World Series by Renault: a fantastic day out

By on Sunday, August 21, 2011

Having regularly received press releases from several Formula Renault 3.5 drivers for the past season, it suddenly struck me that there was a round at Silverstone coming up. With the tickets being free – although they’re not actually tickets, they’re ‘invitations’, immediately making you feel like an important person – it seemed like a good opportunity to see some top quality racing without eye wateringly high prices.

Overhead gantries warned of ‘A43 at Silverstone. Major event today. Expect delays’. That never inspires confidence however there were no delays either entering or exiting the circuit. Entering circuits on a cool summer morning always bring about questions about the upcoming day: What will happen? Where shall we sit? What time is it reasonable to have lunch? Why do these events start so bloody early?

On passing through the gates, you’re given a small leaflet – the equivalent to a programme at other meetings – that have entry lists, a timetable and general information about the events going on. After a short walk, I decided to sit at Village B – having sat there for the 2010 British Grand Prix – and at 9am the grandstand was relatively empty, so a space at the front was there for the taking! If you wanted to, for a bit of history, you could walk on the circuit around the Bridge corner which sadly looks like a shadow of its former self. The rebuilding of the circuit over the recent years has meant that the area surrounding the Wellington Straight now looks surprisingly open, which isn’t a bad thing. Village B is a great place to sit as you can see Maggots and Becketts, Stowe, a bit of Vale and then everything from the exit of Farm to Aintree, the small kink near the start of the Wellington Straight. As ever though, the unique nature of motor racing circuits meant that it was freezing all day and I returned home sunburnt, despite the sun not making an appearance between 10.30am and 4pm.

The racing itself was quite decent. The morning’s qualifying sessions passed without incident – but for a couple of spins – and lunchtime brought the first F1 demo of the day; Romain Grosjean in the R30. For someone who hasn’t been to an F1 race for over a year, it was a reminder of just how fast and loud the cars are. Those fortunate enough to sit on the pit straight – using the old pits – were treated to a few donuts and burnouts. As the leaflet says, where else can you see a Formula One car in action, completely free of charge? Not just that, but a few of the drivers are likely to be in Formula One very soon and one, Daniel Ricciardo, is already there. As well as the F1 demo, Renaultsport entertained the crowds between sessions, whilst Jean Ragnotti demonstrated his classic Renault 5 Maxi Diac.

The afternoon saw the first races of the weekend, with the main event kicking off proceedings – the first FR3.5 race. The 45 minute race was a long battle between Robert Wickens, Alexander Rossi and Daniel Ricciardo; the top three qualifiers who quickly left the field behind. Erstwhile championship leader Jean Eric Vergne developed a problem on the grid and had to start from the pits. After surviving a wide moment on Lap 2, Wickens pulled about a second on Rossi, who slipped into the clutches of Ricciardo. On Lap 20, Ricciardo sized Rossi up and slipped down the inside at Village with the move sticking as they entered the Wellington Straight. Further down the order, there were numerous battles and a couple of spins for cash-strapped Cesar Ramos. After almost an hour of tense racing with rain threatening, Wickens took back the championship lead that he lost at the Hungaroring with a commanding performance.

The remaining races passed with Dutchman Robin Frijns winning the Eurocup race that featured 32 entrants and a few inevitable clashes leading to a couple of retirements. Home favourite Will Stevens hassled Frijns all race, only to be passed by Alex Riberas in the complex on the final lap. The Megane race saw a 1-2 for Oregon Racing as championship leader Stefano Comini sold team mate Niccolo Nanio a dummy into Stowe near the end of the race, after Nanio had led for the majority of the race. Nanio and Comini were never more than half a second apart for most of the race, with Comini becoming increasingly frustrated stuck behind his Italian team mate.

Aside from the on-track events, there’s plenty to do. Such as eat and drink. Inside the Village section, there are plenty of vans which sell pretty much anything you could ask for, although £4.90 for a crêpe (hark at Silverstone being all continental) is a bit pricey. Furthermore, when I asked for a muffin, I was given a look as if I had smeared excrement on the counter. However, on the whole, the quality of the food is good, although taking a picnic is still advisable – as so many people did. Drinks are reasonably priced, with a hot drink costing just over £2.

Inside the Village section – easily accessible from the bridge over the Wellington Straight – there is plenty to be amused by. There’s a Lotus Renault GP stand with a couple of R31s, plus the ‘pit stop’ challenge, which shouldn’t need much explaining. With the day being hosted by Renault, there’s also an inevitably large push from the French manufacturer into selling products, with a large showroom, the opportunity to win a car and a large merchandising stand which would leave any Renault or Red Bull fans in seventh heaven. There were also a few trucks and several Renault road cars on show, as well as a police stand to show off a few police cars, not to arrest those with criminally awful dress sense. Romain Grosjean made an appearance on stage, although hearing him was difficult not because of cars on track, but because he spoke so quietly into the microphone. There was also the chance to go on the pit walk and drive a Megane Renaultsport 250 Cup on the Stowe Circuit, the latter costing £30; both were in demand and opportunities to undertake the latter sold out by lunchtime. Such an event with an array of activities is a great advertising ploy by Renault to generate interest in their brand.

So for a great day out, all you need to spend money on is petrol to get there and drinks (food isn’t a necessity if you can fathom the energy to prepare a picnic). For a family of four, for example, you can have an enjoyable day out for around £30. With F1 tickets costing £250 each for the same grandstand at Silverstone, it’s obvious which event you should go to and it isn’t the Bernie show.

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