HiFi-Filter Megane Trophy racecar - Driver: Pierre Hirschi

Nurburgring hosts Renault’s Megane Trophy race

The scene is the Nurburgring, weather splendidly sunny, crowds basking in the aura generated by the weekend’s racing. There’s a mini funfair, bars aplenty, Renaults everywhere in all shapes and styles. Classic Renaults bid for attention next to slick single seaters, all powered by the french marque. But we are strangely drawn to the menacing shape of the Megane Coupe racers nosing out of pit the garages.

Pierre Hirschi - cheerful banter with the team

These silhouette, mid-engined monsters race in a one make/model series that’s part of Renault’s World Series. These events are free to the public and consequently well attended. We pick, slightly at random (and guess what, it’s yellow), a Hifi Filters sponsored Megane amongst a trio of Oregon Team prepared cars. Driver Pierre Hirschi speaks broken English which is a start, and perfect Swiss-French which suits us fine. We decide to follow him for the day rather than write a race report about a formula we’ve never witnessed. This genial 50 year old is clearly not out to be the next Schumacher, but enjoy a weekend’s racing. He qualifies as a “Gentleman Racer”, an amateur sub-class of the large field contesting the Megane Trophy Series.

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Talking of qualifying; Pierre heads for his helmet, dons gloves and inserts himself into the spaceframe chassis that pretends to look like a road car. Inside there’s no attempt to ape the Coupe’s interior, but a racing setup worthy of a Le Mans car. A large LCD screen does for a dash, with vital adjustment switches on the steering wheel. On the floor is a cluster of fuses and switches, and err, that’s it. The stripped out interior features only two foot pedals, ideal for left foot braking, whilst gear changing of the 6 speed sequential gearbox is handled by paddles on the steering wheel. 3.5 litres of V6 produce 360 BHP to propel Pierre’s monster round the track. He guides car 24 down the pitlane for the qualifying session while we scamper down to the first corner to watch and record his performance.

It takes roughly two minutes for a Megane to complete the Nurburgring’s five kilometers of track, that’s 15 seconds longer than the Formula Renault single seaters that are running a similar 3.5L engine. But after the warm up lap we scan the myriad of cars charging down the pit straight and fail to spot Pierre’s mount. It may be that we confused his racer amongst the yellow contingent, difficult to distinguish his livery from the other two Oregon Team cars. After another couple of laps we decide there’s a problem and head back to the pits. A TV monitor in the first garage confirms our suspicions as it shows his stranded car being recovered. A failed accelerator pedal switch is to blame, easy to fix, but a guaranteed demotion to the back of the grid means a mountain to climb in the race.

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Surprisingly un-despondent, Pierre has words with manager and mechanics and plans for the race, knowing that a good start is essential in the reace. But first it’s time for some pasta, a little siesta and to watch the Formula Renaults tearing round the ‘Ring. Us Brits are always happy to support the underdog, and it’s with some butterflies that we watch him shoehorned into his car for the race. There’s a very special emotional feeling being on the grid of a motor race. The same angst you get if addressing a crowd of people, attending your first day at school, meeting your future parents-in-law. No matter that Pierre is on the very last place of the grid; he’ll have to work his way through the first lap confusion, avoid taking part in someone else’s accident, and thread his way up the field to make his mark. As the 5 minute horn sounds we wish him luck, leave the teaming grid and head for the outside of the first corner; always the best (and most intimidating) place for a shot of the start. Fortunately there’s plenty of run-off space and catch fencing to hide behind and a convenient hole to stick a long lens through.

HIFI-Filter Megane Trophy racecar - Driver: Pierre Hirschi, lying 22nd at the first corner

Lights change and the race is on. All 24 cars get away cleanly, with Dimitri Enjalbert leading. We scan the medley for our comrade. Predictably the last car is yellow. But hang on, it’s not Pierre but one of his team mates! Second from last, another Oregon-run car, but it’s not Pierre either. By the time the cars have weaved round the Mercedes-Arena he is lying 21st. Respect! The field spreads and Pierre finds himself in an epic battle with car number 73, before disappearing, but this time to complete a mandatory refuelling stop.

Megane Trophy racecar - takes a spin!

Car thirst quenched, he re-emerges into a battle with a fellow Oregon Team car. As racers often say, they’d rather beat their team mates than anyone else on the track. This has inevitable consequences though, and after a lap of dicing Pierre makes it past, only to have his team mate ram him on the track out of our view. By the time car 24 makes it round to the Mercedes-Arena again the car is smoking and slowing, and forced to pull up safely off the racing line. A Jeep Cherokee course car tows him off the track.

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Back in the paddock, the damage is clear: bashed bodywork, two broken wishbones, and a shattered disc brake; a shame to see Pierre’s valiant charge through the field halted prematurely. Time to interview the “pilote”. Time for Pierre to show he qualifies for his Gentleman Racer status more than as technical term. He’s not bitter, angry, but still radiates the excitement and electricity that motor racing generates. Prodding him for comments we discover he has spent a lifetime on the motor racing circus…But he’s keen to see race results. Turns out this weekend is a family affair: His son Jonathan is leading the Megane Trophy championship with his TDS prepared car. But not for long as today is unlucky for him too. He drops down from first and ends up second in the championship, beaten by Luxemburger Mike Verschuur.

HiFi-Filter Megane Trophy racecar - Only half a vented disc left!

Our day is over and we bid farewell to Pierre Hirschi, his son Jonathan, and the helpful Oregon Team, and wish them luck for Sunday: all is not lost as they get a second 40 minute race on the same weekend. This time, in our absence, Pierre finishes 13th and Jonathan 3rd, and we wonder whether we just chose the wrong day to follow our Gentleman Racer!

Look out for this year’s racing. Next race at Spa Francorchamps on 1st & 2nd May !

HIFI-Filter Megane Trophy racecar - Driver: Pierre Hirschi

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