By James Wong
I thought I just got the upper hand with the weather when I arrived at Brands Hatch with a dry track and even some blue sky. Minutes after I entered the pit lane however, it started to drizzle, and then it started to rain like a tropical storm. Being rather early I was hoping it was only temporary, but it held out throughout the whole track session. Needless to say my confidence was hit, having had a major spin at Sepang once on a drenched track on turn 3 on my GTI. The better condition of my tyres this time could help save me, probably?
Never have I waited so long for 20 minutes of fun. It felt like eternity. I was early to get some photos, but unfortunately there weren’t many good vantage points next to the track to grab some nice shots. I was relegated to put down my DSLR and wander about the cars, sniffing out any special ones among the pack. There were a few amusing sights, like seeing a DB9 oversteering on the track or a R53 S whining down a straight with its supercharger, but there weren’t many. It was a dreary day but one that’s about to be made better.
Finally, my turn came to bring the Clio onto Brands. The track looked stupendously fun as a spectator, but entering it for the first time as a driver, I realised just how much dip and rise there was on the route. It was breathtaking to go down Paddock Hill Bend and accelerate downhill towards a climatic rise to the next corner at Druid’s Bend accompanied by heavy braking. It was proper, proper fun stuff and a totally different sensation to driving around a flat track like Sepang.
The Clio was surprisingly easy to drive quickly on the track, but having it at 7/10ths of its pace was probably a big factor. It was too wet to drive at 100% of what the car was capable of – the car will simply fly off the track due to the lack of traction. Perhaps that was good news somewhat, because I had negligible tyre wear after the session and I barely used the brakes much more than my typical spirited B-road drive.
Graham Hill Bend was a common oversteer spot and where people always tend to go too quickly, and it was where I experienced a bit of understeer with the car. With some lift-off the car quickly came back to its intended path; Graham Hill itself also presented enough space to give an early bootful of power before finishing exiting the corner. It was a bit terrifying, trying not to release power at some point for fear of eliciting lift-off oversteer. But very little of that happened, if at all; the car had more of a neutral balance than the GTI’s understeer bias; but it didn’t have an overly loose rear end that had the driver heading for the hedge every time. It was just confidence-boosting.
Cooper Straight allowed the car to hit fourth before entering the uphill bend at McLaren, which called for getting into third to get the most out of Clark Curve and Brabham Straight that follows it. I managed to hit an indicated 95mph on Brabham, which is not very fast – but then again Brands is more about the corners than about the speed, I think. It is not an overly high-speed track but rather a more technical one, especially when the elevation changes deceives the driver into putting too much or too little power.
I never knew 20 minutes could be so entertaining. I did about 10-12 laps in total, which was a nice introduction. I don’t know if I can see myself punishing the Clio for a whole day’s worth of track day in the future, but I’d be tempted for sure. The wear and tear does seem a bit too much for that though. At the moment, I’m happy satiating my desire to track the Clio at one of the world’s best race tracks. I’m happy to come back for a taster again… But Brands, maybe next time let me use my Go Pro suction mount so I can show people how awesome it is!