Spa is used to faster, more powerful cars roaring along the Kemmel straight; but the C1 still requires commitment
Matt Prior
2 December 2017

Have you ever heard a small-capacity two-stroke motorcycle haring along the road at top speed, gone to a window to look at it and realised that it’s not going very quickly at all?

It’s all ‘niiinnnnng’, and no go.

Welcome to the Citroën C1 Racing Club. Only without most of the ‘ning’.The C1 Racing Club was born because people used to race Citroën 2CVs in large numbers, but don’t quite so much any more. It used to be one of the cheapest forms of motorsport out there but these days even the newest 2CV is decades old and running and maintaining those cars is, by pastime standards, starting to become rather expensive.

So some of the people behind it thought they would put a C1 racing car together and see how that went. Sedately, is the answer. But also cheaply, so here we are.

The first-generation C1 is, as you’ll probably know, mechanically identical to the Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo, though only C1s make it into the club for now. There were 3dr or 5dr versions but the racers are 3drs and alterations between road car and race car are pretty limited to keep cost down and the playing field level. 

In the technical regulations, the phrase ‘no modifications’ appears no less than 15 times. Every car has its interior stripped and safety equipment added. The dashboard has to remain in place, with a working radio, to prove the wiring loom is standard, and the handbrake is still there, because every car must have an MOT. The engine, gearbox, exhaust, glass and even the window winders (manual or electric) have to stay as was. The minimum weight limit, including driver, is 910kg. Most cars carry ballast to bring them up to the limit. 

Power is – drum roll – a heady 68bhp, delivered to the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox whose fifth gear I suspect you’d never see on a race track.

You can’t change a thing on the transmission, either.

There are, though, a couple of changes to the suspension. You can shim the rear to adjust the toe angle (dead straight is best, clubbers find), fit strut braces if you like, and mount club-supplied lower front suspension arms, to adjust camber and keep more rubber on the road.

That rubber, mind, is the Nankang AS1, because the club tried a few different tyres and decided that these ones delivered the best balance. And, crucially, not very much grip. They’re also quite cheap.

Does all this sound silly to you? Same here, but it has obviously struck a chord. The club’s first races were this year but already there are more than 80 cars complete or in-build. And I think that’s because, all in,you could be looking at having a car built, race ready, for around £3000. It’s so popular that the club recently announced it would hold a 24-hour race at Rockingham in May. Within a week, it was so oversubscribed that it had to announce it was holding another one in August.

There’s also another 24-hour race, at Spa-Francorchamps where no fewer than 108 cars raced – half of them 2CVs, or curious derivatives thereof, and the other half C1s. Remarkably, they all fitted on the same circuit.

This is, I suspect, because the speed differentials aren’t that big. In ‘proper’ GT racing, you might have LMP1 cars and GTE cars on the same track with massively different closing speeds. With C1s and 2CVs (and some weird developed 2CV racers with BMW bike engines and the odd classic Mini), everybody’s broadly... slow.

How slow? A Formula 1 car will lap Spa in 1min 46sec, at an average speed of 147mph. A C1 cannot even dream of 147mph, so wants almost two minutes extra to complete a lap. So there is time to think about what you’re catching, or what is catching you, and that makes 108 cars fit into 4.3 miles quite easily. Besides, an average of 75mph over a lap doesn’t sound so bad, does it? It sounds, dare I say it, exciting. It is.

It doesn’t matter if it’s quite sedate. Racing at Spa, in the dark, even with only 68bhp, is utterly, utterly brilliant. My first ‘stint’ was two hours from dusk and it was, I kid you not, one of the best drives I’ve ever had in my life.

How’s the car? Not fast, by proper racing car standards, but turning into Eau Rouge, in the dark, in the rain, at 4am, with wipers smearing 12 hours of grit and grime and oil and filth across the windscreen,at 90mph, only a few inches from another car, felt quite senior to me.

The suspension changes make the C1 really adjustable too. It’s not exactly sharp on turn in, but it hangs on gamely and the rear is only a lift of throttle from becoming quite active. The steering is light and uncommunicative, but the brakes – light pedal aside – are phenomenal, the gearshift easy and the engine revvy. It’s amazing fun.

There are places, even at Spa, even in the dry, where you have to take a small breath before turning in flat. And there are places – quite a few of them – where your right foot feels like you’re trying to trap a lost expenses receipt to the floor in a high wind.

Anyway, I shan’t bore you with full details of how my teammates and I fared, except to say that I didn’t break the car and we finished mid-order, it was the friendliest racing grid I have ever been a part of, and we all had an absolute ball. How much of a ball? Put it this way: I don’t always enjoy racing, but should you happen upon a Citroën C1 race, my intention is that you’ll find me in it. 

How to make a race-ready C1 

On top of a donor car, there are 12 things you need to fit to a C1 to send it racing, mostly to meet MSA regulations. They range from £7 bonnet straps and a £5 foglight bulb, to £650 for a rollcage. The club- supplied suspension and guard kit costs £620 and new springs, which lower the car by 35mm, are £110.

When it comes to the donor car, the club recommends you buy the lowest-mileage car available. Although you can pick them up as cheaply as £1200, and engines are generally robust, they recommend you walk away from any car with more than 100,000 miles. Consumables are resilient. We only used two sets of tyres in a 24-hour race and even that wasn’t essential. Uprated brake pads will last a twice-round-the-clock race and then a few other sprint races before a change becomes necessary.

Related stories: 

Citroen C1 review 

Citroen C3 Aircross review

Citroen C4 Picasso

Our Verdict

Citroen C1

More power and new style improves the Citroen C1's performance and appeal, but it's still not in the VW Up's class

Join the debate

Comments
10

2 December 2017

The 2cv 24h are less and less 2CV. C1, "2CV" with BMW engines...

Where are they going ?

 

2 December 2017

... now to fire up the Autotrader app. I never thought I'd say this but I need a C1!

 

 

You're not stuck in traffic - you are traffic!!

2 December 2017

I am old in the tooth (not many of those left I can call my own either), but I would dig out my helmet and racing shoes and jump in one of these with pleasure. No mention about slicks or wets if allowed or not. Having raced yonkers ago a Toyota Starlet 1.4 rearwheel drive against Cossies and alpines and a variety or rear engines french tin cans - and come up smelling of roses with top three finishes in some 30km plus mountain stages - I can tell you the adrenaline pumps for weeks after. The Starlet was the cheapest and most reliable car out there. It was great and I enjoy waxing lyrical still today as you see. Sorry about that, must be the age keeping me chatting - possibly to myself lol

what's life without imagination

2 December 2017

This is what motor racing needs, more fun and less of the massive expense.

Citroëniste.

2 December 2017

Love it, racing on the cheap, I take it 100k+ mileage engines arent up to the strain of being thrashed around a track? Shame as that would make it even cheaper and more accessible.

HMM

2 December 2017
I've taken part in this race for the past 5 years in a 2CV. Originally with a tuned 2CV engine but latterly with a BMW to keep the cost down (the original engines tend to give way on a regular basis). I love the variety of cars and welcome the C1's.

We lap slightly quicker than a C1 but need to refuel more often so great racing throughout the 24 hrs. I've always wanted to race but it was only by stumbling into the 2CV world that I could afford it.

As Matt Prior says, 3am in pouring rain, 3 abreast into a classic Spa corner - driving doesn't get much better!

Looking forward to next year already.

3 December 2017
HMM wrote:

I've taken part in this race for the past 5 years in a 2CV. Originally with a tuned 2CV engine but latterly with a BMW to keep the cost down (the original engines tend to give way on a regular basis). I love the variety of cars and welcome the C1's.

We lap slightly quicker than a C1 but need to refuel more often so great racing throughout the 24 hrs. I've always wanted to race but it was only by stumbling into the 2CV world that I could afford it.

As Matt Prior says, 3am in pouring rain, 3 abreast into a classic Spa corner - driving doesn't get much better!

Looking forward to next year already.

Sounds great....I think. I may have to give it a go.

3 December 2017
HMM wrote:

I've taken part in this race for the past 5 years in a 2CV. Originally with a tuned 2CV engine but latterly with a BMW to keep the cost down (the original engines tend to give way on a regular basis). I love the variety of cars and welcome the C1's.

We lap slightly quicker than a C1 but need to refuel more often so great racing throughout the 24 hrs. I've always wanted to race but it was only by stumbling into the 2CV world that I could afford it.

As Matt Prior says, 3am in pouring rain, 3 abreast into a classic Spa corner - driving doesn't get much better!

Looking forward to next year already.

Sounds great....I think. I may have to give it a go.

3 December 2017

what're the regulations regarding abs and traction control etc; how do they keep them off?

3 December 2017
russ13b wrote:

what're the regulations regarding abs and traction control etc; how do they keep them off?

 

Before any race all cars are scrutineered to the best of my knowledge and 12 years of racing, so I doubt that its any different for 2CV. But importantly 99.9% of entrants are there for the lark and cheating really doesnt enter the frame.

what's life without imagination

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Seat Arona 1.5 TSI EVO FR
    First Drive
    17 January 2018
    Seat is on a roll with the Ateca and Ibiza; can they score a hat trick with the new Arona?
  • Jaguar E-Pace D240
    First Drive
    17 January 2018
    With much riding on the success of the Jaguar E-Pace, we have been impressed with the mid-level diesel version, but now its time for the most powerful oilburner to go under the spotlight
  • Vauxhall VXR8 GTS-R
    Car review
    12 January 2018
    Vauxhall bids farewell to its line of Aussie performance legends in some style with the limited edition VXR8 GTS-R
  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio
    Car review
    12 January 2018
    Alfa Romeo’s first SUV aims to hoist the handling panache of the Giulia saloon
  • Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI
    First Drive
    11 January 2018
    Sixth-generation Volkswagen Polo arrives in the UK with a emphasis on safety and refinement. Could that be enough to see it become supermini king?