The new starting block

Karting News

Junior drivers have a new series in which to learn their craft in 2017, we get behind the wheel of a Clio Cup Junior

It’s a well-known fact: if you want to become a professional racing driver you need to start early. Eight years old, when the rest of us are pondering what we could create from the pile of Lego strewn across our bedroom floors? Sounds about right.

Your early racing career will be spent thrashing round kart circuits and your parents/benefactors will whimper as the costs rise and the competition gets tougher.

When Hamilton and Rosberg were team-mates in Formula A and Formula Super A, racing for, the budget was reportedly in the region of £500,000. Not a sum many can manage.

So what are the options if you want to start racing cars as early as possible? If you want to compete in GTs or tin-tops and would prefer an all-in, one-make series you’re looking at the Fiesta Juniors, the Ginetta Juniors and, well, that’s about it. Until now. Renault UK has just launched a junior version of its Clio Cup championship, this for 14-17 year olds.

The series, which uses limited Clio Renault Sport 220 Trophy cars, will run over 12 rounds at six two-day events. The road tyres are limited in number at each event and there’s even a finance option from the Moorgate Motorsport Finance Group. So how much does it cost? £30,000 for a season. No, not cheap in the wider world, but certainly not astronomical in motor sport.

So what does that include? The £30,000 is the cost of essentially doing an arrive-and-drive package where the team owns the car. You can also buy it for €43,900 and run it yourself. As with all these numbers, though, they’re to be taken with a pinch of salt. As a comparison the Ginetta Juniors cost £60,000 for a season and the car itself costs £33,000 plus VAT.

It’s because of the new Clio championship I found myself at Bedford Aerodrome (hello runoff) on a clear and sunny evening earlier this year. I spend the weekends racing karts in Rotax so it’s interesting to see what I would have been persuading my parents to pay for had I been 12 years younger and a lot fitter. First of all, it’s a proper mini touring car – there’s no soundproofing and it’s very hot inside. I sweated. A lot.

The switch from junior spec to full spec when you’re old enough is actually quite easy – there’s a new ECU, different tyres (£200 a set rather than £85) and that’s about it. There’s a manual clutch to get off the line and it’s actually quite heavy (I really am that unfit). Unsurprisingly I stall on my first attempt. Clio – 1, Kit – 0. Once on track, though, the gearbox is pretty forgiving and smooth even if it locks the fronts when you get overexcited with the downchanges. The steering is light, very responsive and because of the amount of negative camber on the fronts the turn-in is incredibly fast. There’s also a lot of grip despite these tyres having done two days of testing, but the braking zones are long. Looks good for close racing, then.

All in all it’s a very confidence-inspiring car to learn in – it doesn’t lose grip too quickly and it doesn’t want to bite your head off if you don’t treat it perfectly. The key question for many will be whether it stacks up against the Ginetta Juniors. To be fair, it’s a different beast with its front-wheel drive, as opposed to the G40’s rear-wheel drive. The G40s have a history of moving drivers up the motor sport ladder and the junior Clios will have to prove that before it can be put on a par. The reduced cost, though, is clearly attractive…

The ease of upgrading it to a full Clio racer is also a bonus, but then you have the TOCA entry fees to cover… However, if you can genuinely run this car for £30,000 I struggle to see why anyone would stay in karting if they wanted a future in touring cars. At the age of 14 you can compete in a national championship at circuits which the BTCC race at. All this and you’re in similar equipment.

Time for me to find some sponsorship. Anyone?

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