Renault Sport’s prowess in breaking lap records, particularly at the Nürburgring, is among the most impressive of any production car manufacturer. Stretching back more than a decade, the lap record on the famed German track – one of the most picturesque in the world thanks to its forest setting – has tumbled since the Megane R26.R achieved a lap time of 8:19.9 back in 2008.
Over the following years, the record for the front wheel drive category was in R.S. hands another three times: in 2011 when the Mégane R.S. 265 Trophy clocked 8:07.97, in 2014 when the R.S. 275 Trophy-R dipped under eight minutes with its lap record 7:54.4 and in May 2019 when the New Mégane R.S. Trophy R took almost four seconds off the previous record with an astonishingly fast 7:40.10 (and 07:45.’389 on the official whole lap of 20.832 km). Since then, Hurgon and the R.S. Trophy-R have also taken lap records at both Belgium’s Spa Francorchamps and Japan’s Suzuka Circuit.
So what is it about setting lap records that drives Renault on to achieve increasingly better performances? Well, there’s no man more equipped to answer the question than Renault Sport engineering director, Thierry Landreau.
“There are three things that drive us,” he says. “The first is our brand image. The Nürburgring lap record is a real objective demonstration of the performance of a vehicle. Everyone can have a point of view about a car, but at the end of the day, the lap record is an objective measurement of performance that cannot be argued with. The Nürburgring is a long 20km track with a variety of straight lines and 73 corners, so it is a really good and relevant exercise to demonstrate objectively the performance of the car.”
“The second point is technologies and skills enhancement – breaking a lap record is a front-runner for new technologies and new skills used such as the R.S. Trophy-R’s better aerodynamics, tuning, titanium exhaust and carbon fibre elements. The third is the team spirit development – we are a company with many passionate engineers and breaking records both challenges us and helps provide close collaboration across all departments.”
The Renault Sport team is so tightly knit that record-breaking attempts are now relayed back to Renault Sport Cars HQ via live streaming for all team members not at the track on the day to view together. Naturally, from the hundreds of people who are involved, there’s one that really stands out in the public’s mind: none other than driver Laurent Hurgon, who was also behind the wheel for the 2011 and 2014 Nürburgring records.
“Laurent has a long history with the track [at Nürburgring], but that does not mean that is his only specialism,” Landreau says. “He participates completely in the development of our cars, working daily with the rest of the team as one to get the best tuning set-up possible. He certainly doesn’t act like a ‘star’ – he’s a pretty normal guy who works daily with the engineers in the shop and is at the core of our development.”
It’s 11 years since the Mégane R.S. R26.R took glory at the Nürburgring. Given how quickly technology develops, one wonders how much has changed in how the R.S. team goes about attempting a record. “It’s a pretty consistent story to be honest,” Landreau reveals. “The idea has always been to develop a specific R-version of our cars which uses lightweight performance, cornering talent and chassis fine-tuning to be the best possible. We don’t rely on a high-powered engine. As you can imagine, simply changing the engine would be an easier way to shave off seconds, but we prefer to look at and improve all the other elements.”
A huge number of factors go into a record attempt: engine, weight, chassis tuning, the driver… For Landreau though, the correct weather conditions on the day are a vital element often overlooked by the public. “On record D-Day, having the right temperature and road conditions are paramount,” he reveals. “The temperature must be between 5-20C for the performance of the engine, and the road must be as dry as possible – without grip it is impossible to achieve such a record. That is the reason all records are made around April and June. It’s the ideal period for it.”
To improve the New Mégane R.S. Trophy-R, Renault has worked with a number of specialist partners: Brembo for the brakes, Akrapovic for the exhaust system, Öhlins for the suspension, Sabelt for the bucket seats and Bridgestone for the semi-slick S007 tyres.
“The tyres and their grip, along with chassis tuning are really important in our efforts,” Landreau admits. “We use normal tyres that are commercially available. They are not prototypes or tyres that have been developed specifically for the attempt. The car is developed in partnership with the tyre manufacturer to ensure that the chassis and the tyre are matched to get the best performance. What is amazing is that as a result, the performance of the car is better than a lot of competitors who have much more powerful engines. It demonstrates that at a reasonable HP, you can really use improvements in chassis performance and cornering talent to improve overall speed.”
With so many factors in play, record attempts are risky affairs and Landreau says the team veers between self-belief and keeping fingers crossed on the big day.
We tend to be confident because we know we can produce the performance, but at the same time, we have the glorious uncertainty of the race. You are naturally concerned about what may happen that you can’t predict. The margins are very, very fine.
With a fourth record lap record now secured by the R.S. Trophy-R, Renault Sport could perhaps comfortably rest on its laurels. You can bet that won’t be the case moving forwards though. “Frankly speaking, we have not defined what comes next,” Landreau admits. “What is sure is that we will have new challenges based on the three factors we discussed before: brand image, technology and team building. But our competitors’ response will also be important. Let’s see what the competition comes up with. We welcome any challenge, because in turn it will challenge us to improve our own performance even more.”
2008 - Vincent Bayle takes the Mégane II R.S. R26.R to a record-breaking lap time of 8:16.9 on the “Green Hell” of the Nürburgring’s North Loop, the Nordschleife, taking around nine seconds off the previous best.
2011 - Laurent Hurgon captures his first Nürburgring record in the R.S. 265 Trophy, taking 8:07.97 to cover the 20.600km distance.
2014 - Hurgon breaks his own record at Nürburgring with a lap time under the mythical eight minute mark and an official time of 7:54.36 in the Mégane III 275 R.S.
May 2019 – Hurgon re-captures the lap record for a third time at the Nürburgring recording 7:40.10 (07:45.389 on the official whole lap of 20.832 km), shattering both his own lap time and that of his rivals.
July 2019 – With the Nürburgring record in the bag, Hurgon and the Trophy-R headed to Belgium to smash the FWD lap record at the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit in 2:48.338 – this time in front of a live audience at one of the popular R.S. Days.
November 2019 - Another continent, another record. This time with Renault-backed Garry Rogers Motorsport TCR Australia driver James Moffat at the wheel, the Trophy-R takes the FWD production lap record at South Australia’s Bend Motorsport Park’s 7.7-km circuit with a time of 2:14.316.
November 2019 - Not content with conquering Europe and Australia, Hurgon and the R.S. Trophy-R headed to Japan’s historic Suzuka track and took the FWD lap record with a time of 2:25.454 (more than three seconds better than the previous record).