“They just don’t make them like that any more’
“In my day, they were proper cars. Racing cars today are way too easy”
Comments you’ll often hear in the paddock or grandstands of any race meeting. Sir Stirling Moss himself is famously quoted as saying that the main reasons why he got into motorsport was to chase girls and because it was dangerous and that if Micheal Schumacher had driven in the same way in his era, he would have been killed on track, such is the safety of modern cars.
So while there’s no denying that modern motorsport is infinitely safer, has the challenge, the enjoyment, the thrill and satisfaction really gone from modern cars?
We talked to Andy McKenna about his first season back in the cockpit of a modern car, sharing the Holden Autosport Renault RS01 with Nick Holden in Britcar Endurance after several years of testing and racing historics to gain his view on the differences. Has the fun gone from modern racing or are we wearing rose tinted glasses when we look back across the years?
Compared to, say the Elva that you raced at Donington, how does the Renault compare as a car from a similar class of racing today?
The car falls midway between a GT3 category car and a DTM car. The chassis is 100% carbon and is incredibly stiff, with a flat floor and a full aerodynamic package.
Probably the biggest change is the advances in aerodynamics. You expect mechanical technologies such as engine power, gearboxes, brakes and so forth to have advanced, but back in the fifties and sixties, the concept of flying a car into the ground to generate corner grip hadn’t really been invented. Any wings that were on cars were generally someones best guess at what might work. In the Renault, the whole car is designed to work around the aerodynamic package. From the way the brakes grip, the power delivery, the traction control systems, the ride height. Everything works the way it does because of the aerodynamic grip.
The Elva, in comparison has 100% mechanical grip. The two cars may both wear tyres with Dunlop written on the sidewall, but that’s the end of it.
The Renault is built around technology, does that make it less satisfying to drive?
No. It’s a brilliant car to drive, almost certainly the fastest thing I’ve driven so far. The physical loads on your body are way, way higher, the heat inside the car is greater and the whole experience is way more physical, but it’s every bit as satisfying to drive.
Learning the technology of the gearbox, the mapping options, traction control options all built into the steering wheel were easier than I anticipated and having engineers as talented as the guys at Neil Garner Motorsport to work with in developing the setup has is a great feeling. The range of options available in setup means that having an experienced engineer to team up with is a massive advantage.
In something like the Elva, you are 100% reliant on the driver’s feedback and feel for the car, whereas the Renault has masses of data acquisition. When you add in the extra dimension of aerodynamics and the effect they have on the mechanical suspension, this additional data stream is very useful. With the combination of the stopwatch, what I feel as a driver and the graphical data all coming together to make setup an intensive process, but when you get it right, the car is absolutely brilliant to drive.
Does your experience of racing Historics give you elements that help in the Renault?
Racing Historics teaches you to carry speed, that’s for sure and that has been useful. In Britcar Endurance, I’m not giving up any secrets when I say we have a grip and braking advantage but are outgunned on horsepower. So my ultimate weapon in making progress is carrying that corner speed and making the most of our speed in those sections. Spending several weeks with clients on frozen lakes in Scandinavia each winter is also a useful way to develop that aspect of my racing.
So, the big question. Do you prefer racing historics or modern cars?
Both. And that’s not me ducking the question. I just love driving and racing cars. Whether it’s pulling 145 mph through Maggots at Silverstone in the Renault, or making the Dunlop CR65’s move around in the Elva, or making the ice driving tyres on the BMW work across a frozen lake, all are equally satisfying. If you’re chasing that tenth of a second, it’s still a tenth of a second regardless of the car. I’m working equally hard in either car and while the physical loads are less in the historic car, you’re still trying your very best to work with the grip you’ve got to carry as much speed in each corner as possible.
We were narrowly beaten by Mike Wilds and his son at the Snetterton Britcar round. He’s in his seventieth year and still on it. I hope I’m still enjoying my racing at his age too, no matter what I’m strapped into!
Here’s two in car videos of McKenna around Donington, one of the Elva last year, the other of the Renault RS01 testing for Britcar.