Rally Coer Du France 2017
Welsh rally driver Sara Williams and co-driver Mark Glennerster returned to the Clio R3T France Trophy battle last week, entered in the penultimate round of the series, Rally Coeur De France, that ran in the Vendome, near to the world famous Le-Mans racing circuit, and surrounded by evocative Castles, many of the most famous French Chateaux also located in the central region of Northern France. Prior to the French foray the team Renault Clio R3T starred on the Motordrive Seats stand at the prestigious ‘Rallyday’ at the Castle Combe race circuit in Wiltshire, the race and rally seat manufacturer one of the backers of the Welsh drivers car in the French championship. Following the show Sara and Mark travelled out pre-rally, a ten hour drive prefacing their ‘recce’ of the stages scheduled for the two day event. There were some two hundred kilometres of stages to cover, all completed in a single day, as the ‘shakedown test’ for the Renault Clio R3T was planned for the Thursday, each stage never the less driven twice. The test stage was in comparison a short four kilometre blast in the morning, but very representative of the competitive runs to come, following Scrutineering and documentation prior to the Friday morning start.
Three special stages opened the rally battle on Friday morning, the first a ten kilometre test, the second four kilometres longer, before a twenty four kilometre run, fast and flowing high speed stages through the Vendome countryside, with opportunities to take tight lines through corners saving precious seconds, once those spots were perfected by the pre-rally reconnoitre of the stages. The roads were very similar to those experienced by crews that regularly compete in events in the Ypres region of Belgium, the similarity echoed by the final super special stage that ran through the Savigny Sur Bray town centre for some two kilometres as the finishing touch to that first day. A rapid change to Vendome weather brought heavy rain as Sara and Mark prepared for the final run in the dark, just enough time available to get wet weather tyres fitted on the Clio before the stage was driven ! Their increasing experience of both French stages and the Clio Championship itself was telling, Sara pleased to see times reducing throughout the day, and the nimble Renault beating crews that had proved quicker on previous events, so an agreeable first day.
The rain continued overnight as crews rested, and the asphalt of Saturdays opening stage remained wet as crews took the start, and the rain had as always washed slippery mud onto the cutable corners of the previous day, so more caution was required to avoid a costly trip into the scenery ! The second days stages were also longer, the twenty five and a half and twenty two and a half kilometre tests respectively a mix of fast open sections and tight hairpins to the North and West of the rally base, the runs repeated in the afternoon. The stages suited the Welsh driver, Sara setting third and fourth fastest times guided by the pacenotes of Mark, a feat that would see them seemingly move up to sixth in the Clio R3T France Trophy, though they later discovered a car ahead was not in fact registered for the series, so that moved them up to fifth !
In Service a comparison of other crews stage times showed that it was unlikely that Sara and Mark could – barring an accident or breakdown to the Renault ahead of them – overtake their opponents over the final two stages, and with their lead over the Clio behind them such that they themselves were uncatchable, the Championship position was sufficient reward for the rally, and that the risk of gaining that one place against going off the road was too great to take. The event proved to be their best result in the Clio Championship to date and a positive thing to have been able to be setting third and fourth fastest times against crews with more experience of the rally territory – a promising factor to consider for the remaining round of the championship, which is Rallye Du Var in the Alpes of the Cote D’Azur in late November. The decision on competing in that final round will depend on a number of factors, the team – supported by to ASM Motorsport , Renault Sport France, Michelin Tyres, Motordrive Seats, Millers Oils, Burnsides, Brecon Motors, Brecon Car Rentals , Excedy Clutch, Mibau Stema, and in association with FIA Women in Motorsport, Brecon Motor Club, Sutton and Cheam Motor Club and the International Rally Drivers Club – currently evaluating the situation.