Yesterday, I (along with about 160,000 other people) was at a free event, organised by Renault UK to celebrate their 30 years in Formula 1.
It was very kind of Renault UK to spend so much of their marketing budget on a free weekend’s entertainment. A very large number of people obviously thought so, too, judging by the size of the crowds. Rumour has it that 160,000 people were expected on Sunday, and it certainly felt like they were all there! Traffic jams getting in and out of Donington verged on the Silverstone scale (!), and it was very hard to move around the event at times.
So, what was there to see? Well, the event could be categorised in three parts: activity on the track; a series of static displays from Renault, both modern and exhibits from their “Histoire & Collection”, and a display by Renault Owners. In addition, there was a fun fair and an F1 simulator, all of which were free, and had correspondingly enormous queues all weekend, and there were various competitions such as a “Pit Stop Challenge” and a separate one to change the wiper blades on a Modus. Even these had huge queues, so no tales of Forum prowess at either event!
Starting with the track, there were a series of qualifiers and then 2 races for each category of car. These were: Renault World Series (a slightly toned down F1 car type, 3.5 litre engines, 425 bhp); Renault 2.0 Challenge; the Megane Challenge, and the Clio Cup Challenge. With a large grid for each of these, there were 2 separate sets of qualifiers, then 2 races for each category. There were lots of thrills and spills on the track……….. one Renault World Series car, abandoned on the “safe” side of the track got thumped from behind when another car span off in exactly the same place in the same way just a couple of laps later. Several of the Clios ended up a little battered, and there were some spectacular departures for a good number of Meganes and cars in the other categories as well. This meant a lot of laps with the Safety Car out – a Clio 197, being driven fairly enthusiastically.
In addition to the races, we were treated to no fewer than 4 separate outings round the circuit from one of last year’s Formula 1 racers, and on his last lap, he stopped and did a gentle pirouette right in front of us, and just where several of the more exuberant drivers had come to grief earlier on! On Sunday afternoon, a few of the historic Renaults were wheeled out – 2 of the F1 cars from the 70s, 2 Alpine A442s and a couple of R5 Turbos………. these latter looked a real handful and one of them nearly lost it twice in the same spot. The third time, he went more cautiously, then deliberately spun it for us! All the safety car action meant a slight change to the program. There was supposed to be a Parade Lap of Renault Owners cars mid morning on Sunday, but a particularly large clearing up requirement mean that this got postponed until very last thing. Most spectators had set off to queue to get out of the car park, but patience was eventually rewarded with 3 laps. Before this, we watched as three of the 2 seater cars and one of the Meganes took various prize winners on what seemed like an eterminable number of laps. Whatever the competition was, I hadn’t found it………. what a prize that would have been! Eventually, at about 5:40, it was decreed that the Renault owners could go out.
I managed to get a ride in a friend’s Avantime. Earlier in the day, we had all been lined up by type of car, but by evening it was a bit more random, so we were behind a series of previous model Clios, and initially an ambulance. Plucking up courage to overtake the ambulance, we found a completely clear track, and no sign of the preceding cars……………. which meant that as we came to the next corner, there was no-on to follow, and Steve suddenly realised it was tighter than he thought…………… and then again, we came to corner where the track just disappeared! After this, it became obvious that the lead car had slowed up to try to get all the cars back in a line, and as we came to the end of the first lap, we had to pause, as they were still filing cars out so they could start a lap. So, on the second lap, the only way to get a bit of momentum was to hold back and create a gap that you could accelerate into……….. 3 laps and it was over.