Lately it seems spec racing is all the rage. On the amateur level there is the ever popular Spec Miata. PCA Club Racing has Spec 911, Spec 996, Spec Boxster, and new for 2016, Spec Cayman. Both NASA and BMWCCA have their versions of Spec E30, E36 and Spec E46. And all these are just some of the Spec classes a grassroots racer can play in. On the professional level there is the GP2 Series, which is a stepping stone to Formula One. In sports car racing you have the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge where racers compete in “equally” prepared Porsche 991 and 997 Cup cars. Over the past few years there has also been the Prototype Challenge class in the Tudor United Sportscar Series and formerly in the America LeMans Series. I know there are a lot more spec series I haven’t mentioned, but I want to get to the point of this story before people start falling asleep.
While going through boxes of my belongings that spent the last 20+ years in my parents’ basement, I came across some of my old Car & Driver magazines. In the back of the October 1982 issues, I came across and interesting story about a spec series I had never heard of, the Renault/Koni Cup. A Google search turned up zero, zip, nada. So the only details I have are what I read in the article.
As some may remember, Renault brought the R5 to the U.S. market in 1976 as the “Le Car” to compete with other compact cars like the VW Rabbit and Honda Civic and they were sold through AMC (American Motor Company) dealerships. The Le Car was successful in SCCA racing is the SSC class. That led a racer named Steve Coleman to propose a low cost, one marque racing series to Renault USA Competition Director Baltasar Clar. The cars would be closely policed and few modifications outside of a bolt in roll cage, and racing harnesses would be allowed in order to keep costs down. At the time, Renault USA was asking Clar to come up with a way to promote the brand in the U.S. so the timing was right. Clar presented the idea for the Le Car Cup to management and Renault USA and Koni came on as sponsors. Clar’s plan promoted the dealers sponsoring and providing the cars, and supplying parts at cost. The dealers also paid the entry fees.
IMSA added the Le Car Cup to its calendar with races being run on the undercard for its Camel GT Series, which meant spectators in the seats. The series was highly successful since racers could race on the same weekends as the likes of John Fitzpatrick, Danny Ongais, Hurley Haywood, and Derek Bell. Fifty one Le Cars were on the grid for the inaugural race at Road Atlanta.
All allowable modifications to the car came in a single package. You got bigger torsion bars, sway bars, Koni dampers of course, a MOMO steering wheel and wheels, shaved Goodyear tires, harnesses, window net, a bolt in roll cage, and a fire extinguisher. There is no mention of a race seat, because drivers raced in the stock seat! And of course you got the requisite decals and driver’s patches as part of the package.
There was even prize money involved. The purse for each race was $8,000 and paid out for 1st through 20th place. An additional $1500 in contingency prizes was also part of the deal. The top six finishers in each race received points and at the end of the season, the top three finishers won and all expenses paid trip to France to compete in the European Renault Cup Finals.
So what happened to the series? Not sure since I couldn’t find anything online about it. The series probably closed down after 1983 when the Le Car was replaced in the U.S. market by the R11 (Renault Alliance). After reading the article, it sounds like it was a well attended and fun series, in a quirky French car. So if anyone bothering to read this post knows more about the Renault/Koni Cup, please share it with the rest of us. See you at the track.