It’s a quar­ter of a cen­tury since the pop­u­lar cat­e­gory started at Don­ing­ton.

Motor Sport News - - Motorsport News - By Stephen Lick­o­r­ish

More than 20 Clios stream into Redgate cor­ner all jostling for po­si­tion off the line.

It could be a scene from the Don­ing­ton Park rounds of the Re­nault UK Clio Cup last month. But in­stead the race in ques­tion hap­pened 25 years ago.

This year marks a quar­ter of a cen­tury since the first Clio con­test, with the series in­tro­duced to co­in­cide with the launch of the French mar­que’s new hatch­back.

It was April 1991 and a 1.8-litre 16-valve Clio car in­stantly caught the at­ten­tion of the rac­ing com­mu­nity with 25 lin­ing up on that in­au­gu­ral grid in Le­ices­ter­shire.

Steve Waudby has the hon­our of win­ning the first ever race, with the ex-for­mula Ford, XR2 and Honda CRX driver switch­ing to the series af­ter a year rac­ing Re­nault 5s.

“It was a bit of a shock go­ing from 5 Tur­bos to Clios,” re­calls Waudby. “I ex­pected Clios to be like the 5 just with a 16v en­gine in. In­stead it was a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal. It looked sporty and did ev­ery­thing that you wanted it to.

“We did our home­work on the car and for the first race we were ex­per­i­ment­ing with oils. We used a par­tic­u­lar oil and it in­creased the power of the en­gine.”

This gave Har­low Mo­tor­sport driver Waudby an ad­van­tage over his ri­vals and he soon built up a lead when the lights went out.

“I started on pole and pulled out a good lead and ev­ery­thing was com­fort­able,” he says. “Then the en­gine changed note about three or four laps from the end and I thought it was go­ing to go. Luck­ily I had such a lead I could give up a bit of ground and I still won.”

Such drama and un­pre­dictabil­ity has be­come a key facet of the cham­pi­onship over the years. As for that first race, Mark Fish and John Wadsworth joined Waudby on the podium.

But it took Waudby an­other four months and seven races be­fore he tri­umphed again, although he still be­came the first Clio cham­pion.

“It was hard, very dif­fi­cult to win the cham­pi­onship,” he says. “The first race was an easy one but we knew every­body was go­ing to get faster and I said to the team ‘this is when the work starts’.

“I think I had to fin­ish in the top five in the fi­nal race at Thrux­ton to win the ti­tle and I didn’t par­tic­u­larly want to lead as I knew it would be dif­fi­cult with the tow there. But we did what we needed to.”

Waudby may have the ti­tle of be­ing the first Clio cham­pion, but he was far from the first Re­nault one-make series win­ner as the man­u­fac­turer’s rac­ing links to Bri­tain go back much fur­ther than April 1991.

“Re­nault had been in­ter­ested in one-make rac­ing since the 1970s and be­fore that with the Re­nault 8s but the con­tin­ual pro­gres­sion of Re­nault in one-make rac­ing started with the Re­nault 5 TL,” re­calls Tim Jack­son, who helped set up the Clio series. “We then pro­gressed to the TS and the 5 Turbo and when the Clio was launched in 1991, it was nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion to switch to that.”

Progress is a word reg­u­larly used in con­nec­tion with the series and Jack­son is cer­tain it was a step up from the old 5s.

“It felt like it was the start of some­thing big­ger than the Re­nault 5s – and they were a real de­light in their day – but the Clio took one-make sport to a com­pletely dif­fer­ent level,” he says. “It was a re­ally good op­tion for driv­ers and we wanted to cre­ate a home from home.”

Jack­son picks out one Bank Hol­i­day week­end meet­ing for the 5s in the mid-1980s as a case in point. “It was very wet and every­one stayed in their cars,” he says. “There was no talk­ing, no cups of tea to­gether and I thought some­thing must change.”

So by the time the Clios came along, proper hos­pi­tal­ity was pro­vided for driv­ers and their en­tourage. It was not only the driv­ers who were im­pressed, as the cat­e­gory quickly caught the in­ter­est of mo­tor­sport fans.

“We al­ways got a round of ap­plause be­fore the start of the first race of the sea­son,” re­calls Jack­son, “which is un­heard of in mo­tor­sport.”

Fast for­ward 25 years and the cat­e­gory is still go­ing strong. Twen­ty­four cars fun­nelled into Redgate at Don­ing­ton last month and the rac­ing is as good as ever.

While it’s still a Clio that is used, the car has come a long way since the first gen­er­a­tion model of the 1990s.

Af­ter a dif­fi­cult pe­riod when the Re­nault Spi­der made a brief ap­pear­ance ( see side­bar), the new sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Clio Re­nault­sport 172 model was in­tro­duced in 2000.

Then fur­ther ad­vances came in 2002 with the 182 model, in 2007 with the 197, mid-way through 2009 with the 200 and fi­nally 2014 when the cur­rent fourth gen­er­a­tion car was brought in.

And it’s no sur­prise that spin-off series have emerged over the years to make use of the older cars. The Bri­tish Au­to­mo­bile Rac­ing Club runs the Miche­lin Clio Cup for the 200s, while the 750 Mo­tor Club has a very pop­u­lar cat­e­gory for the 182s, show­ing the en­dur­ing im­pact the cars have had.

De­spite need­ing to rein­vent it­self with each new model, the series has con­sis­tently gath­ered good en­tries – although there was briefly a drop-off when the cur­rent car was first re­leased.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing how the Clio has evolved,” says John Mil­lett, who has been a part of Re­nault­sport’s tech­ni­cal team since the 1980s. “Re­nault al­ways look to im­prove on what they’ve got. We were bad­ger­ing them for a se­quen­tial gear­box and they came up with that.

“It’s got bet­ter and bet­ter and the lat­est Clio is the best car when it comes to one-make cham­pi­onships. I don’t re­ally know where they go from here!”

Re­gard­less of what hap­pens on the tech­ni­cal front, the series has the long-term se­cu­rity of be­ing part of the TOCA bill un­til at least the end of 2019, af­ter an agree­ment was signed dur­ing the win­ter. It has been part of the BTCC un­der­card since the TOCA pack­age was cre­ated in 1993.

It’s prov­ing as pop­u­lar as ever and there­fore it’s no won­der that Mil­lett still en­joys work­ing with the series af­ter all these years. “I still get a great kick out of it and watch­ing the rac­ing,” he says. “I think the crowds en­joy it – every­body used to watch the For­mula Ford races and now peo­ple watch the Clios as it’s good fun.”

The series is still prov­ing pop­u­lar with driv­ers too, and Jack­son at­tributes this en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity to two key fac­tors: the con­sis­tency of the team work­ing on the series and the full back­ing of Re­nault.

“It meant some­thing to a rac­ing driver to be part of a man­u­fac­turer fam­ily and we have also done our rac­ing as a fam­ily,” he states. “To that ex­tent it’s eas­ier to sort prob­lems out and it’s eas­ier to make progress.”

And we’re back to mak­ing progress. Waudby also ac­knowl­edges the de­vel­op­ments the cat­e­gory has made since the days when he com­peted in it.

“It’s lovely to see a man­u­fac­turer carry a cham­pi­onship through so many years and their com­mit­ment to get started,” he says. “It’s turned now into a proper lit­tle tour­ing car and is a re­ally good prov­ing ground for all the up and com­ing driv­ers.”

There’s no doubt­ing that the roll call of pre­vi­ous cham­pi­ons is im­pres­sive. There is an ar­ray of ti­tle-win­ners who have gone on to achieve suc­cess in other categories – most no­tably Bri­tish Tour­ing Cars. Both Jonathan Adam (2005) and Tom Onslow-cole (2006) have starred in GTS af­ter BTCC stints, while Jack Goff (2012) and Ash­ley Sut­ton (2015) are among the next gen­er­a­tion of tin-top stars.

Sut­ton’s story is par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant as his bat­tle with Ant Whor­ton-eales and Ash Hand for last year’s crown helped reignite in­ter­est in Clios. The trio were in­sep­a­ra­ble for much of the sea­son, with the ti­tle fight go­ing down to the wire. That Sut­ton be­came the first rookie win­ner of the cham­pi­onship since Jonathan Fildes tri­umphed in 2003 was also a ma­jor mile­stone.

Be­sides the past cham­pi­ons, the list of Clio race win­ners also in­cludes some no­table names. Tour­ing car stars Mat Jack­son, Sam Tord­off, Aron Smith and Josh Cook are all race-win­ning grad­u­ates.

The BTCC links are be­com­ing stronger still with the in­volve­ment of top teams BMR and Cice­ley Mo­tor­sport, while Cook main­tains a close as­so­ci­a­tion with Clios through his own Cook sport squad, prov­ing just how sig­nif­i­cant the series has be­come.

It’s no co­in­ci­dence that those in­volved in that first race have fond mem­o­ries of their time in Clios. Waudby is still con­nected to the series

to­day through his SWR Mo­tor­sport com­pany, which is spe­cial­ist a in

Sadev trans­mis­sions cur­rently used in the series, while Mil­lett says: I’ve had some great mem­o­ries and

worked with some great driv­ers who have gone on to big­ger and greater things. It gives a sense of sat­is­fac­tion hope­fully guid­ing them in the right di­rec­tion.”

Tim Jack­son adds: “It is one of the high­lights of my time be­ing in­volved

mo­tor­sport and the con­tin­u­ing ap­peal of Clios is some­thing to be proud of. The suc­cess of the high per­for­mance road cars came on back of the series – the UK the great­est mar­ket­place for Re­nault­sport high-per­for­mance cars. That was be­cause of the way we used

rac­ing to pro­mote the road cars.” And given how suc­cess­ful the cham­pi­onship has proved to be, it’s likely we will see a pack of Clios stream­ing into Redgate for many more years to come.

Mat Jack­son was a win­ner in 2000

Waudby (right) won first race at Don­ing­ton Series started in 1991 with Clio 1.8 16V model

Then and now: Cur­rent driv­ers and past stars

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