23/05/2019

Lookback: Renault’s BTCC Laguna legend

It’s hard to believe but 2019 marks 25 years since Renault introduced its iconic Laguna model to the British Touring Car grid…
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The car replaced the unwieldy 19 model that Renault had used for its first attempt at Britain’s premier motor racing championship the year before.

Switzerland’s Alain Menu and Briton Tim Harvey again formed the driver line-up and each would taste victory during the season – the Laguna a natural fit for BTCC organiser TOCA’s technical regulations. Menu and Renault would finish runners-up in the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships respectively.

The biggest change the Laguna went through during the season – like many of its rivals – was the addition of a front splitter and rear wing as the rate of car development suddenly started to go through the roof.

There was to be another sizeable technical change towards the end of the year when Renault handed over development of the car to Williams Engineering.

This was a blow to the small Buckingham based MCT outfit which had overseen the original ’94 car, but essential if Renault was to take on rival manufacturers which were bringing in the considerable engineering might of F1 teams to increase performance of their cars.

The so-called ‘super touring’ era – carbon fibre and all – was truly now in full flow and for 1995 and 1996 Menu would be partnered by Will Hoy.

In 1995 the car won an unrivalled ten of the 25 races – Menu taking seven victories and Hoy three. Renault/Williams Renault Dealer Team clinched the manufacturers’ crown but still the driver’s title was missing – Menu again finishing runner-up, Hoy fourth.

It was a similar story in ’96 as Menu won four more times but was again runner-up. Then came 1997… 

Menu was now joined by Renault UK’s Spider sportscar champion Jason Plato and suddenly the floodgates opened. Menu won an incredible 12 of the season’s 24 races and already had the title sewn up with three events still to go when he took victory number 11 at Snetterton in August. The Laguna took pole position for the first seven races and in fact qualified at the front of the grid on 17 occasions that year – both are records that may never be broken.

Plaudits, too, to Plato who finished third in the championship and added two victories of his own, making it a remarkable 14 wins out of 24 for the Laguna – another record. Unsurprisingly Renault/Williams Renault Dealer Team added a second manufacturers’ trophy.

For 1998 there was a new-look Laguna as Nescafe with its 37 Blend brand took over title sponsorship of the cars which, now under the Blend 37 Williams Renault banner, had become a dark metallic green! Now in its fifth season, however, the Laguna was starting to show signs of its age as performance plateaued. Menu was able to win three more times, Plato just the once as they finished fourth and fifth in the standings.

For 1999, Menu left for rival team Ford and was replaced by former F1 driver, France’s Jean-Christophe Boullion. Renault now announced it would exit the BTCC come the end of the year, but the Laguna still had one, final win up its sleeve at Silverstone – achieved fittingly, perhaps, by Plato who since the early 1990s had come up through the ranks in Renault Sport’s junior racing categories.

Twenty years since it took its final bow, Renault’s Laguna is still fondly remembered as one of the greatest cars to have graced Britain’s and one of the world’s premier motor racing arenas.

BTCC results, Renault Laguna 1994-1999

148 races

29 pole positions

32 fastest laps

36 race wins

2 manufacturers’ titles

1 drivers’ title

 

Pics © Jakob Ebrey