BTCC History: Renault Laguna

Alain Menu in 1996. Image thanks to BTCC.

The Renault Laguna is a firm favourite of mine when I look back at the cars of the Super Touring era. The car’s history is a fascinating one, from its debut in 1994 in the hands of Renault Dealer Racing to Renault’s partnership with F1 powerhouses Williams starting in 1995, which eventually resulted in a brilliantly successful 1997 season and title-winning year. I looked back at the history of the Renault Laguna in the BTCC in this edition of BTCC History.

Renault Laguna

In production from 1993 to 2015, the Renault Laguna was Renault’s showpiece large family car. First unveiled in November of 1993, the Laguna was designed by a team headed up by Patrick Le Quement and the design of the car started back in 1988. It was launched to the public in January of 1994 as a replacement for the Renault 21 and was initially only available as a hatchback model, with the estate version coming in September 1995.

The first generation Renault Laguna. Image thanks to Car Data.

The car went through several minor facelifts and major evolutions during its 22-year production run. The first came in 1998 with an upgraded Laguna II coming in 2001. The Laguna II received a facelift in 2005 before the third generation Renault Laguna III was announced in 2007. The Laguna III received a facelift in 2010, and by 2012 Renault had announced the Laguna would be discontinued in the United Kingdom. It’s successor, the Talisman was announced in 2015.

The Renault Laguna In The BTCC

Renault Dealer Racing joined the BTCC in 1993 with Tim Harvey and Alain Menu behind the wheel of a Renault 19, but the car wasn’t a success and for 1994 the team switched to the all-new Renault Laguna. Harvey and Menu would stay on as drivers and the car would sport a predominantly yellow livery with dashes of blue, a colour scheme which would become synonymous with Renault’s title-winning year.

The Laguna was a success, and Alain Menu finished the season 2nd in the overall driver’s standings winning races at Oulton Park and Knockhill along the way. The car was competitive but was no match for the Alfa Romeo 155s which dominated the 1994 season, and Menu finished 76 points behind champion Gabriele Tarquini. Tim Harvey also took a victory at Silverstone late in the season and would finish 9th in the overall standings.

Renault Dealer Racing finished a respectable 2nd in the constructor’s standings, only beaten by the dominant Alfa Romeos.

1995 – The Arrival Of Williams Racing

Williams Racing Renault Laguna Specifications

Built: 1995 – 1999 (20 in total)
Chassis: Renault Laguna I
Engine: Renault / Sodemo Straight 4
Displacement: 1,998 cc / 121.9 cu in
Valvetrain: 4 valves / cylinder, DOHC
Power 310 bhp / 231 KW @ 8,500 rpm
Torque 255 Nm / 188 ft lbs @ 7,000 rpm
BHP: 155bhp
Suspension: McPherson struts, coil springs (front), trailing arms, torsion bar springs (rear)
Gearbox: Williams 6-Speed manual
Drive: FWD
Weight: 975kg

Source: Renault Sport Club Forum.

Fresh of the success of Renault Laguna in 1994, Renault drafted in F1 powerhouses Williams to run the Laguna for the 1995 BTCC season. Sodemo Motors, a French tuning company supplied the engines and stage was set for one of F1’s biggest names to tackle the BTCC. With 1994 championship runner-up Alain Menu retained from the old Renault Dealer Team, and 1991 BTCC champion Will Hoy bought in from Toyota, the Laguna developed rapidly throughout the season becoming the class of the field.

Alain Menu was retained by Renault for 1995. Image thanks to LAT Photographic.

With Ian Harrison (future boss of the all-conquering Triple Eight) at the helm, the season started slowly and it took until round five of the season at Thruxton for Menu to take Williams’ first BTCC race victory securing pole position and fastest lap along the way. However the team’s fortunes improved, and the Renault Laguna took won seven of the final nine of the season.

Alain Menu had a strong year on his way to 2nd in the driver’s standings at the end of 1995, the second year in a row he would finish there. However, Will Hoy suffered from several retirements and mechanical problems in the opening half of the year. Hoy recovered to win three races at Brands Hatch, Snetterton and Silverstone towards the tail end of the season and Williams Renault won the constructors title in the first year of asking, beating Vauxhall by 5 points.

1996 – A Testing Year For The Williams Racing Renault Laguna

Fresh from the successes of the first year of the Williams Renault BTCC partnership, the Renault Laguna was the early season favourite for the title. However, in 1996 things didn’t go entirely to plan.

Alain Menu in 1996. Image thanks to Renault Sport.

With Menu and Hoy retained for another year, the Laguna struggled to replicate the success of the previous season and Williams Renault fell to 4th in the constructor’s table with poor reliability playing a major part. Alain Menu would recover from three no score races in the opening six to finish 2nd in the championship behind the all-conquering Audi A4 of Frank Biela. It was the third year in a row that Menu would finish as series runner-up. Will Hoy would struggle with performance and reliability finishing the season 9th in the driver’s table.

Menu won four times at Brands Hatch and Oulton Park, and Hoy scored three podium finishes, with two coming on the opening weekend of the season at Donington Park.

The 1996 season was dominated by Audi and their 4-wheel drive A4 Quattro. The A4 was the class of the field across all major touring car championships in 1996, including the BTCC. Despite weight penalties being added to the Audi A4s mid-season, there was little consequence for the Ingolstadt-based brand and Biela won the title at a canter with four races to spare.

1997 – BTCC Success For The Renault Laguna

Jason Plato leads Alain Menu at Snetterton in 1997. Image thanks to The Checkered Flag.

After near-misses for the last three years, the Renault Laguna’s fortunes would finally change in 1997 and the season would go down the car’s most successful in the BTCC.

Three-time series runner-up Alain Menu stayed on with the team but Will Hoy departed to Ford with future BTCC legend Jason Plato taking his place.

With the Audi’s again hit with a weight penalty, the Renault Laguna would dominate the year winning 14 out of 24 races. Still in the famous yellow and blue livery, Menu won the opening four races of the season, and then go on to win another eight times taking his total for 1997 to 12 race wins. Plato would also reach the top step, taking his maiden BTCC race win at Snetterton before following up with another victory at Silverstone in the final race of the year.

Alain Menu won the drivers title from defending champion Biela by a mammoth 128 points, and Williams Renault would win both constructors and teams championships in a year of complete dominance for the Renault Laguna. Plato finished his first-ever season in the BTCC 3rd in the standings just one point behind Biela, capping off what was a remarkable year for Williams, Renault and the Renault Laguna in its fourth year of BTCC competition.

1998 – Title Defence

The Renault Laguna sported a brand new livery and title sponsor for 1998. Image thanks to BTCC.

1998 proved to be one of the most competitive seasons of the Super Touring era of the BTCC, and whilst the Renault Laguna still tasted race success, the competition was far greater than in 1997. Defending champion Menu and superstar rookie Plato were retained for another year but the now-iconic yellow and blue livery was replaced by emerald green and Nescafe Blend 37 came on board as the title sponsor.

Williams Renault didn’t enjoy the same level of dominance as they did in the previous season and with improved efforts from the likes of Volvo (TWR), Nissan (RML) and Honda (Prodrive). The competition proved to be intense, and the Renault Laguna won just four races all season compared to 14 the year before. The team would enter a third car for the final round of the season at Silverstone for Tommy Rustad who won the Independents Cup.

Menu would win three times at Thruxton and Oulton Park, with Plato winning once at Oulton Park. It was a far cry from the season before however Menu and Plato would still finish the season 4th and 5th in standings respectively. Renault went from 1st to 3rd in the manufacturer’s championship, falling behind Nissan and Volvo.

1999 – The Renault Laguna’s Final Season In The BTCC

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Jason Plato at Oulton Park in 1999. Image thanks to BTCC.

The Renault Laguna’s final season in the BTCC proved to be it’s least successful. Audi and Peugeot’s withdrawal from the BTCC at the end of 1998 marked the beginning of the end of the Super Touring era, and 1999 would see Nissan dominate and take a clean sweep of the drivers, constructors and teams titles in the Nissan Primera GT.

Renault stalwart Alain Menu departed the team which had taken him to 1997 title and he was replaced by ex Sauber F1 driver and BTCC rookie Jean Christophe Boullion. Jason Plato remained to spearhead William’s final season both in the BTCC and with the Renault Laguna. Boullion had missed out on the Renault drive to Jason Plato at the start of 1997.

After a promising start wich included two podiums and a race victory in the opening four races, a run of three successive retirements would begin to hamper Plato’s title charge. He would finish on the podium just once more at Donington Park and he fell to 5th in the championship standings by the end of the season.

Teammate Boullion wouldn’t enjoy the levels of success that any of his Renault Laguna predecessors had enjoyed, and he struggled to 10th the in the driver’s championship with a 3rd place finish at Silverstone his only silverware of the year. Willams Renault would finish their final BTCC campaign 4th in the constructor’s and team’s championships.

At the end of 1999, the Williams Renault partnership ended and Renault withdrew from the BTCC taking their now-iconic Renault Laguna with them. Yet to announce a return to the BTCC, the Renault Laguna marks the French brand’s final car to have competed in or won a race in the series. It was the car which finally took Alain Menu to his first BTCC title after three seasons of agonising near-misses, and also the car which would allow future series great Jason Plato his first taste of BTCC action and silverware. It firmly deserves its place in BTCC history.

Interested in reading more about some of the most popular and iconic cars of the BTCC? Click here to read more.

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