Renault Sport Interview: From an Upcoming Range Reinvention to R.S. 01 Drifting

We’ve always been fascinated by the Clark Kent vs. Superman duality shown by Renault and Renault Sport cars. We recently got to spend a few laps at the wheel of a Renault Clio Cup racecar and when we had the chance to sit down and talk to one of Renault Sport's top people, we were glad to put the helmet down and start recording.
Renault Sport Interview: From an Upcoming Range Reinvention to R.S. 01 Drifting 1 photo
Photo: Renault Sport
We spoke to Jean Pascal Jocou, Renault Sport Area Manager for Europe and America. A man in his fifties, Pascal is the kind of guy who has a relaxed attitude built over years and years in the speed business. Aside from his Renault Sport aura, he packs recent experience from outside the company - when a man’s wife works for McLaren and brings home the “a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind” attitude, the only way is to comply and learn your lesson. So yes, we had plenty of reasons to enjoy the time we spent with Pascal.

autoevolution: German performance divisions have seen their business booming over the last couple of years and this is why they are in a prolonged expansion process. Is Renault Sport planning something similar?

Jean Pascal Jocou: We have already set ourselves a goal for such an expansion. Last year, we sold 37,000 cars and we want that to increase to 50,000 by the end of 2018. This includes both the RS models and the GT vehicles. [For the sake of comparison, we’ll mention AMG expected its 2014 sales to surpass 45,000 cars, a major leap from the 32,200 units sold back in 2013].

ae: The current Renault Sport line-up includes three layers: the hot RS, the warm GT and visual-only GT Line. Will this structure change?

JPJ: Yes, it will. We will scale everything down to two lines, the RS and a new name for the current GT models.

ae: What about the visually-sporty bits now included in the GT Line? Will these be available through a special parts and accessories catalogue like in the case of the BMW M Performance parts?

JPJ: I cannot discuss that for now.

ae: Let’s go outside Renault’s range. What has been the most recent project of this kind for you?

JPJ: We have worked on the Smart Brabus.

ae: Speaking of which, are you considering doing something for the Twingo?

JPJ: Yes, of course. We will release a hotter Twingo, but it will not be an RS model. Just a sportier version of the car you can buy now.

ae: Since we’re here for a Clio RS event, I want to know if a customer interested in the Clio Trophy RS 220 gearbox software, which brings significantly faster changes, could have a Renault dealer install this on the standard Clio RS 200 EDC.

JPJ: I can tell you the Phase II [the mid-cycle facelift expected for next year] will see the RS 200 using the transmission software from the Trophy RS 220.

ae: Now that Renault is expanding its crossover range, we want to know if you are considering such projects.

JPJ: We are open to everything [an attitude completely different to other performance divisions - for instance, Porsche may build the Cayenne Turbo S, but will never put an RS badge on its SUV]. However, the car has to end up at the right price and there must be a market for it.

ae: Switching to customer racing, we’ll mention the increasing interest for drifting. Most, if not all, performance divisions involved in customer motorsport have included going sideways in their programs. Are you interested in this, at least as far as the RWD R.S. 01 is concerned?

JPJ: No, we only target the performance. Do you know the price of an R.S. 01? [given the $400k/EUR360k pricetag, he smiles] Buying an R.S. 01 to drift? I suppose some funny Japanese can do it, but honestly, it would be a shame [let’s hope Chris Harris doesn’t hear about this].

ae: Braking-based torque vectoring. Independent rear wheel braking with the purpose of more efficient cornering is relatively cheap to implement as a way of boosting performance, since the technology is already on the car. You don’t have this, but is it interesting for you?

JPJ: This is not one of our priorities right now. But with the electronics moving so fast these days, we can integrate such features if the market moves towards it. Still, the customer base for this kind of systems is extremely limited. Also, you can see the Megane RS 275 Trophy-R’s brilliant Nurburgring performance without any electronic assistance.

ae: Megane it is, then, namely the new GT. Nice move introducing rear-wheel steering on the Megane GT at Frankfurt just before Ferrari brought such a system on the F12tdf. Maranello only says they’ve developed the model-based control logic in-house [we expect the rest to come from ZF], but what about you? I know, for instance, that the rear-wheel steering on the Laguna comes from Aisin (the electronic control unit and the electric actuator). What about the new one?

JPJ: The system is developed entirely by Renault.

ae: Any important differences compared to the system on the Laguna?

JPJ: There’s a five-year development difference between the two, so you will feel the difference. The system on the Megane GT will be different to that on the Espace and the Talisman. That’s because the hatch is the only one that uses a Renault Sport software.

ae: Are hybrids or EVs a priority for Renault Sport?

JPJ: We know the ecological pressure is on the rise, especially now with the Volkswagen story, all the manufacturers are looking to cope with the demands coming from the governments and the ecological lobby partners. Someday, it will happen.

ae: Switching over to the R.S. 01, we know the main difference to the GT-R engine is the adoption of a dry-sump lubrication system, but what are the other changes you’ve made?

JPJ: The intake and the exhaust are bespoke and, obviously, so is the ECU.

ae: Let’s say a customer requires a street-legal version of the R.S. 01.

JPJ: It will cost so much to modify the car in order to pass tests such as the one regarding emissions and pedestrian safety, that it would be almost impossible. We actually considered building a street-legal version at a certain point during the development process, but the car would’ve reached a price that would be difficult to justify when comparing the Renault badge to exotic carmakers.

ae: The R.S. 01 is currently limited to its one-make racing series, what are your future plans?

JPJ: Certain FIA regulations, such as the GT2 class, require racecars to be based on production vehicles, which is why we can’t enter such forms of motorsport. But you will see the R.S. 01 entering new forms of racing next year.

Now we have 14 places, if we occupy two more, the grid will be full. All are sold out. But in January, you will see two cars in the 24H Dubai. Step by step, we will increase our presence [we expect the official to refer to more than just the R.S. 01 being downgraded to GT3 specification for the participation in the French Grand Touring racing series.]

ae: Let’s talk Alpine.

JPJ: I can only say you will have important news soon [perhaps Geneva 2016 in March?]

ae: What about the crown jewel, F1? We know you’ve signed a letter of intent to take over the Lotus Formula One team, but conspiracy theories talk about how the booming environmental pressure will determine Renault to direct more of its budget towards this, a move that could affect the funds that go into the F1 program.

JPJ: First of all, I want to explain that all the carmakers, obviously beside VW, bring their vehicles to the emission tests in various countries while being sure the cars are fitting. Sure, they are specially prepared for testing, as far as the current legislation allows, but there is no special software for rigging the tests. Every carmaker knows its car will pollute less during the test, but that’s thanks to measures such as skinnier and more inflated tires. So it’s not the same thing VW has done.

The kind of supposition you mention may apply to Volkswagen. Everybody hopes the financial consequences of Dieselgate will not affect their rallying return, but we can’t know for now.

For the record, Pascal used to serve Renault Sport in connection to rallying activities, so this was an interesting way of ending our conversation. It’s a shame we didn’t have some extra time to discuss what we call Ring Wolves, though.
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About the author: Andrei Tutu
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In his quest to bring you the most impressive automotive creations, Andrei relies on learning as a superpower. There's quite a bit of room in the garage that is this aficionado's heart, so factory-condition classics and widebody contraptions with turbos poking through the hood can peacefully coexist.
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