Model history: At the end of the very disappointing 1969 season, Alpine withdrew from sports car racing and focused on rallying with the A110. After considerable success was scored in rallies like the Monte Carlo Rallye, Alpine once again tried their fortunes on the track. Alpine returned to sports car racing in 1973 to compete in the highly competitive European 2-Litre Championship. First held in 1970, this championship had quickly gained popularity and saw manufacturers like Chevron, Lola and Abarth go head to head.
Renault-Gordini prepared a state of the art two litre V6, equipped with double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It was installed in a compact tubular chassis, suspended by double wishbones all-round. A glassfibre body completed the package of the A440, which was livered in the French 'tri-colore' of red, white and blue. The engine was good for about 270 bhp and the package looked competitive. Unfortunately the Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Patrick Depailler driven car did not once finish in the points.
The next winter was used to sort out the reliability problems and improve performance, which resulted in the A441, with an aluminium reinforced version of the tubular chassis. Against a full field of Abarth-Osellas, Marches, Lolas and Chevrons, the French team showed the modifications worked out and grabbed the title. Inspired by the success Renault increased the budget in an attempt to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. A relatively simple method of bringing the Renault-Gordini engine up to par with the 3 litre engines was by fitting a turbo-charger.
The sport's governing body, the FIA, had set a displacement limit of 3 litres for prototype racers. To compare forced induction with natural aspiration a multiplier of 1.4 was used, giving a maximum displacement of 2142 cc for a turbo-charged engine. This meant the Turbocharged Renault-Gordini engine was well within the displacement limits. Fitting the Turbo was the easy part, making it work for longer periods of time proved to be more difficult in those early days of turbo-charging.
Announced in January 1975, the Turbocharged A442 made its debut in the Mugello 1000 km race. It still shared the basic design of the A441, but with 490 bhp available it packed a lot more punch. To the surprise of many, the Renault-Alpine team included, it made a victorious debut, beating the Alfa Romeos at home. Unfortunately this was the last victory for the team that season, who were usually let down by the unreliable engine. Problems continued to dog the team throughout 1976 and 1977; the cars were fast, but the finish proved too far away time after time, leaving victory to the Porsche 936 on both occasions.
Reluctant to give up Renault prepared three cars for the 1978 Le Mans race, backed up by a private A442 entry. The works team fielded two A442 in 'B' specification, equipped with a controversial windscreen, which decreased drag, but also driver visibility. The third car entered was dubbed the A443 and featured a longer wheelbase and a slightly larger engine. Displacing 2,138cc, the enlarged V6 now produced 520 bhp. Rival Porsche had also continued development and fielded a revised 936 with water-cooled, four-valve heads.
The new A443 served as the hare and quickly built up a sizeable lead, which forced the Porsches to ramp up the pace. Inevitably, the quickest of the four-car Renault armada broke down but in its wake the A442B of Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud had moved ahead of the 936s as they hit trouble. They held on to score what remains Renault's only Le Mans victory. The French manufacturer immediately withdrew from sports car racing to focus on the even more ambitious Formula 1 program.
With the prototype included, chassis 442/3 was the fourth and final A442 built. It was raced at Le Mans in 1977 and 1978. In the first year the Renault-Alpine started from pole but was forced to retire with engine failure. There was considerably more success the following year when Pironi and Jaussaud drove it to victory from fifth on the grid. Beautifully maintained by Renault Classic, it was brought out for the 2012 Le Mans Classic where it was driven by rally-ace Jean Ragnotti and Renault COO Carlos Tavares.