Showing posts with label 1970s Lotus Racing Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1970s Lotus Racing Cars. Show all posts

Lotus 79

Lotus 79 1970s classic F1 car

The Lotus 79 was yet another product of Colin Chapman's fertile mind. This time, the legendary Lotus boss trained his sights on 'ground-effect' - the process of aerodynamically 'pressing' the car to the race-track. In theory, it is said, an F1 car could be driven upside-down - so strong is the 'downforce' it generates. It was that kind of handling, then, that Chapman sought to incorporate into the new Lotus.

Lotus had started their ground-effect quest with the 78 - or, 'wing car'. Each side-pod housed an inverted aerofoil. 'Skirts' below the side-pods ducted air through a venturi. That created a vacuum - by slowing down, and then speeding up air through a bottle-neck. The skirt sealed in the air - which the aerofoil then used to 'suction-clamp' the car to the tarmac. The upshot was that the Lotus 78 had been the fastest car on F1's grid. The 78's speed advantage, however, had been offset by reliability issues. The 79 would sort them - or so Lotus hoped. The best parts of the 78 car were retained. Lotus then added a couple of updates. By placing the fuel tank behind the driver, the chassis could be narrowed. That helped the venturi do its thing - which was increasing the downforce. The side-pod skirts, too, had been upgraded. They now moved up and down, as required - providing a surer seal.

The net result of these changes was precisely as Lotus had planned. The 79 car was streets ahead, in the '78 season. Mario Andretti drove the car to five F1 wins - enough to take the World Championship. Team-mate Ronnie Peterson also won - and was runner-up in the final standings. And Lotus-Ford took the Constructors' Championship, at a canter. Chapman - and the Norfolk-based team - were ecstatic. But - as is so often the case in F1 - it was not to last. From the start of the '79 season, it was clear Lotus' competition had come prepared. Almost to a team, they were armed with their own takes on the ground-effect phenomenon. Indeed, some of the engineers had twigged that yet more downforce could be served up - so long as parts of the car were strengthened to cope. Lotus was duly outstripped by its beefed-up rivals. But, that would never obscure the fact that - during its brief season in the F1 sun - the Lotus 79 had put the opposition well and truly in the shade!

Lotus 56B

Lotus 56B 1970s British F1 car

The 56B was another example of Lotus pushing motor racing's technical envelope. Saying that, boss Colin Chapman knew no other way. Powered by a turbine engine, it was a new first for F1. Said motor was supplied by Pratt and Whitney. The car had its genesis in Indianapolis, America. Lotus had entered the STP-Paxton turbo car in the '67 Indy 500. It performed well. Driver Parnelli Jones would have won the iconic race - had he not broken down, just yards from the flag. Nothing daunted, Chapman returned to Indy in '68. With backing from STP's Andy Granatelli, Chapman hired Maurice Phillipe to design the Lotus 56. Sadly, Chapman was to experience an unpleasant case of déja vu. Pilot Joe Leonard again broke down, with victory as good as in the bag.

Shortly after Lotus' streak of bad luck, American motorsport banned turbine-powered cars. Chapman decided it was time for F1. Sticking with the turbine power the 56 had pioneered, the 56B was readied for the '71 season. Lotus had intended to unveil the new car the previous year. Tragically, the death of driver Jochen Rindt - at Monza - upset the 56B's development schedule. In due course, however, it rolled onto the grid at Brands Hatch - for the Race of Champions. Emerson Fittipaldi was at the wheel. It did not go well. The 56B bottomed out so much, the suspension snapped. Subsequently, it crashed out at Oulton Park. Next stop Silverstone - and the International Trophy. The 56B started on the front row. In the first heat, the suspension again gave up the ghost. Second time out, though, Fittipaldi finished third. Things were finally looking up, it seemed!

Thankfully, these early outings were non-World Championship events. F1 'friendlies', so to speak. The 56B's first race that mattered was the '71 Dutch GP. Driver Dave Walker started from the back of the grid - on a wet track. By the fifth lap he was up to tenth - notwithstanding turbine throttle lag. Sadly, it was not to last. Walker slid off the track - at the Tarzan hairpin. Next, to Monza - a year on from Rindt's fatal accident. The 56B placed eighth. At Hockenheim - albeit in another non-championship race - Fittipaldi finished second. And that was pretty much it for the Lotus 56B. In truth, its points tally was unremarkable. What fascinates aficionados, though, is that it was the first of F1's fabled 'turbo cars'!