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Lola is one of the best-known names in automobile racing. A subsidiary of Lola is the rowing boat manufacturer Lola Aylings. Lola was acquired by Martin Birrane in 1998 after the unsuccessful Lola MasterCard attempt at Formula 1.
Lola has recently announced that it is going ahead with a programme to build a car to the 2008 Formula One rules, although no obvious customer for this exists.
Lola's genesis was in an 1172cc Ford special built by Broadley. Lola was one of the top chassis suppliers in sports car racing in the 1960s. After his small front-engined sports cars and various single-seaters, Broadley designed a Lola coupe fitted with the Ford V8 engine. Ford took a keen interest in this and paid Broadley to put the company on hold for two years and merge his ideas with Roy Lunn's work, giving rise to the Ford GT40. Broadley managed to release himself from this contract after a year and started developing his own cars again, starting off in sports cars with the Lola T70 and its successors (T16x, T22x) which were used successfully all over the world from the World Endurance Championship to the CanAm series, until 1973.
(Lola announced in early 2006 that a new batch of T70 coupés, to the original specifications, will be released. These will be homologated for historic racing and there is talk of a one-make series for the cars.)
Various Group 6 sports cars including the T212 and T28x/29x/38x/39x series were also built, competing with Chevron, March and others. Alain de Cadenet's Le Mans 'specials' tended to be based on Lola technology.
Lola (with rebodied Formula 5000 cars) dominated the CanAm sports car series when it was revived in the late 1970s, but many motorsports fans do not consider the single-seater cars from this era to be true sports cars, despite their enclosed wheel-wells.
Lola introduced the T600/T610 range for IMSA GTP racing in the early 1980s - these were fitted with a range of engines including Cosworth, Mazda and Chevrolet - and the novel Polimotor engine built using composite materials. Later Lola Group C and GTP cars tended to be built specifically for manufacturer programmes - notably the later Nissan Group Cs and the Chevrolet Corvette GTPs. Lola also built a car for the 3.5 litre 'sprint' Group C, but the championship collapsed before this could be fully developed.
More recently, Lola has produced a range of sports cars for Le Mans-style racing, sometimes outstanding due to innovative designs, like the B2K, with its additional central headlight, reminding of a cyclops or a locomotive. While Lola has had limited success in the top class of the sport versus factory cars like the BMW V12 and Audi R8, Lola has had somewhat more success in the second class (LMP2), including championship class victories in the American Le Mans Series.
A dedicated LMP2 car was built for MG in 2001, powered by a two-litre four-cylinder AER turbocharged engine. This was entered at Le Mans by the works team as the MG EX.257, and as a Lola B01/60 by private entrants. Later developments of this car have been fitted with small V8 engines and the chassis was developed into recent customer LMP1 and LMP2 chassis.
An updated version of the Lola LMP2 came in 2005 with the introduction of the Lola B05/40 (also known as the Lola MG EX.264). It quickly became a contender in LMP2 by taking class honors in 2005 and 2006 at Le Mans with Ray Mallock Limited. It also earned several class wins in the American Le Mans Series in 2005 and 2006 with Intersport Racing, including a second-place overall finish in the 2006 12 Hours of Sebring.
Lola has also updated its LMP1 challenger in 2006 with the introduction of the B06/10. The car is being run in the American Le Mans Series by Dyson Racing and in the Le Mans Series and the 24 Hours of Le Mans by UK-based Chamberlain-Synergy Racing.
Lola is likely to taking over the Chase Competition franchise in Grand-Am's Daytona Prototype category in 2007. It is likely that the Chase chassis will appear in some races in 2007 before receiving a revised Lola-designed body for 2008.
Bowmaker and Parnell
Lola made its first foray into Formula One in 1962, supplying Lola Mk4 cars to Reg Parnell's Bowmaker-Yeoman Racing Team, with John Surtees and Roy Salvadori as drivers. A measure of success was immediate, with Surtees's car claiming pole position in its first World Championship race, but wins in Championship Grands Prix eluded the team. After Bowmaker's withdrawal, Parnell continued to run the cars privately. Privateer Bob Anderson gave the Mk4 its last victory, in the non-Championship 1963 Rome Grand Prix. Consistency, however, was not to be found, and after only two seasons, Lola abandoned Formula One cars for the time being.
In 1967, Lola assisted Honda Racing and John Surtees with the design of their F1 car. The overweight chassis design by the engine-specialists from Honda was abandoned, and a Lola Indianapolis monocoque used as the basis for a Honda-engined car. The resultant Honda RA300 was unofficially called the "Hondola" by the press, and was sufficiently light and powerful to win the 1967 Italian Grand Prix.
From time to time thereafter, Lola continued to produce Formula One cars for customer teams, but would not race under its own name for some time. Embassy-Hill (run by Graham Hill), Carl Haas, Larrousse, and Scuderia Italia all raced Lola-built chassis between 1974 and 1993, with little success, the best result being 3rd place for Aguri Suzuki in 1990. Despite this lack of performance, however, Lola was convinced in 1996 to produce a new car, this time for a team in its own name, to enter Formula One in 1998.
Towards the end of his long career, Graham Hill found it difficult to attract works drives; with a view to both finding a drive and a future as a team owner he established his own team backed by the Embassy cigarette brand. After an unsuccessful 1973 with a customer Shadow the team commissioned its own cars from Lola. The T370 was largely based on F5000 practice, and looked similar to Lola's F5000 offerings, although it sported an extremely large airbox. The car was developed by Andy Smallman into the Hill GH-1 in 1975, but the team's first 'in-house' design, the GH-2, remained unraced when Hill, Smallman, Tony Brise and several other team personnel were killed in an air crash in November 1975.
Team Haas Lola/Beatrice
The Haas-Beatrice-Lola F1 programme was extremely promising, funded by a large American industrial conglomerate and run by the highly experienced Teddy Mayer, but it flattered to deceive. The handsome car, designed mostly by Neil Oatley, was barely a Lola; the name was used largely because Haas was Lola's US concessionaire although Broadley had some involvement with the car. Alan Jones was tempted out of retirement to drive it in F1 races towards the end of the 1985 season, with Patrick Tambay joining in a second car for 1986. A works Ford-Cosworth turbocharged engine was promised, but this did not materialise until 1986 and old Hart four cylinder units were used. Car, engine, drivers and sponsors were all troublesome and the team folded after the 1986 season with most of its assets (including the factory) being sold to Bernie Ecclestone. At one point during the season, Ecclestone informed the Beatrice/Haas/Lola team that "his driver" (Patrese) would be in the car at the next meeting; Ecclestone was primarily interested in acquiring the Ford engines as a replacement for his BMW units. He used the team's factory to build the ill-fated Alfa Romeo "ProCar" (a series for "silhouette" touring cars with F1-style mechanicals and engines).
The Larrousse-Calmels programme was initially much lower-key than the previous effort. Starting from a simple Cosworth-powered car based on Lola's F3000 technologies, the French team built up a steady reputation in normally-aspirated F1 from 1987 on. They attracted Lamborghini V12 power for 1989 and once the Chris Murphy-designed car was on stream, scored some good results with Éric Bernard and Aguri Suzuki. The team experienced some problems after Didier Calmels' arrest for the murder of his wife, but continued at a slightly lower key with Cosworth power again. Unfortunately due to irregularities with the team's F1 entry in 1991 (the cars were entered as Larrousses but were really Lolas) they lost all their constructors' points - which promoted the politically well-connected Ligier outfit into a position in the constructors' championship that gave them significant FIA benefits...
The Scuderia Italia programme was something of a disaster from the start. The team had done reasonably well with Dallara chassis before, but turned to Lola for 1993. Powered by customer Ferrari engines, both engine and car seemed to be well off the pace and Michele Alboreto and Luca Badoer struggled to even qualify for races. The team withdrew from F1 before the end of the season and partly merged with Minardi for 1994.
The Unraced Test Cars
Lola built a number of Cosworth V8 powered test cars in 1994-5, with rumours of a Havoline-funded quasi-works Ford team. The rumour was that Cosworth V12s badged Jaguar would go to Benetton and Lola would inherit the Zetec V8. Allan McNish did much of the test driving, but as this was a period of instability in the F1 rules little was achieved.
The MasterCard Works Programme
- Main article: MasterCard Lola
Lola had originally intended to enter Formula One in their own right in 1998, but pressure from main sponsor MasterCard caused Lola to debut its new car one year early, in 1997. The sponsorship model was curious, linked both to MasterCard membership of a 'club', and to results - something a first-year F1 team often finds hard to achieve. A custom-build V10 engine from Al Melling was going to be fitted to the cars, which initially started racing fitted with underpowered Ford Cosworth ED V8s.
The cars had a lot of problems, the worst being aerodynamics - they had never even been wind-tunnel tested when they arrived in Australia, which by that point in time was unthinkable. The car was fundamentally flawed, and the lack of wind-tunnel time had made it even more of a joke. Despite the fact of the car's problems, the team was confident that it could finish ahead of some of the other teams. The results were disastrous, the cars were well off the pace and were no faster than Lola's Formula 3000 cars. After only one race the sponsors pulled out; the team turned up for the second race in Brazil but the cars did not turn a wheel and that was the end of the MasterCard-Lola story. Shortly afterwards, the entire Lola Car Company went into recievership. The company was saved by Martin Birrane who then started to build it up again. There were rumours that one Zoran Stefanovic wanted to purchase the chassis and use them as the basis of a 1998 privateer effort, but nothing came of this.
Formula Two / Formula 3000 / A1GP
After their limited success in the 1960s with Formula One, Lola turned its attentions primarily to sports cars but also to Formula Two, where Lola became the works team for BMW. As the years went on, Lola had somewhat more success in Formula Two than it ever had in Formula One, although as March and later Ralt established themselves, Lola's involvement in the category became intermittent and less successful. The final Lola F2 was in fact derived from a Ralt design - the Ralt RT2 became the Toleman TG280, which Toleman licensed to Lola who built it as the T850. When Formula Two became Formula 3000 in 1986, Lola made a "false start" with a car based on their significantly larger Indycar chassis; from 1986 they returned with a bespoke F3000 design and the cars enjoyed significant success for the next few years, competing with Ralt and Reynard, although Reynard effectively wiped the others out of the market. In 1995 International Formula 3000 became a one-make series and Lola was awarded the contract to build all Formula 3000 cars, a contract which has been renewed several times since. The sole holdout, Formula Nippon, ran mixed grids of cars (with Reynard dominating) until 2003, when Lola was awarded that contract as well. In 2004, every Formula 3000-class car in the world was produced by Lola, but for 2005 Lola will be focusing on Formula Nippon, having lost the bid to build the new GP2 chassis.
Lola succeeded in winning the largest-ever contract for single-seater racing cars in 2005, winning the contract for the A1GP series. Lola built 50 identical Zytek V8-powered cars which were leased to the national franchisees (although the teams' spare cars were recalled part-way through the 2005 season to be used for spare parts); development work on these is strictly controlled. The cars have are approximately at the F3000 level of technology and provide close, spectacular racing - although there are some teething troubles with reliability and the teams' operation of the cars.
In the late 1960s, the SCCA's Formula A series evolved into Formula 5000 and attracted the attention of more professional drivers and teams. It was intended to be a cheap, high-powered open-wheeled racing series using relatively cheap tuned stock-block V8 engines. Lola entered this market as well, and after some interesting struggles with McLaren, Surtees and Chevron, came to dominated the later years of the series, producing the bulk of Formula 5000 cars throughout the 1970s - these competed in F5000 in Europe, the USA and Australasia. The cars continued when the CanAm series was revived using Formula 5000 cars as the base. Lola made a seamless switch into this kind of "sports car racing", and won five consecutive Can-Am championships.
Lola had built chassis for the Indianapolis 500 as early as the 1960s -- Graham Hill had won at the 'Brickyard' in 1966 in a Lola, and Jackie Stewart raced a four wheel drive Lola there. Al Unser, Sr. won the 1978 race in a modified Lola chassis. However, the marque did not make a fully fledged attack on the American Open wheel market until the mid 1980s.
The revived CanAm was a fading series which collapsed in 1986, prompting Lola to move its focus to CART and the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 1985. Once again, Lola showed its ability to succeed in all motorsports outside of Formula One, pushing March down to one team for the 1990 CART season, and out of the series altogether by 1991. Six years after its full-time entrance into Indycar racing, Lola triumphed at Indy again, as the winning car for Arie Luyendyk in the 1990 Indianapolis 500 The rivalry between Lola and Reynard continued in the United States as well as the European F3000 series. Reynard entered CART in 1994 and eventually almost completely displaced Lola from the market. Ultimately, Lola outlasted their rivals, and by 2004 were the only remaining manufacturer in the Champcar series. Lola's presence in Champcar will end after the 2006 season, when Champcar switches to IRL chassis manufacturer Panoz as the sole supplier for the series.
In Formula 3, Lola partnered with Dome of Japan to produce a chassis since 2003. There they are competing with long-established Dallara, the two makers being among the last specialty race-car makers left in Europe. The partnership was broken for 2005, with Lola building their own chassis, which won its debut in the British series.
Lola built chassis for a wide range of minor categories, as a means of training new designers and keeping the works occupied in between major programmes. Formula Atlantic cars tended to be derived from Formula Two and Formula Three designs, and other Lolas have raced in Formula Ford, Sports 2000, Formula Super Vee and many other categories, often designed by people who went on to successful careers elsewhere in the sport -- Patrick Head of Williams fame designed his first cars for Broadley. There was not much profit margin in the minor-formulae cars, which tended to be built during the summer when the factory was otherwise quiet (most senior-formulae cars are built over the winter in the off-season) - but they kept staff occupied, gave designers somewhere to learn, and established relationships with drivers at early stages of their careers.