The Renault Championship is one of those one-make series that has been around for years in one form or another, but was invigorated by the introduction of Renault 5 Turbos in 1985 even though the model was not available until February 1986. To get the championship underway, a batch of 40 were especially imported.
The swift little Renault which forms the basis of this series develops 115 bhp at 5750 rpm from its turbocharged engine and can reach over 125 mph. It can also roar up to 60 mph in under seven seconds.
The championship is open to anyone with a restricted, national or international licence as long as they have registered. Drivers who are attracted tend to be in their 30s and 40s with many, it seems, being company directors. Exceptions to this include actor/writer Rowan Atkinson and Gavin Green, editor of a respected rival magazine. Once the racing is underway and the gloves are off, however, what one does for a living becomes irrelevant.
In 1988 the racing was always exciting with the championship developing into a close duel between Niki Phillips from Ulster and James Kaye from Harrogate, the Irishman finishing up with seven victories, and the overall title, to his credit, and the Yorkshireman with five. Other drivers who were always interesting to watch included David Grimshaw, Dave Cox and Gavin Green.
Once a car has been acquired there are a number of ways in which prize money can be won. £180 is awarded for first place, £160 for second and £140 for third, and so on, all the way down to £20 for twentieth place. Every starter gets £100, the leader of each lap £20, and the top six at half distance receive bonuses between £100 and £40.
Philips provides goods to the value of £300 for the driver who wins pole position and Michelin gives £180 to the driver who makes the best improvement from his grid position to finishing position. The tyre company also gives £220 to the driver of the best turned out entry. Additionally £100 is awarded to the driver who sets the fastest lap, £100 to the race winner and £100 to the driver of the highest-placed Renault Dealer entry.
The championship winner receives any new Renault road car to the value of a new Renault 5 GT Turbo plus a cheque for £2500 from Staw Distribution and goods to the value of £700 from Philips. The runner-up receives a cheque for £2000 and Philips goods to the value of £500, with prizes being donated on a decreasing scale to sixth place.
To be able to rely on such a wad of prize money, the championship has many sponsors. Others include CAT-GB (Services) Ltd, Renault’s subsidiary company which handles worldwide shipping and distribution, Elf, Facom Tools, de Carbon, Renault Care and Renault Loan.
The climax comes in the form of a visit to a continental circuit. At the end of the 1988 season, for instance, 32 competitors went to Paul Ricard for the Finals. In a weekend devoted to Renault 5 racing, the championships from all over Europe were finished . Unfortunately there is not one great race at the end whereby the first three finishers from every country race against each other, because turbo-boost levels differ from series to series. The Germans, for instance, are relaxed on boost control, while there are restrictions in the British series.
The three major teams in the championship are Radbourne Racing of Wimbledon, Gerard Motorsport and Jeff Goodliffe, each running competitors who can bring sponsorship with them. In all three cases these equipes are geared up specifically for Renault 5 racing, so the engines are blueprinted and the cars expertly prepared.
Many, though, just go racing for the enjoyment of it. A car can be purchased from Renault UK for under £11,000 and although they are partially prepared, extra will need to be spent for the instalment of a roll cage or a spare net of wheels. Second-hand cars can be bought for as little as £7000, but in some instances they have had a pretty rough life.
Once the car has been acquired, however, it is possible to go through the season for as little as £2000, relying on the start and prize and keeping out of harm’s way probably at back of the pack. To ensure the engineers are not being over-imaginative in their interpretation of the regulations, Renault UK at the start of every meeting hands out a black box to every driver to recheck the boost. This is checked before practice and before the race, and if the readings are too or too low the car is pulled out and examined.
Renault 5 racing is a lot of fun, and it will be even more lucrative for the prize bonus awards have been increased to a massive £126,000, making this the richest 1 make saloon car series. But a word of before you dash out and buy a car for series: in 1991 the new Renault 19 is going usurp the 5 in this championship, so one will be left in two years time with a racing car and nowhere to race.