Renault Alpine A442 - The car that accomplished its mission
The Renault Alpine A442 was a prototype racing car designed and built to contest the Le Mans 24 Hours race in the second half of the 1970s.
Built with a task to conquer Le Mans
Since early 1970s Alpine and Renault had a fruitful partnership and when the construction of A442 began in 1975, the two companies were almost merged. The A442 was designed and constructed by Alpine while the project was financially backed by Renault which also was responsible for car’s powerplant. Finally, in 1976 Renault bought Alpine and inherited prototype program.
Designers Francois Castaing and Bernard Dudot had a task to create a car that will be able to win the world’s most prestigious race – Le Mans 24 Hours. Their new project was based on popular A440 and successful A441 car. However, the biggest change was an engine. The Renault-Gordini engine boasted a large turbocharger which pushed power output to almost 500 horsepower.
The body of the car was pretty huge but the chassis was relatively small. The extra length of the body was mostly to be found in the tail section, to improve high-speed aerodynamic efficiency and to increase the top speed at famous Mulsanne Straight of Circuit de la Sarthe. The Renault Alpine A442 had conventional open two-seater bodywork but later was added a bubble-roof on a modified version. That increased the top speed of the car but decreased driver visibility.
Debut on the track was victorious
The Renault Alpine A442 debuted on the racing track in 1975, at Mugello 1000 km race. Although not been fully prepared and tested, new car with Gerard Larousse and Jean-Pierre Jabouille as drivers won the race what was a promising start.
In the following year, two A442 started from the front row at Nurburgring 300 km race but both cars crashed out soon after the start. The same year A442 debuted at Le Mans 24h but only one car was on the grid, with Jabouille, Patrick Tambay, and Jose Dolhem as drivers. Unfortunately, mechanical issues forced the retirement in the first half of the race.
1978 Le Mans 24h triumph
It was clear that Alpine Renault A442 is a good car but for the victory at Le Mans needs some development and stronger driver line-up. For the 1977 Le Mans 24h Renault Sport team fielded three A442 cars with a support of another car ran by the private team. The preparations were good and the A442s recorded some good results in other races but at Le Mans, Porsches were dominant. To make the situation even worse, all A442s retired from the race.
Nevertheless, Renault still hasn’t lost their faith and hope. The French manufacturer put even more, energy in the development of the car. The result was modified A442B that triumphed in the prestigious race, driven by two French racers Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud. They were able to resist threats of two Porsche 936s and to complete a mission mapped out three years earlier. Interestingly, Pironi was so exhausted after the race that he was unable to climb up to the podium.
The second Renault Alpine A442s of Guy Frequelin, Jean Ragnotti, Jose Dolhem, and Jean-Pierre Jabouille finished 4th in the race while the third car of legendary Derek Bell and Jean-Pierre Jarier retired on lap 162.
After Renault’s only triumph at Le Mans 24h, the French manufacturer immediately withdrew from sports car racing to focus on the even more ambitious Formula 1 program.
Video – Renault Alpine A442B onboard
Renault Alpine A442 technical specifications
|Chassis||Aluminium semi-monocoque with front and rear subframes|
|Track (front & rear)||1.420 mm / 1.430 mm|
|Suspension (front & rear)||Four-link, coil springs, Koni telescopic shock absorbers|
|Engine||Renault 90º V6 turbo, 1.997cc, mid-engine, longitudinally mounted|
|Power||500 bhp / 373 kW at 9.900 rpm|
|Gearbox||Hewland 5-speed manual|
|Brakes||Ventilated and cross-drilled discs|