Flat out with Yvan Muller in the rocketship Renault 5 Turbo 3E electric hatch | Top Gear
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Saturday 2nd December

Flat out with Yvan Muller in the rocketship Renault 5 Turbo 3E electric hatch

TG rode with Muller on his first ever run up the Goodwood hillclimb. Words were in... short supply

Published: 24 Jul 2023

First run of the day. Seems reasonable to ask my driver if he'd been to the Goodwood Festival of Speed before.

"No, my first time." Had any practice runs? "No." Er, never mind, he won't mess this up. Yvan Muller has won multiple championships in British and World touring cars. He's also the most successful Andros Trophy ice racer ever, so knows about sliding.

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Plus he helped develop this Renault 5 Turbo 3E. It's on top mechanical form, because it was engineered and built by Ligier, and the chap from that programme is here tending to it today.

It's built like a proper race car: all the strength is in the cage and tub, none in the flimsy but fabulously styled panels. I'm afraid even to touch the wobbly door or thin perspex side windows. The Ligier man silently straps me into the passenger seat, a proper competition job that constrains me like a bad case of cramp. I can't even turn my head.

Off we go towards the start. The gears saw into your ears, a hard-edged whine. We get to the point where cars do a three-point turn to aim to get to the queue for the start. Marshals push us backward. Muller can't see – no mirrors, no head-turning remember – and no-one can hear anyone over the noises of combustion.

We wait in line. Muller is polite, but because I don't want to bore him and expose my sparse BTCC knowledge I'm signally failing to get the conversation percolating.

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D'you like it here? "It's… nice." Do you like driving historic cars? "Not really." Do you have any interesting road cars? "An Aventador. But I don't drive it much."

This is a pity because about now we learn there's been a spectacular if harmless accident at the hill's notorious Molecombe corner and it takes an hour and a half's wait before we can actually head off on our run.

Mutually I suspect, Muller and I decide against waiting it out in the car and trying to make chit-chat. He sits on a straw bale gassing with the Ligier man. I have a look at the awesome collection of historic Porsches waiting behind us. And, because we've been here a long while, go for a pee in the woods.

Then it's time. Helmets on, strap in.

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The thing rockets away, squirrelling most of the length of the first straight. Muller saws at the wheel but definitely doesn't lift. The dentist's-drill racket rises to fever pitch. First corner, he gives the handbrake a bit of a yank, but half-heartedly because the Goodwood rules disbar drivers from skids and donuts if they have a passenger. Pity really because the 5 Turbo 3E was built for just that purpose and Muller says it's really good at it.

It follows the cambers and sniffs out bumps but keeps its bungee pace past the grandstands. I make some kind of vague 'hard-left-here' hand gesture as we approach the Molecombe corner. I kick myself for being ridiculously patronising to a God-like driver. But at the same time I hope it's just a fair piece of co-driving because I've been up before and he hasn't and Molecombe is blind and its braking area is just over a crest. It's where all the crashes happen.

On we proceed. He's clearly still struggling with cold tyres, but even so the power and braking are immense. The dash has a load of mocked-up digital readouts, plus some real ones: speed reaches to 180km/h; battery charge falls by only five per cent.

At the top he natters with other racers. Helmets off, he waves thanks to every single marshal on the way down. Nice fellow. Interesting car. Wish I were with him on his second run: I reckon that'd be properly spectacular.

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