Pro Vs Clubman – Who’s the fastest
16th February 2016
Have you ever wondered if you’re as quick as a professional driver? Which clubman driver hasn’t! MSD decided to settle the debate once and for all and to find out who really is the quickest on a level playing field. New car, new track and driving in the wet – what could go wrong?
How quick you are is always a hot topic for racing drivers. Over the years, we’ve heard a lot of people say if they had a chance to show what they’re really capable of, they could compete with a pro driver. So, here at MSD we took it upon ourselves to organise a head-to-head between a clubman and a pro driver to settle the score.
In early 2015 we launched a competition to find our clubman driver and we received a number of replies, many of which served to illustrate just how sensitive this subject can be. Eventually, Jon Billingsley was selected as the man to represent the clubman drivers, with Ben Clucas – the former Australian Formula 3 and Spanish GT champion, and who raced in the Pirelli World Challenge with Kia Racing and Kinetic Motorsport in 2015 – tasked with the challenge of upholding the reputation of motorsport’s professional fraternity.
The day itself didn’t get off to the best of starts – MSD arrived at Coltishall Airfield late after our satnav decided to take us on a detour, which added to the tension between Billingsley and Clucas, who were patiently awaiting our arrival. We eventually made it to the circuit to find the grinning green Zenos E10 S earning admiring gazes from the two drivers.
The usual pre-race banter was already well under way, with both men beating their chests, keen to offer reminders of their racing achievements to date. Very quickly, though, you could see that Clucas, the pro driver, was very calm, despite the fact that he was the one with the most to lose.
When we decided to pit a clubman driver against a pro, it was surprisingly difficult to get a professional driver to take part. We asked BTCC drivers, past F1 drivers, instructors and various others to participate and in the end we had just a handful willing to commit, which is a shame as you would expect every driver to be keen to prove their worth on track. Fortunately, Clucas was up for the challenge. Most will know him around the paddock as one of the most approachable men in the sport. At MSD, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing Clucas instruct numerous drivers over the years, many of which have gone on to achieve championship wins in motorsport. He’s always keen to show his speed in a variety of cars, and you can immediately see he’s smooth on the steering and late on the brakes, and his lap times are consistent and quick – a perfect combination for our unique experiment.
Getting to grips with the Zenos E10 S
Ahead of the contest, the Racelogic data logger was fitted to record the telemetry and data, so we could compare the drivers’ performances. At no point did we allow either driver access to this data, in order to ensure the test was as fair as possible. The trusty Racelogic VBOX HD data logger was faultless all day and despite it being a gloomy day, the camera was crystal clear. All of the footage is available on MotorsportDays.com.
Zenos kindly gave Billingsley, Clucas and MSD a tour of the car, which provides a fresh take on a track car, carrying some Lotus and Caterham heritage thanks to Zenos’ owners, Mark Edwards and Ansar Ali, who are familiar to many within this industry. The Zenos E10 S uses the popular Ford 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbocharged engine, which boasts an impressive 250bhp, can reach 60mph in less than four seconds, and is available from £29,995. The car itself is a real beauty, but it’s when you hear it thunder down the road that you can truly appreciate it at its best. The turbo on the car makes it sound like a jet and on the foggy, wet track it looked spectacular.
Both drivers had to get to grips with the track layout, so Zenos’ Emma kindly showed us the track – an airfield with several tight chicanes and hairpins on multiple surfaces to challenge the drivers. The grippy, runway section of the track includes a long, fast sweeping straight, leading onto the very tight hairpin. Coming out into Belief corner, it starts with amazing grip, but before you hit the Ansar Straight the grip disappears and a controlled power slide is important, so our drivers really did need to believe in the Zenos!
We managed four sighting laps of the circuit with Billingsley driving (despite Clucas’ accusation that this was “cheating”!). Neither driver had been around the circuit before.
We arrived back at base and it was time to decide who would go first. Both drivers agreed that Billingsley would lead the way, but before we let him loose we had a few rules to go through with Grove & Dean Motorsport, which kindly insured the car for the day. Rule 1: don’t smash the car; Rule 2: don’t smash the car; and Rule 3: all of the above!
Each driver was to be judged on 3 x 10-minute sessions, with a break after the first run and the next 2 x 10-minute sessions running back-to-back. Praying that the rules had sunk in, we watched Billingsley launch the Zenos down the straight with the rear wheels spinning. He wasn’t going to give Clucas an easy ride here and off he went for his 10-minute session as we eagerly watched what proved to be an impressive start.
Billingsley came in and complained that the windscreen was fogging up, so we switched on the heated screen, which quickly cleared up the problem. Excuse number one was out of the way, and number two wasn’t far behind, with our clubman representative complaining about the cold. The heated seat was switched on, with Clucas commenting: “That’s a tenth slower…”.
Next up it was Clucas’ first turn on track. Like Billingsley, he adjusted his mirrors, got himself set and sped off for his 10-minute session. He looked calmer, but you could see him searching for the grip, forcing the car into situations to try to find the little grip available and to gain an understanding of the surroundings and conditions.
Going for the win
With the first session down and the drivers back at base, both gave their first thoughts on the car, with the brakes, power and comfort all under discussion. Billingsley said he was struggling with the stiffer brake pedal. Clucas was quiet, said he enjoyed the first session, but wasn’t giving anything away. No hints or tips for the clubman competitor! MSD downloaded the data as Billingsley readied for his second run.
The next two sessions ran back-to-back, so Billingsley set out for 10 minutes, came back in and waited for five minutes, then headed straight back out. The conditions at this point had improved and the relentless rain had eased, throwing up another challenge. The circuit became greasy, but didn’t completely dry. In jest, Billingsley suggested this would play into Clucas’ hands.
After his final session, Billingsley had done everything in his power to record a much coveted victory, but Clucas still had his final two sessions to go, and once he started his second 10-minute stint it started to become easier to compare the two drivers from outside the car, with variants on speeds and lines becoming apparent.
With Clucas’ sessions now at an end, it was time for a quick catch-up. We were impressed that on a new track, in a new car and driving in the wet, neither driver spun, even though both were clearly giving it their all.
The all-important data
By now, we were all desperate to find out who had won. On first impressions, both drivers looked to be giving it everything and committed to every corner, so on that front they seemed to be level pegging. To make the test accurate and fair, however, we turned to the data logger and used the Circuit Tools software from Racelogic to evaluate each driver’s sessions, lap charts and delta.
It turned out that the fastest session for both drivers was the third, so we decided to hone in on this one. Billingsley fastest lap was a 50.24 on lap seven, with a 6.52-second split between his fastest and slowest laps. Clucas’ fastest lap was a 46.59 on lap eight, recording just a 0.98-second split between his fastest and slowest laps. So, there was quite a difference in times.
Over the course of 10 laps Clucas was extremely consistent from the off, with his first recorded time just 0.6 seconds off his fastest. In comparison, Billingsley wasn’t quite as consistent, but we must remember that Clucas, as a professional racer, is used to high-pressure situations, and having to quickly evaluate the conditions.
For the purposes of this test, it was also interesting to look at the racing lines used. From afar, the drivers appeared to use similar lines, but when we accessed the data it became clear that on entry to the slow hairpin Clucas took a much wider line, which helped him achieve a higher entry speed, which he could maintain through the corner.
Billingsley, however, took a tighter line, which meant he had to slow the car down to make the turn. Considering neither driver had been on the at Coltishall Airfield track before, we also paid close attention to how they adapted over the course of the three sessions. Of course, they couldn’t cut corners as that would show up on the telemetry, but they could adapt their lines to benefit their times. To be fair, the differences in the lines were minimal, but the difference between pole and mid-pack is always negligible and as a driver you are always trying to find that extra something to get ahead of the crowd. Being able to do so is what sets you apart.
What we learned
Most people would have put money on the pro driver winning. After all, Clucas does this full time. As an instructor and having competed since an early age, he was always at a natural advantage. The point of this test was not to trip up Clucas or Billingsley, but to really shed light on the difference between a pro and a clubman driver.
How many times have you heard someone in the pub or at work say: “If Lewis Hamilton had tried a bit harder he could have overtaken him”? Watching someone drive from afar provides only half the story. Of course, some of you might say: “I’ve read this article and I think I could give Clucas a run for his money”. Another pro driver might have been quicker or slower, and the same can be said of our clubman competitor, but we would say with confidence that Clucas’ consistency and speed would be extremely difficult to beat.
Over an average of 10 laps, he only had a fall in time of 0.98 seconds, but Billingsley’s fastest and slowest laps were 6.52 seconds apart. Both drivers were experimenting with different lines throughout, but Clucas’ approach ultimately resulted in better speed in and out of the corners. He might well have fancied his chances beforehand, but when MSD first told Clucas the result he couldn’t hide his relief: “Phew,” he said, “I’ve just about saved my reputation!”. That he certainly did and we’re sure he will now be even more popular among his fellow racing drivers.
All things considered, Ben Clucas and Jon Billingsley can hold their heads high having giving it everything on track. We commend them for their efforts and for putting themselves forward to be part of this exciting test. We would also like to say a huge “thank you” to Zenos for providing the car, Racelogic for the data logger, and Grove & Dean Motorsport Insurance for helping us make this happen.
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