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Renault Alpine sports car to debut at Le Mans

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This weekend sees the 83rd running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in which the finest LMP1 racers from Porsche, Audi and Toyota will battle Nissan’s strange FWD hybrid for supremacy at La Sarthe.

But Le Mans 2015 will hold another treat for petrolheads, too: our first look at Renault’s two-seat, rear-drive Alpine sports car.

OK, so Renault hasn’t technically confirmed its Alfa 4C-rivalling sports car will be unveiled at Le Mans, but has promised a Saturday lunchtime ‘surprise’ at La Sarthe to celebrate Alpine’s 60th anniversary. If it’s a Victoria sponge, we’ll be sorely disappointed.

It’s thought the Alpine - also expected to make an appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed a couple of weeks later - will be a near-to-production concept, with the road-ready car landing some time in 2016.

The Alpine was previewed by 2012’s A110 concept (pictured), unveiled before the Monaco Grand Prix. That concept was powered by the (very noisy) 400bhp, 3.5-litre V6 from Renault’s Megane Trophy racer, but we’re told the production Alpine is likely to use a smaller-displacement petrol powerplant, likely some iteration of the 2.0-litre turbo from the RenaultSport Megane.

It should be a lightweight thing, too. Renault insiders previously suggested to Top Gear that the car would fit - in terms of both luxury and price - between the Lotus Elise and Porsche Cayman, arguing it ‘shouldn’t be too luxurious’.

“We have to be cheaper and lighter than supercars,” Renault design boss Laurens van den Acker told us a couple of years back. “When people picture Alpine in their mind, they don’t see a 120,000 Euro sports car.”

A price tag around £50,000 has been mooted.

The Alpine name dates back to the Fifties, when Dieppe mechanic Jean Redele began racing Renault-engined lightweights with some success. From there, Redele developed his own lightweight road racers, badged as Alpines and using Renault engines and fibreglass bodies.

Most famous of these was the A110 of 1961, which turned out to be not only pretty but a rather nifty rally car, recording a 1-2-3 at Monte Carlo in 1971. Renault bought Alpine in 1973, subsequently introducing a handful of sports cars - including the strange, pointy Alpine GTA - but failing to recapture the magic of the A110.

The last Alpine - the A610 - rolled off the Dieppe line in 1995, with the factory since dedicated to the production of RenaultSport models.

But the new Alpine, Renault promises, will see a return to the marque’s lightweight sports car roots of the Fifties and Sixties. We’ll find out on Saturday. Probably…

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