Snetterton Race Circuit is cold. It’s always cold. Here, in central Norfolk, there are no hills to break-up the wind, so a relentless freshness always prevails at one of Britain’s fastest circuits. And today, temperature will play a central role.
Saturday 19th January, 2019, was a particularly bitterly cold day. Getting in to the i30N at 6am I was grateful for fast acting heated seats and steering wheel. I was less grateful for the front wheels skipping on the frosted tarmac as I edged off my driveway; a common complaint of an LSD on a front wheel drive car. Empty roads and a stop for a McDonalds breakfast made the journey to the track pleasant, the i30N continuing to be a perfectly capable mile-muncher. A few miles before arriving, the tank was brimmed (V-Power, naturally), as was the 20 liter Gerry Can in the boot, and then onwards to the pitlane.
After signing on, the i30N trundled over for noise testing. Snetterton being an ex-airfield, with not many houses nearby, has a reasonably high limit for trackdays. The i30N comfortably slotting in at just 90dB. That was until the overrun chirped up, with a cacophony of pops and bangs clocking up a somewhat meatier 101dB. Smiles all round, and a cup of coffee in the garage to warm up.
What Are We In For?
Before the sighting laps, a quick venture out to the pitlane showed the extent of the frost we could expect. A fine white sheen covered the blacktop and was a warning of just how little grip there would be for the initial stages of the day. Still, heated seats and steering wheel on, the sighting laps. Held at a relatively pedestrian pace there was a considerable amount of understeer going in to Bomb Hole, and it was a lost cause trying to keep steady-state around Coram. Sighting laps were extended to 5 just to try and defrost the racing lines. Unsatisfied with this level of de-greening, I parked the i30N for the first 30 minutes, and had another cup coffee whilst standing next to the space heater set up in the garage.
So, around 10am, the i30N rolled out on to Snetterton’s main straight in N-mode, intent on picking pace up nice and steady over the whole day. It took several laps to get heat in to the tyres, fighting a reasonable amount of natural undesteer through the slower corners. Laps 5 and 6 is where the car really came alive, with a far more neutral balance and compliance on throttle inputs. But Lap 7… Lap 7 it all went badly, The car became unpredictable, washing out at the front on turn in, and a wild rear with any attempt at correcting. Time for the pits.
During the cool-down lap, it was obvious what the problem was. The on-board Tyre Pressure Monitoring System was reporting rear pressure of 3.2bar and front of a crazy 3.5bar. The standard P-Zero’s on the i30N have an operating window and they were now well outside of it. The pressure had increased far more acutely than they ever have on the road, even under the most demanding of B-road blasts, so it was time for some experimentation. With the tyres still hot, they were dropped down to 2.8bar all around. Brakes were allowed to cool for 20 minutes, fluid levels double checked, and then on for the next stint.
This stint was very different. The tyres were far better behaved after completing just the out-lap. The car, hunkered down on its stiffest damper settings, was as playful or as challenging as you wanted it to be. The dry line now clearly demarcated on the tarmac was welcoming, and confidence in the brakes and chassis grew quickly. After 20 minutes at a quick, comfortable pace, the understeer began to build again. Not nearly as abruptly as the first stint, but enough that it made you question entry speeds more and more as the lap went on. Another cool down lap, and back to the pits.
Tyre pressures were dropped another 0.2bar at the front to equalise the hot pressures front-to-rear, and I went for some passenger rides in one of the most capable Peugeot GTI6’s in the country, and a mk5 Golf Edition30 with 360bhp. Such fun.
After lunch, the ambient temperature had increased to a somewhat balmy 5°C and the frost had had disappeared from the surface completely. I was asked by my passenger as we rolled out of the pitlane if my tyres were cold. The on-the-rackstops oversteer at Turn 1 answered that fairly well. That first lap was eventful and playful. Yes, the oversteer was not always intended, but it was never unrecoverable, with the lightning quick steering rack playing a very central role in getting the car back in line. This sort of hooliganism quickly built up some tyre temperatures and pressure and the car was far less ASBO for the remainder of the stint.
“I was asked by my passenger as we rolled out of the pitlane if my tyres were cold. The on-the-rackstops oversteer at Turn 1 answered that fairly well.”
It was this first stint after lunch where I feel the i30N came in to it’s own. Temperatures and pressures remained steady, the behaviour remained predictable and the performance remained blistering. On the road, the i30N ticks a lot of boxes. It is a comfortable motorway cruiser, it devours B-roads, it’s practical, smart-looking and well equipped. On the track, it adds more strings to it’s bow.
If you wanted an animal, something tail happy and immature, the i30N complied. You can induced oversteer with such ease from trail-braking, lift-off or just by taking all smoothness whatsoever out of your driving that you can’t help but fall in love with this car.
But, and this is an important but, if you want a capable, planted and fiercly competitive track car, a car to chase lap times and hone your driving ability, the i30N obliges to this too.
The brakes are fantastically resilliant to a pounding, lap after lap, with no real fade. A degree of feel was dropping off towards the end of the day, but performance wise? Faultless.
The steering is well weighted, although has a definite artificial feel. The N-mode heaviness is crystal clear in it’s communication to you of exactly what is happening at the contact patch. Both scrub and power-understeer and transferred to your fingertips with a precision I have never experienced at the price-point this car retails at. Have I mentioned how fast the steering is in this thing too?!
And the power delivery… its hot. This is a hot hot hatch, with over 270bhp with overboost in N-mode. Keeping the thing on boost becomes a doddle with the inbuilt shift lights; upshift on the blink, downshift on the first light. The quasi-anti-lag system keeps things spinning nicely across a gearshift, and that LSD lets you tuck the front tighter into a corner if you slightly mis-judge your entry. Its oh-so-easy to make an apex in this thing, and you always find yourself with plenty of room left to get power down on the exit, those bespoke P-Zero’s again performing brilliantly, now that I had the pressures sorted!
“That LSD lets you tuck the front tighter into a corner if you slightly mis-judge your entry. Its oh so easy to make an apex in this thing.”
The afternoon continued like this, swapping between being a hooligan and sliding the back end at every opportunity, and then putting my sensible hat on and pushing for pure driving craft. The i30N could handle around 20 minutes of pushing on before tyre temperatures brought back that understeer, and the brakes lost a tad of initial bite. But everytime the car rolled back in to the garage, me, and whoever was in the passenger seat were grinning, in awe of this £28,000 giant killer.
I brought the i30N to the track to be proved wrong. I the only thing that changed from when I picked the car up was changing the numberplates. I ran with the spare wheel in the boot and the same engine oil it came was delivered with. And the car performed.
Of course, for the trackday, I was very lucky to break double figures for fuel economy (scoring a solid 11.2mpg for about 150 miles of track driving, and taking on a total of 62 liters of Shell’s finest). But then, at the end of the day, heated seats and a podcast on, the car got north of 40mpg for the drive home. Which for something so capable on a track, is a fantastic accolade.
I will, once again concede my bias here. I own this car. It is not a press car, or a long term loaner. It is mine, so I have a natural push for it to be on a pedestal. But, even taking ownership out of the equation, the car performed well. It performed better than I thought it would. Once I had the tyres in check, it was pure driving pleasure.
I’m still happy with my i30N.