Originally designed by rally driver Jean Rédélé, Alpines were tailor-made for competition. Coupe des Alpes, Mille Miglia… the A106 won many rallies during the mid-1950s. Then, in 1963, Alpine began competing in endurance races, notably the Le Mans 24 Hours – the most celebrated event on the sports car calendar. The tiny French artisan embarked on a great adventure alongside giants such as Porsche, Ford and Ferrari. The Alpine legend evolved through the sweeps of the Circuit de la Sarthe.
A growing power at
Code name: M63. Weighing in at little more than 600kg on the scales, the first Alpine sports-prototypes lined up on the grid. Behind the scenes, Amédée Gordini developed the engines while ‘master of the wind’ Marcel Hubert fine-tuned the aerodynamics. Within a year, Morrogh/Delageneste had won the Index of Thermal Efficiency in an Alpine M64, recorded at 240kph on the straight. Quick and well balanced, the 1.0-litre Alpine had proved it could also last the distance.
In 1966 Alpine’s A210 took a clean sweep of the top three places in the Index of Thermal Efficiency, earning respect from the 350,000-strong crowd. Buoyed by this success, the company developed a 3.0-litre V8 engine for the A221. At the Paris Motor Show, Général de Gaulle asked a simple question: “Why?” Jean Rédélé replied, “To steer France to victory.” In 1968, Alpine picked up more class success, in both the Index of Thermal Efficiency and the Index of Performance.
Never one to sit back on its laurels, Alpine also played a starring role in single-seater racing and rallycross. Between 1964 and 1972, the team won three French F3 titles and one European F3 crown. Alpine thus became the only French marque to win titles in rallying, single-seater racing and sports-prototypes.
In 1971, a veritable racing marathon was organised for the first time in the form of the Nürburgring 96 Hours. Renault declined an invitation to take part because it wanted to conserve its Alpines. Driver Jean-Luc Thérier was having none of it, however, because he wanted to be there… so he borrowed an A110 and entered as a privateer. And those who loved him duly followed. He engaged Jacques Henry and Maurice Nusbaumer to join him in the adventure, while a few factory engineers took holidays in order to assist.
BMW started as the big pre-race favourite and looked impressive, but Thérier was unfazed. He concocted his own strategy and opted for driver changes every six hours, rather than every two. The crew shortened pit stops as much as possible by tightening one of every four wheel nuts by hand. They had only limited resources, but a huge desire to succeed, nerve and intelligence carried them – against all expectations – to the highest step of the podium.
Le Mans 78:
Confidence boosted by its historic success in the inaugural World Rally Championship in 1973, Alpine subsequently focused on endurance racing – and the holy grail of Le Mans. In its Dieppe factory, the team worked tirelessly to optimise the turbocharged V6 engine’s competitiveness. The A440 began to win races and Alain Serpaggi became European 2.0-litre sports car champion.
In 1978, the watchword was ‘victory’. The team was led by the race’s former winner Gérard Larrousse and four black-and-yellow Alpine prototypes were on the grid when the 46th Le Mans 24 Hours commenced on June 10.
Alpines set the pace and led from the start.
Depailler/Jabouille played the role of the ‘hare’ and pulverised the lap record in their A443, bring it down to 3m 34.2s. In the morning, however, Depailler pulled off with a seized engine. Heartened by this, Porsche drivers Ickx and Wollek started to hunt down the leading A442B, on which the clutch was beginning to fail.
Strategy and caution became key for Alpine crew Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and Didier Pironi. Tension was extreme in the cockpit and fierce sunshine was taking its toll on the drivers, but after more than 5000 kilometres of racing the chequered flag finally fell. The A442B had won at Le Mans and the sound of the Marseillaise acknowledged as much.
After a 35-year absence, the Alpine legend was reborn in 2013. The marque forged an alliance with Signatech and entered the LMP2 class. Team Principal Philippe Sinault had great hopes for his drivers – Pierre Ragues, Nelson Panciatici, Tristan Gommendy and Paul-Loup Chatin were every bit as determined as forebears such as Vinatier, Andruet, Thérier, Ragnotti and Pironi… It wasn’t long before the A450 honoured the marque’s reputation, with European titles in 2013 and 2014. There was no questioning its performance, nor the crew’s spirit – at Le Mans Alpine was awarded the Prix ESCRA for the best technical performance by a team.
The 2015 season was no less rewarding. On the track, Panciatici/Chatin/Dillored scored a World Endurance Championship victory in Shanghai in the A450B. And at Le Mans, Alpine created a sensation by unveiling the Célébration – a muscular concept car to honour the firm’s 60th anniversary.
In 2016 Alpine has doubled its commitment and two A460s are taking part in the World Endurance Championship, one under the Signatech banner and the other in the colours of Asian team Baxi DC Racing, which is backed by actor Jackie Chan.
MARIE DERREY TOURRES
GIANMARCO MAGNANI & RENAUD ROCHE