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A Renault won the first Grand Prix ever run, in 1906. A year later the company withdrew for 70 years. I came back as a pioneer, introducing the turbocharged engine to the Grand Prix, and it paid a price for pioneering. A vast expenditure over the next seven years did bring race victories but the championships that could have meant so much in prestige and publicity terms proved elusive.
The modern GP team was a self contained unit within Regir Renault. It had it origins in Gordini and Alpine, names that were to be hyphenated to Renault, then slip into disuse. In 1972 Renault started on a sports car program built around a 2 liter V6; a turbo version came in 1975 and the sports car line culminated in a Le Mans victory in 1978. By that time a Grand Prix program had been initiated, the RS01 making its debut in the 1977 British GP. No points were scored that year or indeed until the penultimate race of 1978, for the Le Mans race had to be won before full development resources could be devoted to the GP cars.
In the engine department the technicians worked to minimize throttle lag , which had been reckoned by many pundits to rule the turbo out for anything but round track racing or very fast circuits such as Le Mans. The compressor relied on the turbine in the exhaust and the problem was the interval after the throttle was depressed before the exhaust gas speeded up and the turbine run up time before boost pressure was increased. Therefore acceleration away from slower corners was hesitant in early turbo cars. This effect is reduced by reducing the mass of the turbines which require less run up time (this technique resulted in the use of a number of smaller turbines and compressor hence the advent of he twin turbo). By the early 1980s turbo cars were competitive even at Monaco. In 1978-79 Renault also had to come to terms with ground effects. By1979 the RS11 was competitive and by happy chance the team's first Grand Prix victory came in the French race, Jean-Pierre Jabouille first and team mate Rene Arnoux Third. Although Renault ended that year in a lowly sixth place in the constructors championship the era of the turbo had arrived.
Success did not come with this dawn for Renault. In 980 RE20-25 brought three GP victories and fourth place in the constructors championship. A long wheelbase RE20B was developed for 1981, leading in to the RE30, with more power in itsV6, better throttle response with low inertia KKK turbochargers and better reliability. Three wins were scored by Prost bring third place in the constructors championship. Next year there were RE30B cars with radical changes but less reliability, in large part due to a temperamental fuel injection system, third again in the championship but with four GP victories. Success should have come in1983 but results were lost due to an interim flat bottom car, after ground effects were banned, before the advent of the RE40. This was a carbon composite chassis, with more power and water injection to try and cure the turbo over heating problems. These problems causing the inconsistencies the cost the team victory. Renault went on to the last race expecting that their French driver would be world champion. He was runner up, as was the team in the constructors championship.
Off season dissent seemed to be resolved but the first half of 1984 was hardly encouraging, for reasons as diverse as fuel consumption and the suspect monocoque of the RE50. Nevertheless, by the summer Renault had reaffirmed their GP program.
This compact little car was designed by Andre' de Cortanze and proved sound in the chassis and running gear. These aspects, however, were quite overshadowed, for this Renault brought the turbocharged engine into Grand Prix racing in 1977. Although it was not a winner, its potential persuaded most other teams to follow this complex and costly route. With this car, the Michelin tyre company also entered racing's premier category.
With this car Renault became a positive contender for the Championship honors, for it was a sound design and thoroughly tested before the 1980 season opened and it won two of the early races. The designation change came in deference to the team's principal sponsor - RE (Renault Elf) replacing RS (Renault Sport). Michel Tetu took over technical direction from Francois Castaing.
In common with most cars at the turn of the decade, it had a three - quarter monocoque, with the engine acting as a load bearing member of the rear. At its modest rating of 520 bhp the EFI V6 should have coupled reliability with adequate power but faults such as a plague of valve spring failures let it down. Shortcomings in tiers and brakes also proved to be considerable handicaps. The car was developed to run without skirts in 1981, while the honeycomb construction chassis of the RE30 was developed. However, in common with most other teams, Renault had to hastily re-programmed when Brabham introduced their hydro-pneumatic suspension, which circumvented the skirt ban, and Renault's apparent advantage disappeared. Six cars were built for 1980 (RE20-25). Jabouille scored but one victory to set against 11 retirements, while Arnoux won two races and was sixth in the drivers championship.
In their 1984 Grand Prix car Renault built on known technology and the car was thoroughly tested before the season opened, so that the drivers were the major new element in the team. The V6 had been partly redesigned, and the KKK turbochargers were replaced by Garrett AiResearch units, large - volume types for fast circuits and smaller but more responsive ones for circuits such as Monaco. The RE50 had a carbon fiber monocoque, which seemed suspect at several accidents. However the team's early problems were mainly concerned with fuel consumption. There were recorders in the car and at Renault pits, so that drivers could adjust boost pressures and revs to save consumption, if necessary. Despite this the new regulations that came in 1984 hurt Renault more then most teams, Derek Warwick in particular having to cruise towards the end of races and losing places as a consequence.
Renault Gordini and Alpine
Renault had much success in some very unlikely cars at Le Mans. I think that they may have been the 4 doors allowed to race and some would say the "Index of Thermal Efficiency" was created to give the little French cars something to win. Such greats at the Renault 4CV was a class winner in 1950, that was the 751 - 1100cc class. Their Greatest success at Le Mans came with the association of Gordini and Alpine.
Gordini was a French sports car manufacturer. The firm was founded by Amedee Gordini nicknamed "Le Sorcier" (The Sorcerer). At the beginning Gordini had close ties with simca whose founder Pigozzi shared Italian origins with Amédée Gordini. Gordini competed in Formular 1 from 1950 to 1956 Later Gordini worked with Renault as an engine tuner and finally sold his firm to Renault. The Renault R8 Gordini was class winner 1964 (Prototype 1001 - 1150cc)
Alpine was a French manufacturer of racing and sports cars
which used rear mounted Renault engines. The company was founded by Jean Rédélé
in 1952 in Dieppe. The first production model the Alpine A106 powered by a
Renault 4CV engine appeared in 1956. Alpine became a world rally champion in
1973 with its most famous model, the Alpine A110 (aka "Berlinette").
An Alpine A442 won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978. This was probably the last
appearance of a works Alpine car in racing, at that time the merging with
Renault was complete and the car was entered as a Renault-Alpine.
Over time, the Alpine company was absorbed by Renault. The last production model was the A610, and this car was discontinued in 1995. From then the Dieppe factory has been known as the producer of a number of Renault Sport models and the brand may be reactivated by Renault for a new sports car to be made in either 2007 or 2008.
Mark Duder is a Renault enthusiast living in Perth WA, he has a background in rallying and has a fully restored Renault R8 Gordini which has been lent to Bob Watson, the 1970 Australian Rally Championship winner, for historic events associated with Rally Australia. Mark Duder is currently in the process of restoring a Renault A110 Alpine, here are some pictures.