Miniature NASCAR

Miniature NASCAR

Can a car as slow as the Twingo be a real racing car at all? Austrian motorsports journalist Keke Platzer investigates the question on his own in last year’s Brno race weekend.

“10 seconds off.” No! “I took it with the stopwatch.” That cannot be. “But it is!” Usually, according to this message, it was time to rethink my activity as a racing driver. In racing, people fight for tenths, no hundredths of a second. More than ten full seconds behind the best lap times after my first – as I thought, quite respectable – test drive in the Cup Twingo. There’s no other way to put it: it was a disaster. Team boss Mirko Marinšek had warned me: “This car is not like the others”. And he was right.

Clock comparison
The one-make cup with the cute Twingo’s has been around since 2016. The experienced Slovenian racing team LEMA made the cars with the aim to offer cheap motor sports. The championship is often smiled at, as the tiny cars are by far the slowest cars on the racetracks. A comparison at the Hungaroring shows the following numbers: The fastest Twingo’s drove around the 4.3 km long track in 2 minutes and 29 seconds. The Chevrolet Cruze from Pfister’s Eurocup are five seconds faster, the Cup Swift 14 seconds faster, Twingo’s big brother, Clio, with 130 more horsepower a full 25 seconds.

Rear heavy
Well, he’s slow, but that’s why he’s less fun? Not at all! The car is agile from the ground up, the short wheelbase makes it jagged, little steering is needed. Mounted are semi-slicks from cheap supplier Nankang from Taiwan. A set costs just 200 Euro, you can drive more than a weekend with it – in the dry and in the rain (!). Uncomplicated I would say. You look at astonished faces when you talk about the rear-wheel drive in the Twingo. The conversation partner likes to pull out the smartphone to google it. In fact, Renault opted for the rear engine and drive for the production car. Of course, the Racing Twingo with 82 hp has far too little power to drive off the bend. However, the rear end is always slightly in motion when entering and exiting corners, and in the best case helps to get around the corner. Team boss Mirko explains how it works: “Brake as little as possible, only steer as much as necessary and don’t drift!”

Pushed game
My starting situation: I had experience with faster touring cars, but none with the strange Twingo and with the roller-coaster circuit in Brno. The 15 other pilots, most of them Slovenians, had. “You’ll see, if you have other cars around you, everything is different”, reassured rally driver Alfred Kramer after my shocking training. His sons Stefan and Alfi Jr. have been driving in the Twingo Cup for quite some time. “Hang on to us in qualifying”, they give me support. The Kramer’s drive onto the track after me. I wait and wait; at some point I see their yellow Twingo’s in the rear-view mirror. I accelerate. Much too late, on the last uphill stretch I have no chance of ever regaining speed. On start-finish the two are flying by. I’m fully on the gas but can only manage over 130 with difficulty. Alone I don’t have the slightest chance to follow.

Drive is everything with this car. To lose this, is the end of all hopes of victory. The way to victory is “bump-drafting” – known from NASCAR. Teamwork is also required in the Twingo, slipstream is needed, and you want to be pushed. I drive back into the pits and beg my team boss Mirko not to send me out until a group arrives. Strolling has no sense with lap times of over three minutes. Mirko screams through the window: “Let’s go!” I accelerate, first gear, second gear, third gear, the fourth gear needs it only once, on start and finish. I look who I can follow. If you follow the wrong guy, you’re too slow. I’m lucky, I catch a quick colleague. I’m thinking of Stefan’s advice: “You can drive on it, the car can take it.” I bang the man in front into the rear cooling grille. I can already see through his rear window how he is raising his hand. But not to curse, but to show me: Well done, let’s move on. My thumb goes up. I qualify on the surprising fifth place, my sparring partner one in front of me. I was more than ten seconds faster than in the test. Crazy, this series!

All a matter of the mind
The races are based on the same principle: Whoever drops out and stays behind loses momentum and many places. If you position yourself well, are a little lucky and don’t make any mistakes, you have the chance to be at the front. Mentally this is immensely exhausting. In the first race I just finished fourth in the photo-finish, in the second race I drive for a long time for victory. In the end I narrowly miss the podium. Also, for the Kramer’s not everything went according to plan. Before the races both still had a chance of winning the Eurocup title. But even a victory in the last races was not enough, so the champion 2018 was called Tomaž Trček in the end. Also, Stefan and Alfi will come back, they promise: “This series is awesome!” I agree. There is hardly a better school for beginners to learn racing. Other championships are not that unforgiving.