Lola Plays the Right Card   HomeContentsHelp


Lola were the last to announce their 1997 F1 Championship aspirations and are now last to launch their car. Chris Richardson reports from the launch.  

Lola Plays The Right Card

This was the last stallion to leave the stable. The last horse to make the canter down the track to join the others at the starting gate, yet despite the millions of pounds invested, the rush of optimism and the minimal, ebullient jockeys in their sparkling new outfits, this horse is bound to stumble. This is by no means a criticism, it might be a salute to the smaller owners who know that to take the ultimate prize is but a passing fantasy as brief as the time it takes for the hot rush of air from Red Rum or Shergar to pass you by.

Lola T97 - Thoroughbred or Old Nag?

The horse, of course, is a car, the car is a Lola and it’s got form. Arguably the world’s most successful racing car constructor, a five times CART World Series Championship winner, three times Indy 500 winner and the taker of 6 world titles in the Japanese F3000 series, this team has a pedigree as long as a giraffe’s neck. As a constructor it supplies chassis used in both the European F3000 and Indy Lights series.

Founder and Chairman Eric Broadley, is a brave man, a veteran of motor sport and responsible for the continued presence of Lola cars in all guises since 1958 and still with a vision and a passion for racing. He said: "Lola has an involvement in Formula 1 which stretches back a long way, but our entries in the short term have always been with partners. We decided that we had to be back in F1. Grand Prix racing is big business and the manner in which Lola is developing for the future, outside the pure motorsport field, makes Formula 1 the ideal shop window for us. I am not predicting big results this year, we have a lot to learn and there are a lot of other good teams out there, but we will win in the future."

Rosset discovers the press of the world's media

Rather than giving the design of the car to a single mind, Broadley has taken the singularly novel approach of building a team of skilled individuals, each using their specialist knowledge to contribute to the production of a final car design, using the latest in machining and composite technologies. "We take our engineers, in areas such as composites, car dynamics and aerodynamics and co-ordinate their work in the final product." He explained. Indeed Broadley has seen the bright boys come and go. Patrick Head of Williams and John Barnard of (soon to be ex) Ferrari have both worked under him in the early days of their careers. Now, over 35 specialist staff have been active in creating the car from its digital conception to complete chassis build in under three months.

This was no mean feat and the result of all this frenzied activity was revealed last Thursday (20th). Lola gave birth to the MasterCard T97/30 on the same bed as the Jordan team, in the Ballroom of the London Hilton. There was less flash and more informality about it. The suave Steve Rider was not present to host the event but helicopter aerobatic expert and DJ Mike Smith, was. The sheet was whisked away by two of the prettiest girls yet seen in ‘Sparco’, to reveal an extremely presentable and well turned out machine resplendent in the blue and red of its major sponsor MasterCard and the lurid yellow of Oil sponsor Pennzoil.

Despite Lola’s prolonged absence from F1 and due to constant updating of their computer model to keep abreast of FIA rule changes, the car looks comfortingly similar to all the others. Aerodynamically styled by Joanna Moss with the help of Cranfield University’s 40% wind tunnel, it bears no traits of a feminine hand. The ‘coke’ bottle rear end and barge boards seem fairly conventional as does the raised nose that all the cars are sporting this year. Chris Murphy, senior engineer said, "The high nose has less technical impact than is imagined but it gives more scope for development, to change the position of the front wing in height more easily." With a reconfigurable rear wing and confirmation that it will undertake its own engine development and build programme in order to produce an in-house V10 unit, the car has potential for future evolution. "We are not going to win in Formula One without a super engine and if we couldn't get it, then we would have to make one," Broadley said. Whether the car in this early guise will make the 107% minimum (whereby all cars have to be within 107% of the fastest time to qualify for a race start), remains to be seen. But Broadley made it clear when he said, "We should get within 107% and if we don't, then we should not be in the sport."

New driver, Italian Vincenzo Sospiri agreed confidently, "I hope we can just get points by the end of the year and I am sure we will have no problems qualifying throughout the season."

It takes big bucks to dump the scrappy Ford Zetec V8 engine and go build your own, yet with the full weight of Major sponsor MasterCard’s financial involvement coming on-stream mid season, the timing could be right.

The Lola T97/30 will be tested for the first time at Santa Pod Raceway in England on Saturday, before a major two-day test at Silverstone early next week.

The cars will then be shipped out next Thursday(27th), for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 9.

Yet for all the innovation, the design skills and the backing, hindrance to all aspirations of podium finishes lurks in the shadows of the pit lane to blow you away. It is called a Williams. This is now regrettably, a Formula one fact and is pertinent to 75% of this years grid. Improvements have been made to all teams, and with few exceptions, testing has gone better than expected. Even the giants like McLaren and Ferrari more often than not, will have to bend in the slipstream of the predictably quick FW19. Maybe however, this year, with teams as dedicated as Lola exuding the new confidence of ‘small town’ Formula 1, and relatively inexperienced drivers such as Sospiri and Brazilian, Ricardo Rosset hungry for recognition, there will be some fire in the midfield. The top steps of the podium may still be out of reach, but the scrapping for the lesser points could well provide all the spectacle and excitement this year.

Lola T97 Technical Specifications 

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Article & All Photos by Chris Richardson e-mail: