11/07/2017

Living the R.S rally dream

Being let loose to rally a Clio Renault Sport on some of France’s most famous asphalt stages is something most of us can only dream about but for Sara Williams it’s very much a reality.
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Sara is competing in this year’s Clio R3T Trophy France – a championship organised by Renault Sport Racing for identical rally-spec versions of the turbocharged 1.6-litre Clio R.S 200 EDC.

New, a ready-to-rally R3T costs 74,000 Euros!

“It’s awesome to drive,” enthuses Sara. “For a little car it’s got big power and a really good six-speed paddle shift gearbox. It’s lovely and pointy – it goes where you want it to so you can brake really late.”

One of the biggest grins it causes is at the start line – when Sara gets to press the launch control button. On the road car this is found by the handbrake (R.S Drive); on the R3T it’s on the steering wheel.

“You press it once and it flashes up on the dash,” she explains. “It will last for five seconds so I hit it with four seconds to go – this is when you hear a rally car popping and banging before take-off. It’s on the limiter.

“So it’s handbrake on, clutch flat to the floor and then letting both out and away you go. It really takes off. There are a few other buttons on the steering wheel which are pretty cool such as anti-lag and traction control which has three settings.”
 
Other changes – apart from a car stripped of its regular road-going interior – include light-weight carbon seats, light weight fire extinguisher and three-way Sachs shock absorber suspension.

One of the three rallies she’s contested so far – Antibes – included the legendary Col de Turini stage, used in the world-famous Monte Carlo Rally. It’s a world away from helping run a car hire company and motor dealership in her native Brecon, Powys.

“I started driving at 18,” says 28-year-old Sara.  “The last eight years have been in Subarus in the forests in Britain – I enjoy that scene but needed a different challenge if I wanted to develop as a driver and the R3T Trophy gives me that.

“It’s quite a big learning curve – front-wheel-drive, left-hand-drive and scorching hot asphalt. There’s also a full recce for you and your co-driver to prepare stage notes. The rallies are long as well – more than 200 competitive stage kilometres and the longest stage I’ve done so far was 36km!

“Renault Sport Racing treat the drivers really well – always very supportive and on stages giving technical back-up. There are so many spectators on every stage which is also something a bit new and suddenly I’m getting fans and children wanting an autograph or photo with me.

“I’m out of my comfort zone – I’m the only Brit in it and most of the other drivers are used to these sorts of stages – but know I need to be if I want to improve and I am seeing improvements. On the first event I was averaging 1.8 seconds slower per kilometre off the championship leader. Now I’ve got that down to one second per km. I know where the time is… a lot of it is confidence and on the brakes.”

CLICK HERE to find out more about Sara.