NEWS FEATURE

Renault Sport

The head office of Renault Sport stands on the grandly-named Avenue President Kennedy in Viry-Chatillon. The name conjures up images of a tree-lined boulevard with marble buildings but the reality is rather different. This particular Avenue President Kennedy is a small road running through an industrial park beside a motorway in the southern suburbs of Paris.

Number 1 Avenue President Kennedy is functional, rather than glamorous. It was here that Amedee Gordini built his factory 25 years ago and here that the Renault Sport set-up has remained, expanding and contracting over the years, updating and adding to the facilities. The result is a mix-and-match collection of buildings within which offices, test beds and all the othe paraphenalia of engine building are squeezed. Renault's entire F1 engine programme is housed inside these buildings, although its rally programme today occupies separate premises not far away across suburbia near the grand old Orly airport.

The Viry-Chatillon factory employs around 180 people -- with 110 of them working directly on the engines. This includes the 20 specialist engineers who have between created the Renault RS2 Formula 1 engine which powered Riccardo Patrese to victory in the recent San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

At the top of the pyramid is Bernard Dudot, the leading survivor of the 'nouvelle vague' of French engineers in the 1960s when French racing burst onto the international scene with such companies as Matra, Gordini and Alpine. Beneath Dudot in the engineering hierarchy are Jean-Francois Robin, and Jean-Jacques His.

Once inside the factory, you are immediately aware that functionalism is the policy. The factory is not manicured in the way of some Formula 1 teams. This is not an operating theatre for engines. It has the atmosphere of a place that is forever changing to squeeze in some other vital department. The offices seem as though, at any moment, everything will be moved elsewhere.

Upstairs in the old Gordini factory there are the drawing offices and administration, partioned off with glass panels. It is dotted with drawing boards and CAD/CAM machines and the walls are covered with photographs of victories past.

Downstairs in the shop floor with its huge machinery, where the noise of clanking metal is the most noticeable thing.

Benches are dotted here and their with cylinder heads and pistons. There are huge stores and small side offices where the electronics men pore over computers.

Next door in the larger and newer unit there are the test beds, lined up in a row, with engines running behind thick glass windows.

On the end of the bank is the most interesting machine to be found at Viry. A test bed which you can actually drive. The operator's seat has pedals and a gear lever just like a car and inside there is an engine completed with suspension fitted with brake calipers to test the engine under acceleration and braking. The only thing missing is a steering wheel and all around you there are banks of gauges, buttons and flashing lights. All thoroughly baffling for a casual observer.

Viry-Chatillon is not really what you expect, but it clearly does the job.

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