Monday, June 10, 2019

1978 24 Hours of Le Mans - Alpine is the winner!

41 years ago, the Alpine A442B of Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud took the chequered flag to win the 24-Hours of Le Mans at the conclusion of an edition full of twists and turns.

1978. June 10th. Four in the afternoon. Four cars from the Renault Alpine stable take to the track for the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans, the most famous endurance race in the world of motor sport. In the stifling heat, in an enclosed cockpit, the two drivers, Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, take turns at the wheel. In an eventful race, the A442B racks up lap after lap, negotiating bend after bend and barrelling down that endless straight. Records fall. Including the fastest-ever average speed, clocked at 210 kph.

The Alpine leads the field to cross the finish line and hit the 5,000 km mark five laps ahead of its rivals. The French team goes wild. The champagne flows and the champions are given a heroes' welcome when they parade down the Champs-Elysées. The A442B win at Le Mans is a crowning achievement for the Renault Alpine team in the world of motor racing following Alpine's impressive debut in winning the WRC manufacturers' championship in 1973.

Victory at the 24-hour Le Mans event is never a hit-or-miss affair. Renault's 1978 victory, for example, traces back to 1973, when Alpine decided to return to top-level motor sports with backing from Elf. Key factors behind this successful performance were: a top-quality team, led by Jean Terramossi with Gérard Larousse as pivot; a V6 engine developed by Bernard Dudot, future mastermind of turbocharger technology; Renault involvement, through Renault Sport (founded in 1976); and talented, consistent drivers like Jabouille, Jaussaud, Jarier and Pironi.

Over the five-year period, the A440, with a normally-aspirated engine, would evolve into the 441, then into the turbocharged 442, achieving a long list of motor sport championship honours along the way. Hopes ran high for Le Mans in 1977, but all three runners were forced to drop out because of engine failure. The engineers would have to find a test track capable of reproducing the tough conditions of the Hunaudières straight, which meant 50 seconds with the throttle hard down! The next year, two Renault Alpines finished first and fourth. Ironically, on the eve of the race, Renault managing director Bernard Hanon had announced that Renault would be dropping its Le Mans programme to concentrate on Formula One. A new page had turned.

Source: Alpine Cars & Renault Classic