This is the lightweight, track-ready Alpine A110 R | Top Gear
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Saturday 3rd December
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This is the lightweight, track-ready Alpine A110 R

A110 shakes off its sense of humour and gains some serious motorsport focus

Published: 04 Oct 2022
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Details, details, details. Alpine wanted to make a faster version of the A110. I guess they could have chipped the engine. They didn't. The engine in the new A110 R remains at 300bhp, same as the A110 S. But the rest. Oh man, the details they've played with.

The result is a car its engineers say 'feels very different on a track' than the A110 S.

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Of course it's still a road car with numberplates and all. But a noisier, less comfortable and convenient one. You can't see backwards, because the entire rear screen is replaced by a panel of carbonfibre. Oh yes, some of those detail changes are pretty big details.

Let's start with the raw numbers, then look at the intricacies of how Alpine has achieved them.

It weighs just 1,082kg. That's usefully lighter than the other A110 versions of course. Also, vastly lighter than comparable mid-engined two-seaters. A base-model Cayman, also a 300bhp four-cylinder turbo with twin-clutch transmission, is 1,440kg.

So 'just' 300bhp from its 1.8-litre engine is enough to get it to 62mph in 3.9 seconds, by Alpine's measurement. The brakes are uprated Brembos. If the longitudinal forces of going and stopping are improved by the expected work of less weight and more braking, the lateral forces are what benefits from the exceptional labours. It's the extra grip that sets this thing apart.

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For that, Alpine has called on its racing division. The A110 R has spent a lot of time getting blown about in the Formula One wind tunnel at Enstone. Its exploiting  of carbon composites also calls on motorsport expertise. Most of the new parts that have been shaped by the former are made of the latter.

The new bonnet has intakes and outlets to reduce the low-pressure area ahead of the screen. Barge boards around the sills keep air from tumbling under the body, helping the efficiency of the new flat floor and diffuser – itself a bigger better item than before.

The panel that replaces the rear screen also has intakes, because when they removed the engine cover in the interests of lightness, the flow of cooling air had to be fixed. The rear wing is the same as the one that's optional on an A110 S, but here it is mounted further back, on race-type swan-neck pylons. Both those things give it a better capacity for downforce.

It all means a slight increase in downforce at the front and a bigger one behind, which makes it more stable in fast corners. And yet aerodynamic efficiency is improved: there's actually less drag than with the A110 S. So the top speed goes up. To 177mph if you have the space.

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Remember the A110 is normally skinned in aluminium, itself unheavy stuff. But for the R's new panels, only the racer's material will do. Carbonfibre is used for the bonnet, roof, rear screen, diffuser and tail spoiler, as well as smaller stuff including the skirts and splitter.

There's more. The wheels, too are carbonfibre. That saves a total of 12.5kg of unsprung rotating mass, which is very much a good kind of mass to save. It improves ride and grip because the wheel can follow the ground better, and it makes it happier to turn because there's less gyroscopic force.

The wheels have an inner spokey structure and an outer dress. You'll notice that dress is different for the front and rear. (Yep, walk around the other side and it's the same there – someone didn't just get confused.) The front ones are designed to suck air past the brakes, the more closed rear design is about cutting drag. They're made using a new process the engineers say is 'closer to mass production' than the hand-made items on that lairiest of the two-seat Meganes, the RS Trophy-R.

Wrapping them are semi-slick tyres. These Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 jobs are supposed in themselves to account for an improvement of about 0.8 seconds per mile on track.

If you're a real track obsessive, you can unbolt the wheels and adjust the dampers and ride height. And then, to dial it all in just-so for that particular track and weather you'll be repeating the process several times that day. Oh well maybe not…

The rest of the flexible suspension, springs and anti-roll bars, is stiffer than any other A110 too. It's been done in a way that makes it slightly more oversteery, so in tight corners it'll dart even more keenly through the bends. At big speeds, the change in aero balance should quell oversteer. Because who wants a 100mph spin? Especially when they can't see out the back.

With all this frantic grip you're going to need to be tightly held. The new seats deeply clamp your ribs and thighs. Guess what, their shell is carbonfibre. And their padding lightweight to the point of near non-existence. Four-point harnesses are great for a day at the track, if less convenient for a morning trip to the boulangerie. The door trims are lightened, with woven pulls instead of armrests.

The central screen hasn't been binned, and has new track telemetry apps. More prosaically, but surely more frequently used given you have no rear glass, is its reversing camera.

Engine music is going to be a big thing. Engine-bay sound insulation has been chucked over the side in the name of losing a few kilos. The exhaust is louder; again in the quest for lightness it does away with the powered flap that normally cuts the noise at low revs. The tailpipes are 3D printed, enabling a shape that better cools them and limits noise outside. Inside, it keeps the usual A110 resonator pipe that transports intake tunes live and direct to your ears.

Scan the list of changes and you certainly can't accuse the engineers of cutting corners. Except maybe chicane kerbs. But thing is, was this 18 months' effort well expended? We love the A110 as a road car because of its supple, fluid motions and its sympathetic sense of humour. Will it be better for all this serious hardcore focus? If you want me to guess, on the road it might not be, but on the track clearly yes. That will be a minority of its time, but it's a priority that will matter to the buyers.

And a car like this reminds us the company is a serious motorsport player. It has a Formula One team and a significant endurance racing presence as well as links to Renault's heft in electrification. That will legitimise the other stuff, the electric hot-hatches and crossovers, that Alpine will be building before long.

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