At just after seven on a May morning, Renaultsport’s test driver Laurent Hurgot set the Renault Mégane Trophy-R’s new Nürburgring lap record for front-drive production cars, at a shade under eight minutes.
It’s now a month later, I’ve been daft enough to position myself next to Hurgot in the passenger seat of the very same vehicle, and it feels to me like he’s having another crack at the lap time.
Momentum preservation is everything when you've only 271bhp to deploy, but are out to set a lap time that is all but the equal of a Group C sports car’s. Such a time is only made possible by the Trophy-R’s astonishing corner speeds; the deftness with which it rides kerbs is extraordinary.
And Hurgot is riding kerbs. And cutting corners. And chucking the car at bends with the sort of abandon we’d colloquially call a ‘send’ or a ‘bung’, to unsettle the rear on corner entry and make the rear of the car work, before getting back on the gas on each apex.
The Trophy-R might technically be a series production car, but with only two seats and having received a heck of a lot of chassis work, it’s far removed from your usual hot hatch. The front springs are a composite, lighter than steel, while this Mégane also gets trick adjustable-stiffness Ohlins dampers.
Apparently it even rides 'okay' on the road in its ‘Ring damper settings, says Hurgot, though he says you might want to knock them back a bit for bumpier asphalt. The dampers are optional on Renault’s new Mégane 275 Trophy five-seat hot hatch, too, at £500 a corner.
Hurgot hasn’t driven the Seat Leon Cupra (whose record he took) at all, let alone on the Nordschleife, but from watching the video of its now-broken record he suspects its electronically-controlled differential demands a different driving style to the conventional mechanical diff of the Renault.
The Seat’s driver seemed to get on the power very early, notes Hurgot, but “if you drive the Renault like that I think you get too much understeer”.
There’s not a lot of understeer in the Mégane. From the passenger seat, I can sense where power is being apportioned, which tyres are being worked hard and when. There’s precious little time when it isn’t all of them.
Hurgot has driven other competitor cars around here too, including a Ford Focus RS500. “That is a good car,” he says. “Though the weight is quite high so it is quite hard on its tyres and brakes.”
Certainly, the Trophy-R gets seems to get tremendous purchase and value from its consumables. It’s ragged around the circuit for a whole morning on the same set of rubber and brakes, despite the incredible lick at which that Hurgot is driving.
I’ve been given some quick rides by quick drivers in this game, but I give you my word that this one, in a sub-300bhp front-drive hatchback, was the most exciting.
Later I’m told Hurgot raced Citroën 2CV Cross, a sport I know little about. A spot of YouTubing reveals it’s 2CVs being thraped to within an inch of their lives on demanding, lumpy circuits where each front-driven horsepower and every inch of circuit (and some off-circuit) counts. Makes perfect sense.