A different world

I wIll put my cards on the table before goIng any further. I like renault. My family has two of its cars. I like the folk from the Regie’s racing teams I’ve met over the decades, the way they look after people like me when we go to the races.

But it’s not only people like me. The french manufacturer brought its World Series by Renault to Silverstone in August and let everyone in for free. Yes, free. A weekend packed with good racing and all you had to do was buy your sandwiches. Heaven knows what this costs Renault, but it is a truly grand idea. And better still, the world series 3.5-litre cars are spectacular, they make a good noise and look like grand prix cars without so many fiddly bits. The place was heaving and it seemed that everybody had enjoyed a good day out.

The format is good. There are two races, one each day, for 3.5-litre single-seaters, 2-litre single-seaters, clios and méganes. The grids are full, the cars are well prepared and there is talent that might even find its way to formula 1. Canadian Robert Wickens won both 3.5 races and took the series lead, with F1 rookie Daniel Ricciardo having to settle for second each time. Both men are sponsored by – you guessed it – the ubiquitous Red Bull, whose founder Dietrich Mateschitz appears to be well on the way to world domination. A notable performance came from Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, who started from the pitlane in Saturday’s race and passed 14 cars to finish 12th. Young monsieur Vergne, sparring with Wickens for the 2011 title, is one to watch. Speaking of future stars, I had booked an interview ‘slot’ with Mr Ricciardo which was twice postponed and then cancelled. He is certainly getting the hang of being an F1 driver…

A world series weekend is much more than just the racing. There’s a pitstop challenge where you can discover just how hard it is to change tyres in the blink of an eye. For a few quid you can get out on the track, after some instruction, in a Mégane RenaultSport. And if that’s not enough, Renault’s ‘F1 roadshow’ team, led by Fernando Alonso’s former chief mechanic Chris Hessey, brought the R30 cars over from Enstone. Demo laps and donuts, neatly executed by this year’s reserve driver romain grosjean, were hugely popular. Word is that Grosjean will be back on the F1 grid next season. The black and gold cars were surrounded all day, each day, by fans who have no hope of getting close to the cars when they pay a lot of money to be at Silverstone in July. Those who joined a jam-packed pits ‘walkabout’ may have spotted Mark Webber taking a close interest. He’s no doubt hoping that he and not Ricciardo will be the first Australian to win the World Championship since Alan Jones in 1980.

Grand Prix weekends apart, I have rarely seen such a vast crowd in recent years – 120,000 people over two days. New championship leader Wickens got stuck in the traffic and missed the start of his practice session, that’s how busy it was. From many miles out the signs were warning us of ‘major event today – expect delays’ and I was constantly being overtaken by hot little Renaults with big exhaust pipes. To be fair, the new Silverstone one-way systems have solved the nightmare jams of the past and it is now a great deal less stressful to get in and out. How many people would have been there had they been asked to pay? I have no idea. But I do know that what Renault is doing with its World Series is a terrific wheeze that should be copied by more manufacturers. These events can only create goodwill and generate sales. that, presumably, is all part of the wider plan.

On this occasion I was a guest of PC tools, which makes computer security software among other things and which sponsors the spectacular V6 méganes run by French team tds
racing. So thanks to them for introducing me to a new motor racing experience. Or, as the Regie would say, ‘que notre passion devient la votre!’. I’m sure you get the drift…

Rob Widdows