Tuesday, 31 May 2016

GT Sport Preview... Preview

On 20th May, I went to a brilliant event at the Copper Box Arena in London to see and play the latest installment of Gran Turismo, the most special console sim of them all (to me, at least). I have been meaning to tell you all about it, but slow internet and personal issues have held me back. Now, however, I'm going to persevere, because this is too exciting not to blog about even if I'm over a week late for the hype train. For now, here is the official trailer made entirely with footage captured from a development version of the game, Gran Turismo SPORT. Enjoy. Hopefully you'll find the weird baby noises in the music less annoying then Chris Evans on Sunday...

Renaultsport Clio RS16 - Fix It With A Hammer

Renaultsport Clio RS16, ahead of the Clio 200 Turbo EDC [left] and Megane 275 Trophy-R [right]
When it comes to hot hatches, France is more often than not the place to go. Yes there are Golf GTIs and Focus RSs and Civic Type-Rs, but the nation that popularised front-wheel-drive, hatchback bodies and doing mad stuff knows how to party the hardest. First it was Peugeot in the '80s, with the 205 GTi, 309 GTi and all sorts of great stuff following those in the 1990s. Since then, it's been Renault's performance engineering division RenaultSport that has flown the tricolore for corner-munching shopping cars with a manic side. Such gems came along as the Clio 182 Trophy, Megane R26.R, Twingo 133 and of course the unforgettably bonkers Clio V6, a mid-engined supercar in the shape of the humble supermini in tribute to the old Group B Renault 5 Turbo.

However, the most recent Clio has been something of a dip in form for the Renaultsport boys and girls. Following the naturally-aspirated Clio (mk.3) 200 Cup which is seen in similar regard to the Porsche 997 GT3 3.8 for its intensely concentrated pure-bred thrills, the 2012-present Clio (mk.4) 200 EDC Turbo was bigger, heavier, lower-revving and turbocharged, plus it wasn't and isn't available with a manual gearbox. Right when Ford had gifted the world with the good clean fun of the Fiesta ST, Renault gave us an overweight computer with reportedly a slightly ponderous paddleshift gearbox and the ability to overdub different (less dull) engine sounds through the stereo, telling us it was the future. Many people didn't want this future and bought the Fiesta instead, or tried the 208 GTi from a returned-to-form Peugeot. We later saw a Clio 220 Trophy which claimed to fix some issues including 50% faster shifts, but it still aggravated magazines who tested it for many of the same reasons as before. The engine wasn't as exciting despite being more effective and that gearbox was ruining their ability to enjoy an otherwise great chassis.

Now, for its 40th anniversary, Renaultsport have tried sorting out the fourth-generation Clio's performance and driving experience yet again... and this time they aren't messing about.

Named after the newly reinstated factory race team's pleasingly yellow Formula 1 car, this is the R.S 16. It is proclaimed to be the fastest Renault ever built, despite not being mid-engined or featuring an Alpine logo. Instead it features the engine and gearbox from the bigger Megane 275 Trophy-R - the on-and-off holder of the lap record for front-drive cars around the Nordschleife - meaning a 2.0 turbo replacing the 1.6 turbo and a 6-speed manual gearbox replacing the 6-speed dual-clutch 'box. Power shoots up from 200bhp to 275bhp, with torque rising from 192lb/ft to 266lb/ft. You might think that putting a much bigger engine in the nose of a small car would make it detrimentally heavier, but that trusty manual gearbox is so much lighter than the normal car's DCT that together they more or less cancel each other out. What the engine transplant did require, however, was a lot of head scratching and re-jigging of the front end...

The fourth-gen Clio was never designed to hold a 2.0-litre engine, plus the engine in question is noticeably more ferocious than even the RS 200 EDC, so new engine mounts, stronger suspension and further chassis reinforcements were in order to house and contain the beastly new organs. Away from the main company, at Renaultsport Cars's own little workshop facility in Les Ulis, a ten-person team of road and racing engineers and a single Renault stylist set to work. The end result is half "parts bin special," half bespoke motorsport engineering.

Let's start with the recycled bits, because that's more fun; the lower front chassis/engine mounting uses a modified front subframe from the Renault Kangoo family van, arguably the least sporty Renault car possible. Then, to get two completely different electronics systems to talk to each other, the ageing Megane engine's ECU uses software from the humble Dacia Sandero (!) so that it can communicate harmoniously with the Clio's chassis electronics such as the traction and stability control systems. It gets sportier from here - the rear axle is carried straight over from the Clio R3T rally car in the form of a much tougher torsion bar that's 50% stiffer, while the front suspension includes the mk.3 Clio RS's "PerfoHub" double kingpin struts and front lower arms, which were apparently engineered with a more powerful car in mind that never arrived. The 350mm Brembo steel brakes are straight off the Megane Trophy-R along with the limited-slip differential, 15% lighter li-ion battery, the wheel hubs and special adjustable Ohlins dampers. Finally, the rear wing is adapted from the Renault Clio Cup racing car, allegedly managing to reduce lift by 40kg at 125mph to keep things stable at high speed.

Then there are a couple of important things it doesn't have: back seats and air conditioning. This is not an everyday Clio...

The bespoke parts mostly come in the form of "interface parts" to marry together components from the different models. There are specially designed top mounts for the powertrain and some bespoke suspension uprights, both of which elements have been machined from solid pieces of metal. Towards the rear, there is also a new exhaust system from Akrapovic, who are known for making cars very loud. Further bespokery is found on the bodywork, in the form of composite wheel arch flares (joined together with new side skirts) to house the wider wheels and 60mm wider tracks, as well as a modified front spoiler which in part directs a greater amount of air into the enlarged intercooler. The 19" Speedline wheels are shod in 235/35 Michelin performance tyres which look noticeably broader than on the normal Clio RS - making them fit didn't just mean gluing on some flares, they had to cut away at the wheel arches too.

Normal Clio RS on left of image
Initial specs are limited, except to say that it weighs a mere 1200kg or so to give what for Renault is an unprecedented power/weight ratio of 224bhp/tonne. The resulting car is pretty hardcore in many ways, but the suspension is not designed for Yas Marina or Silverstone; while they're targeting less body roll than the Megane 275 and want it to be agile at high speed, it's been set up to work well on back roads, being stable and adjustable over bumps and rough tarmac. There's a reason this lot ruled all the hot hatch group tests not long ago.

Renault Sport boss man Patrice Ratti admits that they were itching to do something crazy, saying of the project "We arrived at the idea of taking a Clio R.S. and putting the Megane R.S. drivetrain in it. We toyed with the idea of putting the engine in the rear, like the Clio V6, but it would be very heavy [that car was around 1400kg]. We’re better at front-engined, front-wheel drive cars at Renault Sport anyway."

Officially this is just a concept car. Unofficially, that's sort of bollocks. The performance division are so keen to produce this frankencar that they've conducted feasibility studies throughout the five-month project (yes, all this work in only five months by around ten people is a real labour of love) and have crash tested both left- and right-hand-drive versions of it. There are still decisions to make in this area, such as whether or not they could build it in the fabled (and reinvigorated) Alpine factory in Dieppe and how many to make for what price, but early info suggests around 250 cars for a price of around £35-40,000. That's a lot of money for a small car with no back seats or air conditioning, but this sort of project isn't produced on the cheap, Kangoo subframe or not. A lot of re-engineering, specialist manufacturing and the general costs of R&D all have to be paid for in order for the bean counters to allow it... and even then the market for such a machine is small. Might as well build a small number and put an exclusivity charge on top to guarantee a return.

Is it weird for a 5-door car to have no back seats? I feel like that's weird.
The decision to put the Clio RS16 into production hinges on finances and will be made within the next couple of months if it hasn't already. It's not actually a direct fix for the 200 EDC because it's not going to be produced in that kind of quantity, but it does show us that despite stringing along the old Megane and being told by marketeers to dilute the Clio, the kings of hot hatches have still got their mojo. Hoorah.

Written by and for SmallBlogV8.
Sources: Evo, Pistonheads, TopGear

Sunday, 29 May 2016

TopGear Mk.3 Will Have Twice As Many Presenters As Before

2016 TopGear lineup:
Rory Reid - Sabine Schmitz - Matt LeBlanc - Chris Evans - Chris Harris - Eddie Jordan - The Stig
Old TopGear, the one with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, is dead. Deal with it. Quite frankly that show had had all its best ideas and many of us saw it through to the truncated end of Series 22 mostly out of habit and loyalty to the idea of three old men falling over and gurning at the latest Ferrari. Many people can't accept this and pretend the show is dead. The BBC says otherwise with a new series starting this very evening. Of course, this calls for more presenters...

So, you know all those rumours about who would present the next generation of TopGear? Well, er, all of them are true. All of them. Except the ones about David Coulthard and Jenson Button, who found other jobs to do with F1 cars. There are now six human presenters to support The Stig, who some say is actually the brains behind all this. Let's get to know them...

Rory Reid

As well as having what's probably Johnathan Ross's favourite name to pronounce, Rory Reid is the winner of a public casting call that Chris Evans organised last year to find presenting talent. He's not just any guy off the street, though; as well as being Editor in Chief of motoring and tech website Recombu, he's hosted car reviews and some slightly out-there tests on YouTube with some acclaim. Until he does something awesome on TG, his calling card remains a spoken poem review of the facelifted Rolls-Royce Ghost:

Outside of presenting he seems pretty chill and down-to-earth. He's been handling the inevitable tabloid scrutiny with class and calm. It'll be interesting to see how his relative lack of TV experience but practiced presenting skills set him up for TopGear. Reid will also be presenting Extra Gear, a spin-off behind-the-scenes show on the now online-only BBC III, alongside Chris Harris.

Sabine Schmitz

If you haven't heard of this German racing driver then you clearly need to watch more Dave. Sabine Schmitz is known as "the Queen of the Nürburgring," having grown up there with her parents who run a hotel business at the circuit. Her longtime day job was to give passenger rides in a BMW M5 around the Nordschleife, with weekends spent racing there professionally. She has previously appeared three times on TopGear, first to teach Jeremy how to drive a V6 diesel Jaguar S-Type around the Green Hell in under ten minutes (he achieved a very TV-friendly 9:59 in the end) and then to try setting the same time in an equally diesel-y second-hand Ford Transit van. Her best was a 10:08 with a slipstream and a stripped out van, which given that when this episode aired a decade or so ago she had done "14-15,000 laps" would suggest that really was the limit on that day. The third time was in a semi-staged competition between the three stooges and the German equivalent of TG.

In each appearance on TopGear as well as a couple on Fifth Gear, she showed a cool, impish and very un-German sense of humour which should go well with the show long term. She also gets along with Chris Evans a lot better than Jeremy Clarkson, who she once scared witless and has found difficult to teach. To top it all off, she is as you would imagine a true petrolhead, having first been taken around the 'Ring at just six months old, driven it herself for the first time aged 17 with no licence when she "borrowed" her mother's BMW 316i... and later won the 24-hour endurance race twice. A solid addition to the lineup that should please most.

Matt LeBlanc

JOEY FROM FRIENDS?! Why the hell?! Before you say the show's gone mad and lost its soul, don't forget that he's been on the show before as a guest, setting the lap record by a mere tenth of a second and acquitting himself well by pointing out that he's modified his Porsche 911 Turbo (seriously, he loves 911s). He's even presented a TopGear programme in the US called TopGear: The Races, which was basically him segueing from one clip of TG UK doing a race/challenge, to another.

Further qualification to present a motoring programme comes in the fact that he owns roughly a hundred dirt bikes and works on his machinery himself, much like his fave James May. Having spent decades being slightly mad on screen also means he should know how to pander to the entertainment side of the show's character quite naturally. So really, he's actually less of an idiot's choice than you might think.. although it remains to be seen how much he will actually add substance to the show or how much of it will just be "Hey, I'm American."

Chris Evans

The first confirmed TG3 presenter hasn't had the smoothest start in his new role as lead mentalist, depending on what you've read. Allegedly, he's thrown up in cars, had trouble driving and talking at the same time, struggled with Matt le Blanc (at least Sabine likes him) and generally been a bit of a live one. The Radio 2 morning presenter has also had to balance making this utterly insane car show with getting up at 4am to be DJ to millions at breakfast time, leaving him a little overworked. He's maintained throughout that he's loved it all, however, and I'd only be cynical to doubt that.

Evans is not a motoring journalist, but with his vast collection of priceless Ferraris which he lets people drive for themselves sometimes, his love of cars must go unchallenged, plus his eccentric enthusiasm could yet give the show a good character. Possibly. Despite the five co-presenters, TopGear is now seen very much as his baby, so if you hate it, blame him the most. Do the same if you love it or are indifferent towards it.

Chris Harris

You know about Chris Harris. If you don't, you're clearly not a car fan who uses the internet. I so wanted him to present TopGear and pretty much every comments section of his hugely popular YouTube films featured a number of people saying the same. He is a cast iron choice for a car show with the ability to entertain, being a long-serving motoring journalist, part-time racing driver (currently racing a Pro-Am Bentley GT3 car in the Blancpain GT Series) and a man unashamedly known for getting into trouble with car companies. He once pissed off Ferrari for revealing how dishonest their press cars are before later sneaking a go in a 458 Spider and giving it enough publicity for them to stop banning him from testing their cars, which lead to one of my favourite videos of his, hooning the life out of an F12 Berlinetta (we know he'll be giving the new TDF version similar treatment on the show). He has since moved on to pissing off Lamborghini by saying their cars all understeer and their owners are all poseurs who can't drive. His appetite for drifting is almost unparalleled and his ability to describe a car's handling is similarly strong. If you watch TopGear hoping for a car show, "Monkey" Harris is your best bet for favourite presenter.

Eddie Jordan

Having identified racing talents from Michael Schumacher to early GT Academy entrants before co-presenting BBC's and now Channel 4's Formula 1 coverage, the former Jordan Grand Prix founder/boss is certainly good at commenting on racing drivers... but cars? This is perhaps the most surprising choice of all, certainly the hardest to place. What will he do? Surely not track tests and the like. The magazine revealed that one of his films involves taking alliterative a-list musicians to the world's highest pub, which to be fair does sound very him. What else lies in store for a captain of controversy on this show, we must wait and see...

Written by and for SmallBlogV8.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

London Motor Show 2016

Some motor show, yesterday
I went to the 2008 London Motor Show way back in 2008 and very much enjoyed being able to see and sit in the latest wheeled metal shapes from around the world. However, dwindling interest from everyone else meant that there wasn't a sequel. The nearest major motor show now is the Paris Motor Show in Paris, which is well over an hour away from Wokingham, so I've had to make do with using the internet... until now! Yes, the London Motor Show is back, albeit not as a mecca for the world's automotive powerhouses to stage world debuts left right and centre. Instead, the new cars were mostly provided by local dealers, with a few exceptions. Also, rather than filling ExCeL, it took place in a somewhat smaller venue... but hey, a small motor show is better than no motor show! Let me show you some of the things I've seen: