28/08/2019

Reflections: 20 years since the Sport Spider

Two decades have passed since Renault’s Sport Spider – the first car to bear the Renault Sport badge – stopped racing in the UK. Time for a look-back…
  • Spider 02.jpg
  • Spider 01.jpg

Renault introduced the Spider in 1995 with performance on both the road and the track factored into its design.

It was mid-engined, had only two seats, was open-topped and came without a windscreen (except for the 100 or so that were imported to the UK market). A two-door ‘roadster’ if you like, powered by Renault’s 2.0 (1998cc) ‘F7 16-valve 14’ engine which produced around 150hp…

In essence, this was a long-awaited answer to Renault’s last mid-engined, rear-wheel-driven ‘sportscar’, the famed 5 Turbo of the early Eighties.

Launched at the Geneva Motor Show, around 1,900 in total were assembled (by Alpine in Dieppe) before production ceased in 1999 and many would become competition-spec versions for racing championships across mainland Europe and the UK.

Renault UK had just continued its long line of successful single model racing championships with the first Clio Cup running from 1991-95 but this was ditched as the manufacturer’s focus switched to promotion of the Spider – cue the arrival of the Renault UK Sport Spider Cup for 1996.

The championship would get four years before the Clio Cup returned in 2000 and, although grid sizes were not as great (possibly due to the car’s quirkiness and higher cost) it still produced some top future talent…

There were teething problems initially such as getting on top of the car’s racing suspension. But, once sorted, many drivers will attest to the Spider’s performance – although ‘edgy’, it rewarded technical and engineering nous which is perhaps why a number of its top names went on to bigger things.

The first UK Sport Spider Cup Champion was Jason Plato. He won nine of 13 races to clinch the title for the Mardi Gras Motorsport team – although was pushed hard on occasion by Orbit Motorsport’s Julian Westwood.

Plato’s success followed an earlier Renault title – the Formula Renault Eurocup crown in 1991 – but the Spider championship was a last throw of the dice in the hope it would project him further up the motor sport ladder.

It worked and for 1997 he was projected into the media and public spotlight with a plum drive on the British Touring Car Championship grid in the factory Williams-Renault team’s Laguna. The rest, they say, is history, and Plato went on to become a two-time BTCC Champion – he still races in the championship with an unrivalled tally of 96 race wins…

Nine wins was also the tally achieved by 1997’s Champion Bryce Wilson while that same year heralded the arrival of Dan Eaves who took two victories that season.

It was Eaves who won 1998’s crown but only after main rivals Nick Hart and Jamie Hunter clashed in Silverstone’s final round. Eaves would also go on to achieve success in the BTCC…

The final UK Spider title in 1999 went the way of Andy Priaulx MBE who achieved the remarkable feat of winning all 13 races that season – with Plato’s former team, Mardi Gras.

Priaulx, from Guernsey, then went on to win touring car racing’s biggest crowns at the time: he was European Champion in 2004 and then World Champion three times back to back between 2005 and 2007.

He now races in the World Endurance Championship which includes events such as the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Renault Sport also ran its own Eurocup championship from 1996-98 with France’s Franck Lagorce, Norway’s Tommy Rustad and Italy’s Andrea Belicchi winning the titles.

Having spun an enviable web of talent for four years, though, the Spider’s time was up and Renault UK’s focus went from final Champion Priaulx and back to Clio…