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The 10 greatest Lola cars
Choosing highlights from six decades of Lola success was a tricky task, but here's our selection of the marque's finest cars - including test drives of the top three.
10. B98/10 sportscar
DAMS Lola-Judd B98/10
Photo by: Eric Gilbert
Martin Birrane loved Lola, loved sportscar racing and loved the Le Mans 24 Hours. So it was only natural at a time when prototype racing was beginning to boom that he should set his new acquisition to work on a car for the LMP900 and SR1 categories. The result was the open-top B98/10, the first ground-up design to carry the ‘B’ prefix to its type number.
The project was led by Peter Weston, one of the first wave of newcomers to join after Birrane saved Lola at the end of 1997. Within months, he’d been put in charge of the sportscar programme and given a simple remit.
“The brief I was given was to design a car that could beat the Ferrari 333SP and the Riley & Scott MkIII,” recalls Weston. “They were the benchmarks of the day and Martin wanted something that was better than them.”
The Lola hit its target. On the day after the inaugural Petit Le Mans enduro at Road Atlanta, James Weaver tested the first B98/10 with a Lazano-built Ford V8 in the back. He was immediately quicker than the cars it was designed to beat, as well as the Porsche 911 GT1-98 that had claimed pole.
“Pole had been a 1m13.7s [set by Allan McNish] and we did a 1m12.4s or something like that with James,” recalls Weston.
On the back of that performance, Lola sold eight B98/10s with various engines for the 1999 season.
Among them was a Judd V10-powered car for the French DAMS team for an assault on the Sports Racing World Cup. They would go on to win four of the final five races with Jean-Marc Gounon and Eric Bernard driving.
Gounon has fond memories of the car: “It had exceptional agility. It was a real racing car, so you needed to be aggressive with it on turn-in. If you did that, it would just stick to the road.”
And he has no doubts that Weston and the design team met their brief. “I drove the Ferrari as well and it was better in the slow-speed corners,” he says, “but anywhere quick, the Lola was better.”
The B98/10 was swiftly followed out of Lola’s Huntingdon factory by its replacement for 2000, the B2K/10, as well as the B2K/40 and the MG EX257. Lola Cars International continued making prototypes, more than 70 in total, throughout its life. The tone had been set by the B98/10.
9. T210/T212 sportscar
#47 Lola T210 (1971): Nick Pink, Scott Mansell
Photo by: Lucien Harmegnies
Lola had not built a tubular sportscar chassis since the last of Eric Broadley’s Mk1 masterpieces in 1962.
Experience gained over five years with monocoque T70s – which, in John Surtees’ hands, won the inaugural Can-Am title in ’66 – proved that unitary construction worked with big V8 engines. Its first ‘modern’ small-capacity chassis for four-cylinder units was also a success.
The short-wheelbase T210 of 1970, year one of the European 2-Litre Sports Car Championship, was a great compromise. Stiff and robust, it enjoyed high-speed corners yet was kart-like and precise in slower turns. Clothed in stubby open bodywork, its aesthetic was very different from its rivals’, particularly Derek Bennett’s Chevron B16 – a tubular design, stiffened by sheet metal panels under a curvaceous coupe shell – in its second season.
Like most British marques, Lola favoured the iron-blocked 1790cc Cosworth Ford FVC engine, carried low and mated to a five-speed Hewland FT200 gearbox for the 490kg T210. Eleven were documented as built and European agent Jo Bonnier headed up the driving strength.
The veteran Swede qualified the sole Lola on pole for Le Castellet’s series opener and set fastest lap, but finished second, three laps behind Brian Redman’s Chevron B16, in the 200-mile race. It wasn’t until Anderstorp, where Bonnier repeated his Salzburgring victory, that Karl von Wendt arrived with a second T210.
The Bonnier/Lola steamroller continued at Hockenheim, but privateer Carlo Zuccoli chased three Abarth 2000SPs on the rugged Mugello road circuit. The ultra-fast lap of Sicily’s Lake Pergusa suited the Bonnier/T210 combo, but Vic Elford in the works Chevron B16 capitalised on its absence on the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife, where Redman debuted a cut-down B16 Spyder – the blueprint for 1971’s B19. At Spa’s decider the title fight raged to the final corner, where Redman snatched victory, and the manufacturers’ crown, from drivers’ champion Bonnier.
While European wins were spread in 1971, when Ronnie Peterson strengthened the updated T212 squad, Austria’s Dr Helmut Marko emerged champion. Bonnier’s win at Jarama’s finale also helped Lola secure the makes’ title.
Lola launched the stunning new T290 family of cars in 1972. Chris Craft won the ’73 European crown in the Crowne Racing T292 fielded by future Lola Cars owner Martin Birrane.
8. T90/50 F3000
Allan McNish, Lola T90/50-Mugen
Photo by: LAT Images
Junior single-seater categories were rarely the happiest hunting grounds for Lola, and Formula 3000 proved a tough nut to crack. This slot could have been taken by the T89/50, which was well-liked by its drivers, but its successor was the car that finally delivered in the F1 feeder category.
Erik Comas romped to the 1990 crown with four victories from the 11 rounds in the T90/50, while DAMS team-mate Allan McNish and Forti’s Gianni Morbidelli helped restrict arch rival Reynard’s tally to four. Kazuyoshi Hoshino also won the All-Japan F3000 title in a T90/50, making it the only car to take both the International and Japanese drivers’ crowns in the same year during the F3000 era.
“The 1989 car was very easy to drive,” recalls McNish. “The front turned and the rear was very light – it just followed you round. Traction wasn’t brilliant, but it was very fast.
“The 1990 car was a big step forward aerodynamically. It was much more stable. It still had a good front-end, but a bit more of a front-to-rear balance.”
“The T89/50 was already a great car,” adds Comas. “The T90/50 was an evolution mainly on the aero side, but it was actually a little more difficult to set up. To be fast it needed to be quite low on the rideheight, which was not the case on the T89/50.
“The car was better on aero, as we saw at Monza [where he won], but sometimes it could catch you out, at street tracks in particular.”
Mark Williams, who designed both the T89/50 and T90/50, agrees the later car was more capable and that the 1989 machine was easier for category rookies. “Aerodynamically the ’89 car was the best I’d ever done in terms of downforce and driveability,” he says. “The T90/50 had much more downforce, but was less driveable. I knew that because the least experienced Lola drivers were further off Comas in that car. Erik could drive the pants off it, but I should have realised we were developing a peaky car.”
Nevertheless, Comas still wanted his title-winning Lola at season’s end. “I did a deal with a sponsor and borrowed some money to get the car and I have had it ever since,” says the 54-year-old. “I don’t see the point in running it again because for me it is like a very nice trophy and a beautiful-looking car, and successful.”
7. T800 Indycar
1984 Long Beach, Mario Andretti, Lola T800 Cosworth
Photo by: LAT Images
This was the car that re-established Lola in Indycar and paved the way for its successes – 11 CART/Champ Car titles and nearly 200 race wins – over the course of 24 seasons. The British constructor had re-entered the premier league of North American single-seater racing in 1983 with the T700, but the T800 put it at the forefront of the CART World Series for the first time.
North American Lola importer Carl Haas had joined forces with Hollywood legend Paul Newman’s squad for 1983 and brought in Mario Andretti to lead the Newman/Haas assault on the fledgling CART series. But Lola’s first take on a ground-effect CART contender wasn’t a success.
“The T700 was quite frankly awful,” recalls crew chief Tony Dowe. “We threw everything but the kitchen sink at it to make it successful.”
The Cosworth-powered T700 did score a couple of wins, but that wasn’t enough for Andretti, who was in his second year back racing open-wheelers full-time in North America.
He and Haas managed to persuade Lola boss Eric Broadley that he needed a designer fully focused on CART to challenge the dominance of March, and they had someone in mind. Nigel Bennett had worked with Andretti at Lotus – he’d been in charge of development – and was already working in the series. He modified the design that started out as the Ensign N182 Formula 1 car into the Theodore 83 CART contender run by George Bignotti.
Bennett carried over one of the key elements of that car when he joined Lola. A carbonfibre top section to the monocoque, which would become de rigueur in CART, made the car immensely stiff. But there were other tricks up his sleeve.
Mounting the Cosworth DFX engine’s turbocharger, which traditionally sat on top of the bellhousing, as low as possible was one of them. “Nigel put it right down almost on the input shaft,” recalls Dowe. “That didn’t impress Hewland.” But it did enable Bennett to lower the car’s centre of gravity and the rear bodywork.
The T800 made a stunning debut at Long Beach. Andretti put the car on pole by six tenths and took victory by a minute. The all-American hero would win a further five times on the way to his only CART title. Danny Sullivan also took three victories for the T800 after the Shierson team ditched its own chassis early in the season.
“Nine times out of 10, the Lola was a better car than the March,” says Bennett. “It had a very stiff chassis and good aerodynamics, but we also had a good driver and very good team.”
6. B2/00 Indycar
Photo by: Eric Gilbert
The B2K/00 should have won the championship in its debut season in 2000 and stopped the Reynard-Honda-Firestone domination that had enabled Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi (twice) and Juan Pablo Montoya to win the previous four CART Indycar drivers’ titles for Chip Ganassi Racing. Had Chip switched only chassis supplier in 2000, Montoya would surely have won his second consecutive title, the team’s fifth, and this time with a Lola. Instead, Ganassi also ditched Honda for Toyota, whose engines were powerful but lacking Honda’s reliability.
Montoya took seven poles that year, but just three wins – only finishing eight of the 20 races. Thus it was that Gil de Ferran won the title for Penske, which had ditched its woeful line-up of self-built chassis, Mercedes engines and Goodyear tyres for… Reynard-Honda-Firestone.
In 2001, the Penske/de Ferran/Reynard combo again prevailed, although Kenny Brack in the Team Rahal Lola won twice as many races. In ’02, however, with Penske gone to the Indy Racing League, Lola importer Carl Haas saw the team he ran with Paul Newman spring to the fore once more, and Cristiano da Matta dominated the championship for Newman/Haas in the B2/00, a logical development on the theme. In fact, Patrick Carpentier of Forsythe was the only Reynard driver in the top six in the table, as the team that would become Andretti Green Racing (and ran Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti and Michael Andretti in ’02) switched from Reynard to Lola after just three races.
So convinced was Tracy by the Lola that, when AGR headed to the IRL for 2003 and he decided to stay put in CART/Champ Car with Forsythe, he urged his new employer to switch to Lola. When they acquiesced, he took seven wins and the title.
The majority of the grid had followed the same path, since Reynard had gone bankrupt in 2002. Lola was still making little development tweaks that ensured Reynard’s R02I became obsolete.The last Reynard win came courtesy of Ryan Hunter-Reay at Surfers Paradise in ’03.
By the time Lola’s B02/00 was pensioned off at the end of 2006, it had become the spec car of the category. However, series owners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe switched to Panoz for ’07 – which would prove to be the series’ final year.
5. T600 sportscar
# 0 Ernie Spada, 1981 Lola T-600
Photo by: Bob Heathcote
The T600 is one of the forgotten Lolas that deserves to stand up there with some of the more revered cars built by the Huntingdon marque. It won two World Endurance Championship rounds – and should have won more – in 1981, but it was in North America that it racked up the greatest successes of its brief front-line international career. It dominated the IMSA GTP ranks that season.
That was only fitting because the car was conceived in the USA, though admittedly by a Lancastrian. Sometime Formula 1 driver and multiple Formula 5000 champion Brian Redman had taken to selling cars for North American Lola importer Carl Haas to make ends meet and reckoned there were races to be won and cars to be sold in the new GTP prototype class IMSA had announced for the 1981 season.
“On reading the rules, I said to Carl that Lola could build a car that could win the series,” recalls Redman. “Carl agreed and said, ‘Go talk to Eric’. He declared that he could build a modern version of the T70, but that wasn’t the right way to go and he should design a car with the new ground-effect technology.”
The result, with aerodynamics conceived by French consultant Max Sardou, was the T600. Not only was it the first ground-effect Lola, but it was the first of the marque’s cars built around a full aluminium honeycomb monocoque.
The T600 made its respective North American and European debuts within a week of each other in May 1981. Redman claimed an out-of-the-box victory at Laguna Seca with a Chevrolet-engined car entered under the Cooke-Woods Racing banner and run, initially, by Bob Garretson out of California. A week later, the British GRID team should have given the Group 6 version of the car a debut win in the Silverstone 6 Hours.
Guy Edwards and Emilio de Villota had a clear lead when fuel pick-up problems intervened. GRID team manager Ian Dawson subsequently found that there were “four or five gallons” still in the tank.
Redman would win another four races on the way to the IMSA title, while Edwards and de Villota triumphed at the Enna and Brands Hatch WEC rounds. A second IMSA crown followed in 1982 when John Paul Jr claimed the honours in a season split between a Chevy-engined T600 and a Porsche 935.
The T600 claimed 12 international sportscar wins over the course of just two seasons. It doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.
4. T90/00 series Indycar
Photo by: IndyCar Series
Lola’s Indycar forces were growing in 1989. Galles had switched its affiliation back from March to Huntingdon for Al Unser Jr, while Newman/Haas expanded to two cars, so that Michael Andretti could join father Mario.
In the T89/00 these two second-generation racers scored three wins between them, but it was Bruce Ashmore’s T90/00 design of 1990 that proved the breakthrough. Thanks to rule changes, the car was significantly different from its predecessors and, though the tub’s lower section was still aluminium honeycomb, it had a carbon/Kevlar upper half.
Little Al took six victories and the championship, while Arie Luyendyk won the Indianapolis 500 for Doug Shierson Racing. The T90/00 thus became the only Lola to win the title and Indy 500 in the same year and the following season anyone who was anyone (and who wasn’t Penske) was running a T91/00, essentially a refinement of the design. This time Michael Andretti took the crown with eight wins, while Galles’ Bobby Rahal and Unser Jr completed a 1-2-3 for Lola in the points standings.
Over the winter, Galles switched to a chassis of its own design, the Galmer, and Rahal departed. He and Carl Hogan bought the assets of Pat Patrick Racing and, in 1992 driving a Lola-Chevrolet T92/00 (that featured improved aero) for his own team, Rahal beat Andretti to the crown.
Michael’s problem was not with speed – no-one before or since has led a higher percentage of laps in a single Indycar season – but Newman/Haas had switched to Cosworth’s new XB units, which were not yet reliable.
By the time those difficulties had been ironed out for 1993, Michael was heading to Formula 1, giving up his seat to reigning world champion Nigel Mansell. He promptly became the fourth consecutive Lola-mounted title winner and helped deliver the fourth consecutive constructors’ title for the company with the T93/00, the final iteration of the Ashmore design, with more carbon and a wider monocoque.
More rule tweaks for 1994 meant that the Keith Knott/John Travis T94/00 was a departure, having a full carbonfibre monocoque as opposed to the aluminium honeycomb/carbon mix, finally consigning the T90/00-T93/00 series to history.
3. Mk1 sportscar
Stirling Moss, 1960 Lola Mk1
Photo by: Bob Heathcote
The car that started it all. Following on from his Broadley Special, Eric Broadley designed and built the Mk1, helped by cousin Graham.
Fitted with the 1100cc Coventry-Climax FWA engine, the lightweight and strong sports-racer had a multi-tubular chassis and included such humble donors as the Morris Minor (steering rack) and Triumph TR2 (drum brakes). Maurice Gomm crafted the first aluminium body, though later cars had fibreglass panels.
The use of drum brakes, rather than discs, could have been a weakness, but proved more than adequate, given the Mk1’s light and stiff construction. It was perhaps an understandable decision for a car built in a lock-up garage behind the Broadley family’s tailoring shop in Bromley.
Despite rolling it at Goodwood in a Members’ Meeting, Broadley immediately started to show his brainchild’s potential in British events against the hitherto pacesetting Lotus 11s with the very car in our Autosport track test. Production cars were not planned initially, but interest proved overwhelming. Orders started to come in, leading to the formation of Lola Cars Limited.
A 1-2-3 in the Chichester Cup at Goodwood and a class win – with a remarkable sixth overall – in the RAC Tourist Trophy at the same venue were highlights of 1959. Demand increased, causing Broadley to move from Gomm’s Byfleet workshop to new premises back in Bromley (where chassis prefixes changed from 'BY' to 'BR').
“No success story has ever been quite so sudden and complete as that of Eric Broadley and his Lolas,” said Autosport’s John Bolster after testing a Mk1 in 1959.
“The Lola corners as though one or more natural laws were suspended for its benefit,” enthused James Carter in Sports Car Graphic.
There were world sportscar championship class victories at the punishing Sebring 12 Hours and Nurburgring 1000Km in 1960 and the works-entered car led its class at Le Mans until suffering engine failure. The American and German wins were repeated the following season and there were successes as far afield as Australia.
Tweaks and bigger engine options arrived before production ended in 1962, with around 40 having been built. The Mk1 remained competitive and even Colin Chapman’s response – the Lotus 17 – failed to overcome it. The Mk1 proved Broadley could beat Lotus, establishing the Lola hallmarks of light weight and fine engineering.
Ben Anderson, Lola MK1
Photo by: JEP / LAT Images
When I first clapped eyes on Eric Broadley’s original prototype, I just had this gut feeling the car would turn out to be something significantly more than the sum of its parts.
The Mk1 and its bare aluminium body is not much to look at, and the dents tell you it has been well-used, but when celebrated Morgan racer Keith Ahlers, who also competes very successfully with the Mk1 in historics, tells you this car “blew the Lotus 11 out of the water”, you know it’s got to be something special.
The car still has its original chassis and body. Ahlers has raced the Mk1, owned by wife Susan, at Goodwood and done plenty of giant-killing in the Motor Racing Legends Stirling Moss Trophy, where it dominates its class and is capable of overall podiums.
“I couldn’t believe how much fun it was,” says Ahlers of his maiden voyage in the Mk1 at Goodwood. “It’s so agile. It’s light – 400kg – so you barely use the brakes.”
Which is just as well really, as drum brakes always feel a bit vague and obviously lack the proficiency of later technology – though they are still surprisingly effective so long as you’re not trying to slow down something with enormous weight behind it.
The Mk1 weighs about the same as a Formula Vee single-seater and, with a 1200cc engine chucking out roughly 115bhp, twinned with near 50/50 weight distribution, it’s easy to see why this particular technical marvel is the face that launched a thousand ships, so to speak, and put Lola on the map as a constructor.
“The Mk1 is only two seconds slower than my 500bhp Cooper Monaco around Goodwood, because you just don’t slow down,” says Ahlers, as he shows me around the car. “A light touch of brakes as you apply steering to get some weight transfer and that’s it.
“It’s light and nimble, more like a single-seater or a go-kart. It hasn’t got any vices, which makes it nice to drive. Even if you get it out of shape, it’s so easy to get it back together. It can outbrake anything. And it’s absolute dynamite in the rain.”
The rain is nowhere to be seen for our summer outing at Donington Park, and after a single installation lap from Ahlers to check all is working as it should, I cram my gangly legs into the cockpit to begin the outing.
Ben Anderson, Lola MK1
Photo by: JEP / LAT Images
I’m always amazed by how upright the seating position is in 1950s racing cars. It feels like you’re sitting on top of the car rather than in it. But the important thing is I can reach the controls easily and without compromise, so can begin pressing on. In a run of about a dozen laps, I work down to a 1m23.1s best, which is just over a second off Billy Bellinger’s SMT class pole time (1m21.975s) at May’s Historic Festival here.
As user-friendly as it undoubtedly is, the Mk1 still exhibits traits that command respect – you can’t just throw it around willy-nilly. If you try to go full-beans at the Craner Curves, for example, you run out of grip and spoil your line for the Old Hairpin. You can’t rush the gearshift (as is typical with old cars) and a couple of times I misjudge the entry to Old Hairpin and end up running wide onto the grass.
To get the most from it you need to tip the car into corners on the brakes, to make sure the weight of the front-mounted engine stays over the nose. Otherwise you just get punished with understeer. That’s not difficult to deal with, but it is slow. The required driving style is like Caterhams, but with the extra challenge of judging and feeling the correct braking point and technique without the benefit of modern performance. It needs careful hustling to extract lap time from it.
It’s a joy to drive and easy to see why it wins its class so often. The Mk1 is just so straightforward, and rewards committed driving. The engine has such a flat torque curve and wide power band that it pulls brilliantly through most of its rev range, and means you only need third and fourth gears on Donington’s National circuit. This will make it easier to drive in the wet too.
It’s an impressive piece of kit for a car that’s 60 years old. As Ahlers says: “It’s almost beyond belief what it’s able to do.”
2. T332 F5000
Dudley Cunningham, Lola T332
Photo by: Mike Geng
The T332 was arguably Formula 5000’s greatest design. Its predecessor, the 1973 T330, applied ‘big’ thinking to the category in terms of maximum width and maximum length. Brian Redman could probably have beaten future Formula 1 world champion Jody Scheckter to the American F5000 crown had he not been forced to miss rounds due to his sportscar commitments with Ferrari, but T330s still won six of the nine races.
Rules tweaks – rear wings having to move forward and the need for a deformable structure – and development led to the T332 of ’74 and it set a new benchmark.
Bob Evans won the European crown, but the category’s highest level was in North America, where the United States Auto Club joined forces with the Sports Car Club of America. Redman, Mario Andretti and David Hobbs shared all seven rounds in Lolas, with the consistent Jim Hall and Carl Haas-run Redman taking the title.
Only Al Unser (also in a T332) broke the Redman-Andretti dominance in 1975. They took four wins apiece, with Redman again beating the American legend to the crown.
By now Lola had introduced the T400, but so good was the T332 – particularly in developed T332C form – that it refused to be usurped. Warwick Brown won the Tasman Series in 1975, while Redman completed his American hat-trick the following season, the final campaign before the championship gave way to the second era of Can-Am. Even then, modified ‘sportscar-bodied’ versions of the T332 continued to find success.
“I consider those four years with Jim Hall and Carl Haas as the best of my racing career,” recalls Redman. “The T330 and T332C were really great race cars. Lola brought out two new models in that period – the T400 and the T430 – and neither was as good as the highly developed T332C.
“Balance could be easily accomplished with small changes to the wings and/or rollbars. I could have gone to any meeting and started a race without practice. It was really nice to drive, with no inherent faults.”
Historic racer and preparer Simon Hadfield, who has successfully raced in F5000 machinery, believes the T332 was a milestone in 1970s racing car design. “Like the T70 it was a maximum-dimension car, with large overhangs,” he says. “It set the template for how to make a large-displacement single-seater.”
Ben Anderson, Lola T332 F5000
Photo by: JEP / LAT Images
Almost all racing drivers dream of being in Formula 1 when they are young. I know I certainly did. And if you were racing in the 1970s, Formula 5000 was about as close as you could get without actually being there.
And that’s not ‘close’ in the sense that Formula 2 is close, it’s ‘close’ as in ‘near-as-dammit equal’. As historic F5000 ace Simon Hadfield puts it: “Mario Andretti is adamant that, at the height of tyre development, F5000 was at least a match for F1.”
That means we’re talking about near enough the height of mid-1970s racing technology on the Lola T332, which period category ace Brian Redman describes as best of the bunch. Chassis 52, owned by Steve Chaplin, features the ubiquitous steel-block Chevy V8 engine, which is fuel-injected as opposed to carburetted, the awesome sound of which on fire-up alone is enough to make me just sit in the car laughing my head off.
“The [F5000] engines are probably 30lb lighter [than they were in period] because they’re allowed aluminium heads today,” says Hadfield. “But it’s still quite a bit, and it’s high up, which is the big thing. The tyres are probably not as good as they were for Andretti, but they last longer. We have about the same horsepower as an F1 car, much more torque, but of course much more weight.
“I would imagine Nick Padmore would do 60s [in a Historic F1 car around Donington], if you had everything dead right. The Hesketh F1 car would only be about a second faster than the F5000 car. I did a 63.2s in the Penske on the old circuit, so that’s probably a 62.2s now. I think Michael [Lyons] has done a 63.8s in a F5000.
“In the middle of Craner Curves, if you’re a foot off the apex, you’re a foot off the apex! You are committed and it just carries on going. With an F1 car, you have the ability to have a bit of a hustle.
“On my very best 5000 lap it’s a sort of lift, lift – just take the weight off the back, but you just can’t keep it full throttle.”
Ben Anderson, Lola T332 F5000
Photo by: JEP / LAT Images
I have been lucky enough to drive a Formula 5000 car previously, competing in the ex-Peter Gethin Chevron B37 at the 2012 Silverstone Classic. Hadfield informs me the Lola has been set up in a deliberately benign fashion – to help look after its current owner, who doesn’t race it regularly – so “will probably understeer more than you would like”.
I have the track all to myself for this one, as we are piggybacking a closed-wheel open test day for our Lola anniversary celebration, so the single-seater can only run in a bespoke session. Although I have driven in F5000 before, I’m immediately surprised by just how bloody quick they are. It doesn’t have much downforce, but you feel everything it has through the Craner Curves.
What always holds these cars back is the fact you can’t tip them into corners on the brakes, because of the potential pendulum effect of the weight of the engine at the rear. You must prepare the car for each corner, then focus on carrying speed as best you can.
As you start to lean on it you really have to pay attention. This car won’t look after you. It doesn’t do anything for you. The slick tyres take it into a whole new realm of grip and make it that much more feisty. It’s just raw power and simple mechanics – all happening at lightning speed. It’s absolutely brutal to drive.
On my third flying lap, I hit 1m05.1s (which would put me second to Lyons on the grid for the Derek Bell Trophy race at the Historic Festival) and, as my confidence builds, I’m just starting to lean properly on it coming out of Coppice when the engine lets go unexpectedly as I exit the chicane. A 1m04s lap was easily possible but my run is sadly curtailed by a suspected crank failure – the T332 bleeding oil all over the main straight.
It’s a sad end to an incredible experience, but poignantly 1970s in its mechanical drama – the car sending shivers of raw power down the spine before obliterating itself in spectacular fashion.
But even that short run is enough to leave me utterly thrilled. For a fleeting moment, I was Mario Andretti – as close to being an F1 driver as I’m ever likely to be. The sheer, raw, brutal joy of driving a car such as this will always be difficult to top.
1. T70 sportscar
LOLA T70 Mk III B 1969
Photo by: Marc Fleury
In some ways the T70 was a failure. It only won one world sportscar championship race – a fortuitous success courtesy of Penske in the 1969 Daytona 24 Hours – and in coupe form it never fulfilled its potential. But the T70 is iconic, the machine most think of when the name Lola is mentioned, and is widely regarded as one of the best-looking sports-racers of all time.
Although initially involved with Ford’s GT project, which eventually led to the GT40 and four Le Mans victories, Eric Broadley soon fell out with the management. His vision was rather different and the lighter T70 was closer to what he had in mind than the GT40, notwithstanding the fact his Lola Mk6 formed the basis of Ford’s programme.
Things started well with the early Spyder versions. John Surtees took the inaugural Can-Am crown in his T70 and Lola won all bar one race of that 1966 season. Thereafter, however, McLaren gained the ascendancy.
In coupe form the Mk3 was a fine customer sportscar and took many domestic successes. On the world stage, however, it was overshadowed. Surtees’ 1967 Aston Martin-engined version was a disaster and, while Chevrolet V8s ultimately proved to be better, no Lolas could consistently get among the Ford v Porsche fight in ’68.
The Mk3B was a significant redesign, arguably requiring a new designation but for the need to meet homologation rules. Privateers occasionally showed flashes of the stiffer car’s potential – most notably at the 1969 Spa 1000Km (where Paul Hawkins took pole ahead of all the Porsches) and Osterreichring 1000Km (where Jo Bonnier/Herbert Muller battled the new Porsche 917) – but the theft of Penske’s T70 denied the car its best chance for international success. It had qualified second at Sebring after taking its Daytona win, behind only Ferrari’s new 312P and ahead of all the Porsches and GT40s. Otherwise, the T70 never had a top-level outfit, such as the JW Automotive team that kept the GT40 competitive.
By 1970 the T70 had been left behind by Ferrari’s 512 and the 917, but Brian Redman, who raced both T70 and 917, is in no doubt about its abilities: “The 917 in its original form with a 4.5-litre engine produced a reliable 570bhp, compared to the Chevrolet’s unreliable 500bhp. I have no doubt that if the Mk3B had the power and reliability of the Porsche the T70 would have been a very formidable competitor. It had no real weakness, apart from the damn engine!”
Ben Anderson, Lola T70
Photo by: JEP / LAT Images
Chris Beighton’s Lola T70, chassis 148, is just a beautiful sight to behold when it rolls out of the Hadfield truck and into the Donington Park pitlane, replete in dark orange colours and recently rebuilt.
Weighing in at just 860kg it is “so light – you could drive it for three or four hours. It’s night-and-day better than a GT40,” according to historic ace Simon Hadfield.
What appeals to me about this car is that it represents the sportscar version of Formula 5000 – harbouring a similar 500bhp-plus stock-block Chevy V8 within that sleek and elegant rear end. The engine is good for up to 8500rpm, but today is limited to 7000, working best between 5500 and 6000rpm.
As the T70 has recently been rebuilt, Hadfield takes it out for a shakedown while I’m lapping in the Mk1. It’s an awesome sight to behold as it thunders past on the back straight, spitting fumes and blowing combustion residue in my face.
Hadfield posts a 1m09.1s lap on his second run. I spent time watching a video of Oliver Bryant (another well-respected historic racer) lapping a T70 around Donington’s National circuit in 1m09s, so Hadfield’s effort must be pretty near the mark.
His advice as I climb aboard is to not surprise it, and remember the historic treaded tyres do not afford the car the grip it would appear to have based on its shape. It looks like it belongs on slicks, even though it wasn’t designed for them.
The first thing that strikes me is how ergonomic everything is. I can reach all the pedals with absolute comfort, I can heel-and-toe without difficulty, and the steering wheel is in exactly the right place. And visibility is excellent too.
The next thing you notice is that it absolutely goes like stink in a straight line. It’s got dollops of power but that power is accessible. You’ve got to feed it in carefully, but it doesn’t feel like it’s going to kill you, so that gives you confidence.
The brakes are good for a racing car without slicks, so that gives confidence too. You can’t rush the gearshifts, so that helps give you some extra time to think in the braking zones. I work down to a 1m10.8s in a handful of laps before my run is cut short by red flags.
This is where I’m most out of my comfort zone in this test – a super-powerful sportscar on treaded tyres. It is a lot of racing car for the circuit, and it gives you very little flexibility in terms of where you can place it. You turn in and it goes where you point it – there’s nothing you can do to change it except play with the throttle a bit. You can’t really hustle it or manhandle it heavily, but you can’t be too lazy either. It’s a tricky balancing act that happens at such speed it requires serious concentration.
In everything else I’ve driven you get the first apex at Coppice and just power out – the second part is just the beginning of the back straight. In the T70 it becomes two corners, and any imprecision forces you out of the throttle on the exit for fear of understeering straight off the track! The T70 redefines the circuit in terms of car positioning for me, though Hadfield reckons Coppice can be one corner, but the grip level was too low on this particular day. The Craner Curves require short-shifting from third to fourth and a lift off the throttle in order to make the Old Hairpin possible, while Schwantz Curve (another nothing corner ordinarily) becomes something you need to think about in this car.
It is here that I overtake a McLaren GT4 car around the outside – a modern machine I have absolutely no trouble keeping up with. It’s not an absolutely fair comparison of course, but it does make you wonder what they’ve learned over the past five decades when this old sportscar is so capable and so much quicker.
I bet on a circuit with longer straights, like Spa, it would be absolutely phenomenal. We are not even using fifth gear at this test, thanks to the car running what Hadfield calls “Imola ratios”…
I’m a single-seater guy at heart, but the Lola T70 is truly something else. It is, without a doubt, the coolest thing I’ve ever driven with a roof on it.
Ben Anderson, Lola T70
Photo by: JEP / LAT Images
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