Third time lucky for rally converted 197!

Converting a road standard R.S. to competition spec can be a real labour of love and the story of Sam Bennett’s Clio 197 is no exception.
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Rewind to a single venue rally at the Cadwell Park circuit at the start of this year and Sam’s 197, having undergone the road to stage transformation, was on the starting line ready for its rallying debut.

It didn’t end well as a nasty accident with a wooden post (it came through the windscreen) signalled an early bath.

Its next event, the Dukeries Rally at Donington Park, also ended in retirement – this time with oil pouring from the car’s gearbox.

Fast forward to 18 November and, back at Cadwell Park again, finally Sam and co-driver David Simmons crossed the line but not before a high-speed brush which tore off the front bumper.

“It could have been a whole lot worse but the main thing is we made it at last – it’s made all the work worthwhile,” said Sam.

“I got this car with 98,000 miles on it from a guy who’d put two bucket seats and a custom exhaust on it, we think, for a bit of track day fun. I started using it in sprints but wanted to go rallying so the work began.”

While the original 2-litre 197 engine has been retained it has undergone a massive rebuild and upgrade. This includes a 48mm Jenvey throttle body, a custom made manifold “as no-one back then sold one that fitted the Jenvey”, fully forged internals for more compression and power, plus Supertech valves.

An extended Mk2 steering column (bringing the wheel closer to the driver) has been fitted along with a fibre glass AiM dash with LED display. Transmission comes from a race spec, six-speed Clio Cup/Sadev sequential gearbox with limited slip differential while suspension is of the KW Clubsport variety to achieve greater camber and front-end stability.

Tyres are Michelin rally spec ‘slicks’ but the biggest single change perhaps is to the wiring loom – a speciality of Sam’s business Spark Developments Motorsport in Newark. The original has been replaced and incorporates a DTA S40 ECU for greater mapping options (eg flat shifting). Output is now around 225bhp.

Spark has also started to field a second 197 for driver Blair Thomson with upgrades to match Sam’s car in the pipeline…

“I really enjoy this car,” added Sam. “When I first started looking at Renaults a 172 or 182 might have been a more obvious choice – they cost less and are more readily available – but I really wanted the Mk3 shape.

“One of its greatest strengths is the handling and it’s also quite forgiving – I can think of other makes and models which keep you on your toes but this can rescue you out of certain situations!”

Already the 197 is back at base ahead of work to lower its gearbox’s final drive (“otherwise it’s a waste of speed we can’t get up to on a rally”) before the next planned outing, at Blyton Park next February.