Posts Tagged ‘Renault Alpine A440’

JPJ ponders the challenges of the day, the not long retired Gerard Larrousse by the left-front. ID’s of others folks?

Jean-Pierre Jabouille (JPJ) gathers his thoughts at the wheel of the Renault Alpine A500 Formula 1 test car during a two day session at Paul Ricard/Le Castellet, June 6, 1976. It’s a year before JPJ raced a Renault RS01 at Silverstone during the British GP weekend, the return of the great Regie to Grand Prix racing.

I tripped over this shot during my Patrick Tambay obituary research, it made me chuckle as Jabouille was a very busy boy that year, at the epicentre of three Renault race programmes; the European F2 and World Sportscar Championships and F1 test program.

The JPJ (up) Jean Guichet, Alpine A220 3-litre V8 at Le Mans in 1968, DNF electrics in the 16th hour. Rodriguez/Biancho won aboard a JW Ford GT40, 3-litre class by the 2.2-litre Rico Steinemann/Dieter Spoerry Porsche 907 (Twitter)
Happy chappy. JPJ after a win in the AGACI Cup, Montlhery April 28, 1968. Matra MS5 Ford, in front of Depailler’s works Alpine A330 Renault and Bernard Baur Brabham BT21B Ford

By then he was already a driver with vast experience, having started racing in the Coupe Renault 8 Gordini in 1966, then progressing through Formula 3 and Formula 2. He placed second in the French F3 championship, behind Francois Cevert in 1968, and Patrick Depailler in 1971, racing Matra MS5 Ford and Alpine A360 Renault respectively.

In 1968 JPJ made both his Le Mans and F2 debuts, and from 1970 mixed F2 racing and sportscar competition for a best of third at Le Mans aboard Matra MS670Bs in 1973-74. Despite an education in the humanities he developed a gift for the engineering of racing cars and their development, a role he performed for Alpine throughout.

JPJ aboard the Matra MS670B he shared with Francois Migault at Le Mans in 1974. They were third in the race won by the sister MS670C of Henri Pescarolo and Gerard Larousse (LAT)
JPJ, Alpine A440 Renault-Gordini 2-litre V6, Magny Cours 1973. The poor performance of the cars in 1973 led to the winter developments which made the cars utterly dominant in 1974 (unattributed)
Tyrrell 007 Ford during the 1975 French GP at Dijon. JPJ was Q21 and 12th in the race won by Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312T. Scheckter was Q2 and ninth, Depailler Q13 and sixth in the other two 007s

After a couple of failed attempts to qualify for a Grand Prix he made the cut for Tyrrell in the 1975 French GP, qualifying 21st and finishing 12th in a Tyrrell 007 Ford. Importantly this gave him an appreciation of a competitive F1car, albeit a normally aspirated one, as he and his colleagues toiled to get the turbo-charged Renault-Gordini CHS V6 engine competitive in terms of power, throttle response and longevity…quite a challenge, despite the wealth of engineering nous the French giant possessed.

JPJ Elf 2J Renault-Gordini from Patrick Tambay, Martini Mk19 Renault-Gordini at Nogaro in 1976 – perhaps Jean-Pierre Jarier’s Opert Chvron B35 Hart behind (MotorSport)
Renault-Gordini 2-litre CH1B V6 in the back of an Elf 2J at Thruxton in April 1976, both cars DNF. Maurizio Flammini won in a works March 762 BMW (MotorSport)

The jewel of a 2-litre, quad-cam, four valve, fuel injected V6 – the design of which was credited to a team led by Francois Castaing – was blooded in 2-litre sports-prototype competition. After a shaky start in 1973 the revised Renault Alpine A441 won all seven races of the 1974 2-litre Championship. The 300bhp CH1B engine was then handed to Jabouille and Tico Martini to mount a two team, four car, Elf supported attack on the 1976 European F2 Championship.

An Elf 2J spaceframe takes shape in Jabouille’s workshop, where folks? (G Gamand Collection)
JPJ with the bi-winged Elf 2J, Rome GP 1976. Jabouille perhaps inspired by Frank Matich’s success in a similarly endowed Matich A50 Repco-Holden F5000 machine in 1972-73 (unattributed)

In 1975 JPJ and his collaborator, engineer and ex-motorcycle/F3/sportscar racer Jean-Claude Guenard had built a spaceframe Elf 2J BMW F2 car which won the Salzburgring round of the F2 championship. They built two, or perhaps three new machines that winter for a a torrid All French F2 Battle in 1976.

The Equipe Elf Switzerland Elf 2J (aka Jabouille 2J) team – sponsored by the Swiss Gruyere and Emmental Cheese Foundation – took first Renault-Gordini blood over the Ecurie Elf Martinis at Vallelunga in early May. JPJ won the GP di Roma from Patrick Tambay, while Michel Leclere was fourth in the other Elf 2J, and Rene Arnoux retired the other Martini Mk 19 with engine failure.

Spaceframes weren’t so common in 1976 – they are still about today of course – so Ron Tauranac must have had a chuckle at Porsche’s ongoing success and the Elf 2J triumphs in endurance racing and F2 that year (G Gamand Collection)
JPJ, Michel Leclere and Giancarlo Martini, March 762 BMW at Vallelunga during the 1976 Rome GP weekend (MotorSport)

It was a timely win. JPJ and Patrick Depailler managed to run into one another from the front row of the Nurburgring 300K enduro aboard Renault Alpine A442 prototypes in front of Renault’s top-brass the month before. “Patrick was on pole, I was third but made a good start and took an immediate lead, imperative because it was raining and if you weren’t at the front it would be impossible to see anything,” JPJ recalled to Simon Taylor in a MotorSport interview.

Jabouille and Cevert had of course been scrapping with one another for years in France and the circuits of Europe. “I braked fairly late for a downhill left-hander, but Patrick tried to follow me and slid off hard into the barriers. We hadn’t touched, but I hit a drainage cover, got sideways and crashed. All the Renault managers were there and after about one kilometre both cars were out. They were absolutely livid, not so much with me, but suspended (the by then very well established Tyrrell GP driver) Patrick for the next three races. I think that was something of a first in the sport…”

Jabouille at Le Mans in 1976. He shared his Renault Alpine A442 with Patrick Tambay and Jose Dolhem, DNF with piston failure in the 11th hour. Race won by the Jacky Ickx/Gijs Van Lennep Porsche 936 (MotorSport)
The unseen long, hard slog of racing, JPJ testing an A442 Renault Alpine at Paul Ricard in February 1975

That season Renault-Alpine finished a distant second to Porsche in the World Sportscar Championship, with 47 points to the Zuffenhausen outfits 100 achieved with the Porsche 936 turbo. Renault would of course eventually win at Le Mans in 1978 when Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud triumphed aboard a A442 . In 1976 JPJ’s best result was third place sharing his A442 with Jean-Pierre Jarier at Dijon.

At that stage – the first WSC win for Renault-Alpine was at Mugello when Gerard Larrousse and JPJ triumphed in 1975 – Renault’s primary competition goal was to win at Le Mans. But as they made the 1997cc, Garrett turbo-charged circa 490bhp semi-monocoque, Hewland TL-200 equipped sports-racer consistently competitive there was cross pollination to the 1.5-litre F1 engine development program in which JPJ was totally immersed.

There was no such reliability problems for the circa 300bhp @ 10500rpm CH1B F2 V6 variant mind you. JPJ and Rene Arnoux went at it hammer-and-tongs all of that 1976 season with Arnoux winning four rounds of the ’76 Euro F2 title, JPJ three, and Leclere one. In the wash-up JPJ scraped home by a point, 53 to 52. There was karma in this, Jabouille had had a long F2 apprenticeship and of course designed and built his weapon of war, both would enter Grand Prix competition soon enough.

(unattributed)
(unattributed)

Engineer Bernard Dudot was instrumental in the development of the team which developed the turbo-charged engine. He outlined to Doug Nye that the 1976 F1 project team comprised four people, engineer, Jean-Pierre Boudy and two or three mechanics with Dudot splitting some of his time to it among his endurance commitments.

By then Castaing was General Manger of Renault Sport – formed in 1976 – and it was he who designed the F1 Alpine A500 laboratoire monoplace test car (photos above), Dudot having told Renault Chief Executive that it was possible to make a competitive F1 engine out of the cast iron block V6.

Initially Jabouille tested 2.1-litre CHS type Le Mans, and EF1 1.5-litre engines back-to-back in A442 sportscars at Paul Ricard. Initially Jabouille found the 1.5-litre undriveable, “The compression ratio was so low that we couldn’t get sufficient fuel pressure to start the engine,” JPJ recalled.

“Every morning one of the mechanics would get up before the others and put a camp-stove beneath the engine to warm it up, at the time it was the only way we could get it started. It seemed a long road from there to an engine capable of winning GPs…”

The huge problem of throttle response was addressed, in part by running a little less boost, “while Mahle and Goetze, their piston, liner and ring suppliers learned with them, as did Garrett, whose production turbochargers were made to inadequate tolerances for F1. Compressor wheels, turbines and axle wheels all failed, at this time they were running 130000rpm on plain bearings.” Doug Nye wrote.

These brief paragraphs do nothing more than skim the surface of the engineering and manufacturing challenges presented and overcome. A more thorough exploration of the evolution of the V6 from victorious 2-litre endurance and F2 engine to fire-breathing 1.5-turbo is for another time.

Three photographs during the 1977 British GP weekend at Silverstone. JPJ, Renault RS01 Q21 and DNF lap 17 with turbo failure. Race won by James Hunt’s McLaren M26 Ford from Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312T2 and Gunnar Nilsson, Lotus 78 Ford (MotorSport)
(Twitter)
Renault Gordini EF1 1492cc single Garrett-turbocharged 510bhp @ 11000rpm engine (MotorSport)

JPJ made the Renault RS01’s race debut at Silverstone in 1977, where the Yellow Teapot retired from the race but not before making a big impression with what would become the new engine paradigm.

At the 1978 US GP Jabouille bagged the first points for Renault and turbo-engines. Critically, by this stage, Renault had their Le Mans Cup in the boardroom display case so all of Renault Sport’s resources were applied to F1. Jabouille took pole in South Africa in 1979 and that first fabulous home win at Dijon the same year.

Credits…

Motorsport, Gerard Gamand Collection, ‘History of The Grand Prix Car’ Doug Nye, Getty Images, LAT Photographic

Tailpiece…

(MotorSport)

JPJ on the way to that win at Dijon on July 1, 1979 aboard his Renault RE10. The first championship Grand Prix victory for a forced-induction engine since Juan Manuel Fangio’s Spanish GP win at Pedralbes on an Alfa Romeo 159 on October 28,1951.

During the final laps most eyes were focussed on the titanic wheel to wheel battle 15-seconds back between two-magnificent-maddies, Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux, Ferrari 312T4 and Renault RE10, a nail-biter resolved in the French-Canadian’s favour.

Finito…