OST OF the cars Renault Sport has produced over the years have walked on the wilder side of life, the Sport Spider and Clio V6 being the most obvious cases in recent times. But whenever Regie's performance arm's eccentric engineers put their minds towards creating a racing car, the rule book goes right out the window. And Renault Sport's new mid-engined, 300km/h RS01 is surely the wildest and most wonderful of them all to date.
It looks like a bizarre mix between an Audi R8 and a Renault Twizy, and it sports one of the biggest rear wings youíve ever seen. At the same time, though, the RS01 is also drop-dead gorgeous to look at. Designer Akio Shimizu was reportedly inspired by Renault's record breaking …toile Filante (shooting star), which went over 300km/h at Bonneville Salt Flats in 1956. Its proportions are nigh-on perfect from every angle, and if you took the sponsorship logos away and reduced the size of that rear spoiler a touch, it wouldnít look out of place wearing a set of number plates and rumbling down your local main street, rotating heads wherever it went.
Despite this, the RS01 is not destined to become M a road car, say the bosses at Renault Sport. It might form the basis of a GT3 racing car in the fullness of time; although at the moment its only function is as a one-make racer in the pro-am Renault Sport Trophy series that supports the World Series by Renault, one of the more lucrative feeder formulas into Formula One where, of course, Renault has been supplying engines to Red Bull Racing (to be badged TAGHeuer this year) and will also supply its own F1 team (ex-Lotus) in 2016.
Whatís perhaps most curious about the RS01 is that beneath its jaw-dropping carbonfibre bodywork it is a very serious racing car, even though it has no great purpose in life beyond providing some adrenalin-raising entertainment for 14 wealthy racing drivers.
It costs about A$430,000 to buy and run an RS01, and thatís basically a lease deal that includes just one season of racing.
Like the bodywork that clothes it, the core of the car is also made from carbonfibre and features a bespoke monocoque tub with double unequal-length wishbones at each corner, just like a proper Le Mans car. The chassis was designed and constructed by Italian firm Dallara, which also builds Renault's Formula 3.5 open wheeler.
The engine is a 404kW/600Nm twin-turbo V6 based on the 3.8-litre Nissan GT-R road car donk. Prepared
by NISMO it's fitted with a dry sump to improve lubrication and general efficiency when operating at high revs.
The seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox is also a bespoke item, built by Sadev. This highly sophisticated transmission has no manual clutch as such. Instead you just flick the paddles up or down and electronics take care of the rest, even when you come to a complete stop, at which point the anti-stall system takes over and the car selects neutral all by itself.
Clever, and it works a treat in practice.
The RS01 weighs less than 1100kg but maybe its most impressive technical feature is its aerodynamic package because at its v-max of 300km/h, Renault Sport claims the chassis develops a cheek-bending 1200kg of downforce.
I was lucky enough to drive the car for 10 laps at the Circuito de Jerez in Spain and I came away astonished, not just by what it could do Ė it sticks like glue above 100km/h and goes very hard indeed in a straight line Ė but also the way in which it did it.
You expect a car that weighs little more than a tonne and has 404kW allied to short gearing to be very rapid in a straight line, and the RS01 most certainly is that.
Thereís a very slight hint of lag at medium revs, but essentially you put your foot down and the RS01 just goes. It feels like thereís an 8.0-litre V8 beneath your right foot, and the gearbox works brilliantly in tandem with the GT-R engine to produce a very fast, but also surprisingly effortless driving experience.
Except the RS01 is anything but effortless when it comes to going around corners, because the aerodynamic grip the chassis and that huge wing produces means it is also quite a physical car to drive.
Not so much in the way it steers, because the power steering is ultra-light and ultra-precise, but because of the sheer G-forces the car can generate in any corner taken in fourth gear or above.
taken in fourth gear or above.
After just five laps I was well and truly exhausted from the need to brace myself so hard against the lateral grip it was developing. And after 10 laps, well, I didnít want to climb out but I needed to, just to take a break from the physicality of the driving experience.
With a five-stage anti-lock system and huge carbon-ceramic discs at each corner, the RS01 stops incredibly well for such a relatively heavy racing car. Even the professionals reckon they keep the antilock system switched on, except at Le Mans, and only then when it is bone dry. Thatís how good the system is. Then there's the eight-stage traction control, antistall system, the quite brilliant all 'round visibility, and the noise the twin-turbo V6 makes when it screams past 5000rpm.
ONE-MAKE series are popular in Europe attracting well-heeled wannabes, often paired with pros. In 2015, the inaugural Renault Sport Trophy series was contested by six teams from five countries and 47 drivers. Rounds were held at Spa, Hungaroring, Silverstone, Nurburgring, Jerez and Le Mans Bugatti (short) and points awarded to Elite (pro) and Prestige drivers, with an Endurance Trophy also up for grabs. Events comprise a one-hour enduro with driver change and separate Silverstone, Events 25-minute sprint races for Elite and Prestige drivers. None of the 2015 winners are household names here, but 'guest drivers' included ex-F1 driver Christian Klien, French rally legend Jean Ragnotti and YouTube star Chris Harris. Six events will run this year.
Itís some car, the RS01, but in a way it's rather strange that Renault Sport has invested such a vast amount of time and money to produce a machine that, for the foreseeable future, will only be enjoyed by so few lucky people. But thatís Renault Sport for you, and theyíve done this kind of thing time and again over the years.
However, there is a glimmer of hope the RS01 may yet have a broader purpose in life. In its current state the car would be far too quick to be accepted globally in GT3 racing, so Renault Sport has developed a kit that reduces downforce, cuts back on the horsepower a touch and increases lap times by around five seconds at the average circuit. And thatís the version of the RS01 Renault hopes will, eventually, enable it to go GT3 racing.
Itís all a bit mad; building a race car that you then have to slow down to be eligible for racing. But they never take the predictable road at Renault Sport.
Never have, never will. And good on them for that. M