10 lap shakedown to ensure all was ok before starting to push on my second session. Rather than list a load of superlatives to try describe the performance of the car I thought I would go through a lap of the Northern Ireland circuit. Crossing the start finish line you pull back on the stubby gearlever which falls nicely to your right hand, no lift on the throttle, no clutch required you simply pull the lever back positively and without losing any momentum whatsoever the car continues its acceleration towards 130mph, and more dauntingly, towards Debtors Dip. Both hands back on the wheel and with no more than an inch of rotation the car negotiates the flat out left hander with comparative ease, I have no doubt that the well-developed aero dynamics play a significant part in the cars stability here. Easing the car back to the left hand side of the track it’s not lost on me how much shorter the straights feel in a car travelling at in excess of 140mph.With my left foot resting on the middle pedal, I look for my braking point which scarily is way later than you would imagine and roughly the same place as it is in a Ginetta Junior which is travelling at some 50mph less at this point. Hard on the middle pedal you must immediately begin to stab the gear lever forward selecting the next gear down as soon as the lever springs back to its resting point. Sixth, fifth, fourth and third as quick as you can say it and while still on the brakes you take an early apex at Colonial One, in most cars you would simply stamp hard on the throttle here but not in the Renault which is ready to light it’s rear tyres at any over eager power application. Instead you hold a steady but increasing throttle (later in the weekend I was applying a touch of left foot brake to help settle the car here.) With the car lined up to avoid Colonial 2 you are finally back on full throttle and using all of the track to the right you go up to 4th gear on the approach to Fishermans. Braking just before the service road on the left it’s a quick downshift to third before a late apex and feeding in as much throttle as you think the rear Dunlops can handle, running wide and up onto the exit kerb at Fishermans it’s almost immediately back to 4th before straight back on the brakes and down to third as you approach the chicane. I never felt like I got the chicane right, the stiffly sprung single damper on the front of the car hops the car quite violently as you strive to get back on the throttle, it’s something I will need to work on but as you leave the chicane you immediate grab 4th on the concrete exit apron, this is the first time you get a half second to relax so a cursory look at the AIM dash to inspect oil pressure and water temperature before staring at the red shift lights that illuminate from left to right on the dash, as the last one lights up and at about 7100rpm you pull 5th gear and then not much later 6th as you race down the back straight at upwards of 140mph, according to the data logger. The braking point for the Hairpin seems optimistic in the extreme, again it’s much the same place as you would hit the anchors in far slower travelling cars but the combination of the light weight, aero and massive grip retards the car at neck aching speed, you have to get from 6th all the way to 2nd gear and despite the extreme speed of the box allied to no need to clutch it is hard work to physically move the lever that amount of times in such a short window. The front of the car is very positive and as you turn the small D shaped wheel into the apex it does exactly as asked with the rear being the limiting factor, once you make the apex it’s gently back on the throttle as much as the rear will allow before a short shift to third and then back up to 6th just in time for Debtors and the whole thing starts again.
After about 20 odd of those laps in Friday testing the car developed an oil leak which in turn caused the clutch to slip, I must point out this oil leak was totally down to my own mistake and not a mark against the cars which appear to be ultra-reliable. The slipping clutch remained for qualifying and after only 2 slow laps I needed to return to the pits and was disappointed to be only 10th on the grid as my testing times would suggest I would have been on the second row. The BOSS Championship competitors helped me big time by sourcing, delivering and helping to fit the oil seal which was causing the leak and despite me thinking my day was done, I lined up for both races and even with a relatively relaxed approach on my behalf I scored a 6th and 4th place overall result and was delighted to be awarded – what I think is the nicest trophy I have ever won – ‘Driver of the Meeting’ In short I had a wonderful experience both in and out of the car and am looking forward to getting back behind the wheel as soon as possible. In the meantime it is back to Fiestas this weekend behind the wheel of my Blackchurch Motors car as we go for a hatrick of championship race victories at Mondello Park.