Renault first competed in the US GP with Jean-Pierre Jabouille at Watkins Glen back in 1977, and in subsequent years the company competed in races in Las Vegas, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and Indianapolis as F1 sought a permanent home in the country.
Although it was regularly successful elsewhere, by some strange quirk of fortune Renault scored just a single victory in the USA during that time, when Ayrton Senna triumphed for Team Lotus in Detroit in 1986.
Senna started the year in style by taking three poles in the opening three races with the V6-powered 98T, in the face of strong competition from the Williams pairing of Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet and McLaren’s Alain Prost. He was second on home ground in Brazil and won in Jerez, and followed up with third in Monaco and another second in Belgium.
He started the two-race North American tour by qualifying second and finishing fifth in Montreal before the F1 circus made the short trip to Detroit.
Senna always found an extra edge at street tracks, and indeed he had been on pole in Detroit the previous year, only to crash out of the race. Sure enough the Brazilian skirted the barriers on his way to his fourth pole of the 1986 season, half a second clear of Mansell. Piquet took third, while the Ligier-Renaults of Rene Arnoux and Jacques Laffite were fourth and sixth, the pair split by the Ferrari of Stefan Johansson.
At the start Senna slotted into the lead ahead of Mansell, but at the end of the second lap he missed a gear and the Williams man snuck past — leaving Ayrton to deal with an aggressive Arnoux. However instead of clearing off into the lead Mansell began to suffer brake problems, and on lap 8 Senna re-passed him, while Arnoux soon jumped into second.
The drama continued unabated when Senna slowed with a puncture and dived into the pits on lap 12. Against the odds that left the Ligier-Renaults of Arnoux and Laffite running first and second. Laffite had not led a Grand Prix for three years, and keen not to waste this opportunity, he found a way past his team mate on lap 18.
The sight of the blue cars running around at the head of the field brought joy to the hearts of French fans, but in the middle of the race both Ligiers dropped back when they made somewhat tardy scheduled pit stops. That put Piquet into the lead, ahead of Senna, who was still recovering from his unscheduled first stop.
When leader Piquet made his single stop on lap 40 a stuck wheel saw him lose 10s. Senna made his second and final stop a lap later it was a quick one, and he emerged safely in front. A fired-up Piquet set his fastest lap of the race, but his challenge ended immediately when he crashed into the unyielding concrete wall.
Yellow flags were waved for a few laps, but they were withdrawn with the wreck still in place, and Senna had a nasty fright when he nearly hit it. Arnoux, who had moved back into second, then hit the wall while trying to avoid the stricken Williams.
Fortunately for Senna the remainder of the race passed without drama and he eventually crossed the line some 30s clear of Laffite, who had recovered second from Alain Prost in the closing stages.
Renault duly celebrated a one-two, while Laffite enjoyed what was to be the final podium of his long career career — just two races later he injured his legs at Brands Hatch.