Continental notes, June 1977

The Old

In August the town of Montreux, on the shores of Lac Leman in Switzerland, is holding celebrations and fetes to do with their history, and while researching the town’s archives someone discovered that they once held a Grand Prix in the town. This was in 1934, on June 3rd and while it did not rank as a Grande Epreuve, or as we now call them, Championship Event, it was a proper Grand Prix nonetheless. The Scuderia Ferrari (Yes, the same one as now) sent a team of three “monoposto” Alfa Romeos driven by Count Trossi, Guy Moll and Archille Varzi, while private Maseratis were driven by Phillipe Etancelin, Whitney Straight, Hugh Hamilton, Louis Braillard, Zehender and Benoist Falchetto, with Raymond Sommer and Soffietti with private Alfa Romeos and Pierre Veyron with a lone Bugatti. The circuit was right in the centre of the town, starting in the main street among the shops, hotels and restaurants, and amid the tramlines, and was roughly rectangular in shape with a length of 3.320 kilometres and as Grand Prix races had to be 300 kilometers in length, the course was covered 99 times.

This Grand Prix of Montreux was won by Count Trossi in a Scuderia Ferrari Alfa Romeo, with Etancelin in second place in his 8CM Maserati (the actual car that is now in the Schlumpf museum), followed by Varzi in another Ferrari Alfa Romeo. Whitney Straight was fourth in his own 8CM Maserati, and fifth was Hamilton in another of Straight’s Maseratis. The winner drove for 2 hr. 57 min. 25.6 sec. at an average speed of 100.040 k.p.h.

On Sunday August 21st it is planned to hold a “retrospective” of the event as part of the summer celebrations, and as many old Grand Prix cars as possible are being gathered together to compete in a regularity run around most of the original circuit, for about two-thirds of it remains unchanged. The whole affair should be a pleasant “garden-party” with the cars on exhibition for a couple of days before-hand, numerous receptions and cocktail parties, a vintage car run around the locality, a Concours d’Elegance and the Grand Prix cars actually running through the streets of the town on Sunday afternoon. It is hoped that Phillipe Etancelin will be in attendance, together with many old racing drivers from the past, and as Baron de Graffenried is on the organising committee there should be a splendid turn-out. If anyone is holidaying in Switzerland in August, a visit to Montreux is strongly recommended.

The New

The long awaited Renault Formula One car was shown to the Press early last month at a gathering in the Renault showrooms in the Champs Elysees in Paris, when Gerard Larrousse introduced all the members of the team who will be involved in the running of the car when it appears on the Formula One circuits. The involvement of the French National Renault company in motor sport has been going on for a long time, their activities ranging from sponsoring a Renault saloon car championship to some serious long distance sports car racing with a turbo-charged 2-litre V6 car. All the various sporting activities have stemmed from the Renault-Gordini factory, a limited company which is a subsidiary of Regie-Renault, situated at Viry-Chatillon to the south of Paris. In this factory, which employs 64 people and contains a design office, workshops, test-beds and machine-shops, all the competition Renault engines are prepared, whether for rally work or racing and the turbo-charging development work is carried out. It was here that the first Formula One car was designed, a test-vehicle being completed last year. After private (and very secret) testing had been carried out at the Michelin Tyre Company’s test-track at Clermont-Ferrand, this test car appeared at Jarama in the late spring of 1976 and the word was then out that Renault were going to join in Formula One, but nothing was said about when it would be. Doing the testdriving was Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who was also racing a Renault F2 car and the turbo-charged Sports car, and all along the French national petrol and oil company ELF have been closely associated with all the Renault-Gordini activities, the cars being called Renault-ELF, as is the new Formula One car.

Almost exactly one year after the prototype test-car was first seen Renault have laid open the whole project and said they are ready to go racing. The car shown on May 10th is the first car to full racing specification, RS/01, the RS standing for Renault-Sport, the competition department of Renault. Its construction was started last November and the completed car was put down onto its wheels two days before it was shown to the Press. Before it is entered for a race it has a test-programme to fulfil, so Larrousse would not commit himself as to which would be their first event. The French naturally hope it will be their own Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois, but logic and reason suggest it is more likely to be in the British GP at Silverstone, a circuit more suited to a turbo-charged engine than the little Dijon circuit. Whatever happens, Jabouille will be the driver for whatever races they run in 1977, and if all goes well they will run two cars in 1978, and if it performs well there won’t be a shortage of drivers for the second car.

The overall impression of the car is that it is very small, compact, and a unified design, clearly designed around two major factors, the turbo-charged 1 1/2-litre V6 engine and Michelin Radial tyres. A whole band of people have been Involved in the design and creation of the car, with engine specialists, gearbox specialists, chassis and suspension specialists, aero-dynamic Specialists, to say nothing of all the tyre specialists at Michelin who have been working exclusively for Renault. The whole project has been under the control of Francois Castaing, a 31-year-old engineer who is the technical director of Renault-Gordini and who was responsible, among other things, for the original 4 o.h.c. V6 Renault-Gordini engine. Older readers who may recall Amedee Gordini when he was running hiss Grand Prix team in the nineteen-fifties, may be wondering how the old “Sorcerer” fits into the programme. The answer is he does not, other than being a sort of President d’Honneur of the whole aflair, for Renault absorbed the Gordini works many years ago when they first started to get interested in competition, and Amedee has been retired for many years now, leaving his name on Renault competition activities as a sort of symbol of respectability. He still attends Formula One races as a spectator and no doubt will be about the place to see the new Renault make its racing debut.

The heart of the design is the V6 engine, limited 1 1/2-litres by Formula One rules. It is a 90-degree vee with bore and stroke of 86 x 42.8 mm., 1492 c.c., with 4 valves per cylinder and two overhead camshafts driven by toothed belt for each cylinder head. The engine block is cast-iron, made in the foundries of Regie-Renault, and the heads are aluminium alloy. It is a very short and compact engine and is mounted ahead of a Flewland FGA 400 gearbox/final drive unit, containing six forward speeds. Between the engine and the transmission unit is a fairly long alloy spacer and above this is the turbo-charger unit. To the left is the exhaust-driven turbine, fed by two pipes, one from the left-hand exhaust manifold more or less directly, the other from an exhaust pipe from the right-hand manifold which passes underneath the spacer. The exhaust driven turbine vents into a single large-diameter pipe through the adjustable waste-gate and into a large megaphone-ended tail pipe. Directly over the engine/transmission spacer is the compressor driven by the turbine, and this draws air from a duct on the right-hand side. From the compressor the inlet manifold runs forward along the vee of the engine into an inter-cooler and then back over the top of the cooler to the six-branch manifold feeding the cylinders, each branch containing a fuel-injection nozzle aimed directly down the inlet port onto the backs of the inlet valves. Supercharging pressure is quoted as “about 21 p.s.i.” and with a compression ratio of 7 to 1, the engine is claimed to develop 510 b.h.p. at 11,000 r.p.m., running on normal ELF petrol naturally. It develops its maximum torque at 9,600 r.p.m., which means that Jabouille will have to keep his eyes on the electric r.p.m. indicator. The only other instrument he has to watch is the boost-gauge, other functionings or mal-functionings are indicated by coloured lights. The turbo-charger layout is by Garrett and the fuel-injection by Kugelfischer, the unit mounted in the vee of the engine and driven by toothed belt from the right-hand inlet camshaft. Between the engine and the inter-cooler is the oil tank, for the dry-sump lubrication system, this tank being a complicated affair with passage-ways through it for the inlet pipe from the turbo-charger and others for various pipes and controls.

The whole power unit looks very purposeful and neat, if a bit on the lengthy side, and is a stressed unit attached to the rear of the chassis monocoque, with side-mounted water radiators. Suspension all round is by coil springs with internal Koni dampers, the front ones operated by rocker arms with lower wishbones and the rear layout being conventional double lower links, single top and twin radius rods. Very wide ventilated disc brakes are used, with Lockheed calipers, the rear discs being mounted inboard, naturally with a Hewland transmission, and Ferodo supply the brake pads.

The overall impression of the car is one of compactness and lightness, especially as regards detail design on such things as suspension joints, drive shafts, hubs, steering parts and so on. It is not a question of lightness for the sake of weight saving, but lightness by careful design overall and in detail. Although it is very much a French car and a Renault, it has to turn to people who know as regards such things as brakes, clutch, body fasteners, sparking plugs, brake pads and clutch linings, life-support system, gearbox, ball-races and batteries and it’s nice to see they are all British firms or British influenced international firms.

Building a car is one thing, winning races is another matter altogether, but whatever happens this appearance of a Renault Formula One car, with the backing and responsibility of the Regie-Renault behind it, must be of interest to the overall scene in Formula One. Of particular interest is the tyre question, with Michelin whole-heartedly behind the project. At the moment Goodyear have a monopoly in Formula One and they dictate the type of tyre that everyone will use for each race, and no-one is allowed to use special “short-life” tyres for practice and grid-position qualifying. This is an unofficial “gentleman’s” agreement among the members of the Constructor’s Association, but Renault are not in the F1CA and if Michelin produce some super-sticky tyres for Jabouille to use in practice, no-one can stop them. I can foresee the “gentleman’s agreement” going by the board. There are one or two other “carefully arranged” manipulations within the Formula One “circus” that might also get a bit of a jolt when Renault start entering races, which won’t be a bad thing for the sport in general, and who knows, all those people in Weissach, at the Porsche Research and Development Centre, who are looking toward Munich with narrowed eyes, may have to turn through 180-degrees. D.S.J.