Just prior to the ELMS season finale at Estoril Renault Sport announced that they were to cease holding the Renault Sport Trophy for the Renault RS.01 one make GT style racer, the Trophy has formed part of the ELMS support programme throughout the 2016 season and was believed to have had an initial outline commitment of four years from Renault Sport.
So why the decision to stop, what now for the RS.01 and its customers, will Renault still be supporting the ELMS into 2017 and, into the mix, are the rumours of an interest from La Regie in LMP1 true – or not?
The DSC Editor sat down with Tarik Ait Said Sporting Manager of the Renault Sport Racing Customer Racing Programme.
Tarik, why the decision to stop the Renault Sport Trophy after just two seasons?
“The car is working well commercially, we have sold 30 cars and we still have requests for more.
“Of those 30, and if we don’t count our own VIP car, there are only 12-13 cars running in the Renault Sport Trophy.
“Add to that the fact that all of the requests we currently have for new cars are for endurance racing and not for the Trophy. Teams and drivers that want to put the cars into the Abu Dhabi 12 Hours, the Dubai 24 Hours, GT Open, Blancpain etc.
“Taking that all into account and considering too of course the overall cost of running the Trophy, not just for us, but for the teams too, we decided it was best to stop the Trophy – Not, and I do want to stress this, not the RS.01.
“We just want now to re-orientate the car more towards endurance racing.”
The car is a slight paradox isn’t it, because it’s too fast in the company it will now keep and the method of bringing that speed down in aero terms is a pretty blunt weapon (requiring a flat plate to be fixed between the rear wing supports to act as a passive air brake – see pic below).
“In purchase cost terms the car is very competitive with the other GT3 cars and the running costs are the running costs of any other GT3 car too.
“The most important factor though, and it is something we hear from just about everyone that has driven the car, and remember these are, most often, drivers who have experience of one, or more likely several GT3 brands, they all say that the car is the most comfortable car in the class. That they can drive the car for a long time and not feel tired, so this is exactly the car they want to drive for a 12 hour, or a 24 hour race.
“Drivers tell us that the car feels more like a DTM car, or a Prototype rather and a GT3, with the carbon chassis perhaps that should be no surprise and it’s perhaps that factor that helps them to be comfortable and consistent.
“On Balance of Performance – The RS.01, as built, is around seven seconds faster per lap around Spa than a GT3 car because, of course, it was not designed to go head to head with the GT3 cars it was designed to do the Trophy. As soon as the teams and owners wanted to do some of those other races though we clearly had to develop a BoP ‘kit’. The easiest way to take that kind of time out of a car is to reduce the aero and despite that it still remains competitive.
“We just sold three cars to a guy in the Middle East who wants to put the cars into the local Championship because they are affordable, and competitive.
“Now we are focusing on other racing then of course we have to look at something more custom built, and adjustable, to enable BoP to be managed, rather than just to take time out of the car.”
The Renault Sport partnership with the ELMS has been a huge positive this season – with the end of the Sport Trophy will that continue?
“Yes – amongst the changes next year are the roll-out of the planned strengthening of Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup. That will run through the season with the ELMS (three events), FIA WEC (at Nurburgring), Blancpain (2 events), GT Open (2 events), Formula One (at Monaco) and with a standalone event at Pau.”
So with the end of the Renault Sport Trophy is there something else on the horizon?
“Not for 2017 because we need a bit of time to develop the car and to establish the upscaled Eurocup. We are working on some things, as yet unconfirmed, for 2018.
“There may be a cultural shift, moving more towards open racing against other manufacturers rather than one make races in our own events. We’re looking into that whilst keeping, and developing the Renault Sport flagships, the Eurocup and Clio Cup.”
Is LMP1 amongst the possible future Renault Sport projects?
“A question that the media often asks is “What are you looking at?” The answer is that we are looking at everything!
“Our job is to offer Renault different solutions so if we can see that the F1 engine technology that we already have can be applied quickly and with limited cost in LMP racing then why not?
“But with manufacturers involved in LMP1 I don’t really see a customer engine in LMP1, budgets are at F1 level.
“At the end it is about what is deliverable, what is realistic, and what is good for the brand. We have central Marketing involved and if we go head to head with others then it’s to win.
“Even if its for business if you want to sell engines then you need to have winning engines.
“We have considered LMP1, particularly just a few years back when the F1 technology was so close it was considered for maybe another brand in the group but then we had the experience in F1 and selling an engine, or being an engine partner with teams is not the best way to go if you want return for the brand – it’s not profitable in brand management terms.”
From the above we can discern several things:
Firstly neither Renault, nor the other companies and brands in the group, are coming to LMP1 any time soon.
Secondly, the most recent discussions over even a potential programme have focused on the potential for an engine programme and not a full factory effort.
Thirdly the wounds suffered by Renault after the tactical trashing of their F1 engine programme’s reputation by Red Bull Racing are clearly still quite fresh.
If the FIA WEC are looking for the cavalry to arrive from this direction for LMP1 then they apparently need to think again!
Pics courtesy of Renault Sport/ DPPI