Hand’s performances in this year’s Renault UK Clio Cup – in which he won an unrivalled seven times and so nearly won the title – caught the eye of Renault Sport Trophy team Monlau Competición which invited him to test its R.S 0.1 at the Spanish circuit of Jerez.
Despite having seen neither circuit nor car before he was quickly on the pace and lapped close to the times set by former F1 driver Giedo van der Garde who was taking part in the same test.
Hand has admitted that a sportscar/GT career appeals to him and that the Renault Sport Trophy is on his radar for 2016.
Notably this year’s British GT title was won by 2005 UK Clio Cup Champion Jonathan Adam and the international 24H Series (for sports/GT machinery) by his successor, 2006 title-winner Tom Onslow-Cole.
Hand commented: “Overall, it was a very positive, productive day. I bonded with the team really well and it was a calm and constructive environment in which to work. Having established an excellent relationship with Renault over the past three seasons, I’m keen to stay with them if I can so the Renault Sport Trophy is definitely an option for next year, particularly as it would enable me to gain some European experience.
“It would also represent a step in the right direction towards my long-term goal, which is to become a professional, factory-backed sportscar or GT driver on the international stage. That’s what I’ve been working towards my whole career.”
And the Spanish Monlau squad believes the 21-year-old Warwickshire star has the ability to be a genuine front-runner.
Technical Director David Simón said: “At the beginning of the test, Ash demonstrated his potential by lapping inside the top five in conditions that were not exactly conducive to inspiring confidence. He had a great feel for the behaviour of the car and the changes we made, and we used his comments to hone the set-up.
“He only had 50 minutes of dry running in the second session, but he showed clear improvement to keep reducing his lap times and always listened to what his engineer advised. The entire team felt very comfortable with Ash and we would be delighted to see him in the championship next year. He would certainly be one of the leading contenders in the ‘Prestige’ category.”
Ashley Sutton, Hand’s team-mate during 2015’s UK Clio Cup, is also scheduled to test an R.S 0.1 as one of his prizes for winning the championship. Judging by Hand’s feedback, Sutton is in for a real treat…
Hand added: “There was a lot to take in with having to learn both the car and circuit as well as getting used to a new team – and the weather threw an extra complication into the mix!
“That meant there was a fair bit to get my head around in a short space of time, but I absolutely loved the R.S. 01. It’s a mega piece of kit – extremely fast with an incredible power-to-weight ratio and phenomenal carbon brakes. That was where the biggest chunk of lap time was to be found and what took the longest to master, but after the first session I felt comfortable inside the car and was starting to push quite hard. It all came very naturally.”