Showing posts with label British Racing Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label British 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'!

Cooper T51

Cooper T51 1950s F1 car

The Cooper T51 is one of the most radical racing cars ever built. John Cooper - and his small-scale team - took the prevailing motorsport wisdom of the time, and turned it on its head. In '59, it was a given that a racing car's engine sat at the front. The Cooper équipe set about querying that status quo. In so doing, they would revolutionise race car design. The T51 would be rear-engined - with all of the technical turnarounds that entailed. They were well worth the effort, though. At the wheel of a T51, Jack Brabham took the '59 F1 drivers' title.

It was the Cooper-Climax, though, that first sowed the rear-engined seeds. Last time around - in '58 - it had won two GPs. Admittedly, they were towards the start of the season. Notwithstanding those wins, the Cooper-Climax was taken less than seriously. A case of beginner's luck, as it were. Its early success was attributed to its squat dimensions - rather than engine location. So, it was only quick at 'twisty' circuits, it was said. And, it was true that the Cooper was down on power, compared to its competitors. But, there was good reason for that - which the Cooper-Climax's detractors neglected to take into account. Its motor was from F2 - albeit, enlarged to 2.2 litres. The front-engined brigade had 2.5-litre powerplants, at their disposal. In F1, of course, small fractions can make a big difference!

At any rate, the T51 was fitted with the full 2.5-litre unit. Cooper's engine supplier - Coventry Climax - had increased its stroke, to make up the difference. The new Cooper kicked out 230bhp. That was still less than its rivals. Its compactness-based handling advantage, however, was enough to see them off. The rear-engined set-up had knock-on positives. With no prop-shaft now needed, the driver could sit lower - with all the streamlining pluses that brought. Weight-saving, too, was a beneficiary. It was more than just junking the prop-shaft. With engine and final drive directly linked, the transmission could be less robust. That meant less weight. Overall, the T51's mass was more centrally-aligned. That made it even more manoeuvrable than it already was. In turn, tyre wear, too, improved. And, that was just the car. When it came to the T51's driving roster - it was impressive, to say the least. As well as 'Black Jack' Brabham, Stirling Moss and Bruce McLaren were on hand. Both the Monaco and British GPs fell to the Cooper, that year. Indeed, it was en route to winning the World Championship - at the first time of asking. That spoke volumes, regarding the impact the T51 made. In effect, John Cooper's team - and its 'front-to-back' engine ideas - re-wrote the F1 tech spec. And, in ways which would never be reversed!

Jaguar D-Type

Jaguar D-Type 1950s British classic sports racing car

In the mid-Fifties, the Jaguar D-Type was motor racing's top dog. It won consective Le Mans 24 hour races - in '55, '56 and '57. At the '57 event - come the chequered flag - D-Types occupied five of the first six places. Fair to say, then, it was their day. Not only that - but they were all privateer entries. It would seem the famous French circuit was a second home to Jaguar at the time. Silverstone, of course, being their primary stamping-ground.

As was apt, the Jaguar C-Type blazed the trail. 'C' stood for Competition. Jaguar turned to their XK120 sports car. It was a proven success - on both road and track. William Lyons was boss at Jaguar. He opined that - when it came to racing - pure production cars could no longer cut it. A dedicated Jaguar motorsport division was required. As a result, a race-spec body kit was grafted onto the XK120 chassis. The C-Type subsequently won twice at Le Mans. In doing so, it demonstrated its new-fangled disc brakes were the way to go. The race department was paying for itself already!

The D-Type was Jaguar's first full-on racer. It hit the grid in '54. From the get-go, it was clear Jaguar had been busy. The flowing curves of its bodywork came courtesy of Malcolm Sayer. The stabilising fin at the rear looked like it had been lifted from a land speed record car. Beneath it sat a 'monocoque' chassis. Disc brakes were fitted all-round. They had been jointly developed by Jaguar and Dunlop. The front-mounted 6-cylinder engine fed 250bhp to the rear wheels. Top speed was 175mph. In the '54 Le Mans race, a D-Type harried a Ferrari all the way to the flag. Though Ferrari fended it off, it had a much bigger motor. When it came to the 'press conference', Jaguar no doubt chalked that up as a moral victory! The D-Type was still available to privateer drivers, and race wins were duly recorded around the world. Coventry, England was Jaguar HQ. The city was now well and truly on the automotive map. The D-Type was a racer, rather than a roadster. To that extent, it changed motor racing. No longer were competition cars within easy reach of the average driver. Motor racing would become less accessible. Few cars, then, have moved motorsport on more dramatically than the Jaguar D-Type!

Lotus 72

Lotus 72 1970s F1 car

The Lotus 72 had a legendary engine. Lotus had led the way with the Cosworth DFV. Its winning streak started in '67 - when it was fitted in the Lotus 49. Graham Hill and Jim Clark were the first drivers to reap the rewards. The 'Double Four Valve' V8 would go on to become the gold standard Formula One engine. Unfortunately for Lotus, their rivals were quick to seize upon the source of their success. Not exactly unknown in F1! By the end of the '60s, it seemed like every car in the paddock had a DFV engine. That was great for the sport - since it fostered close, competitive racing. But it was not entirely to Lotus' liking. They had acquired a taste for leading GPs. The ubiquity of the DFV was eroding that lead.

Cometh the hour, cometh the F1 car! Hitting the grid with the 1970 season already underway, there was much that was new about the Lotus 72. Most obviously, cigar-shaped bodywork - previously de rigueur - had morphed into a wedge. Inboard suspension and brakes made the 72 more aerodynamic than its predecessors. They also served to reduce unsprung weight. Suspension was via torsion-bar. Oil and water radiators were laterally placed - centralising weight distribution. The result of all this innovation was higher grip levels. F1 handling had come on leaps and bounds.

Lotus had their lead back! Driver Jochen Rindt duly won four races on the spin. He then crashed in qualifying for the Italian GP, at Monza. He was fatally injured. Remarkably, Rindt still went on to win the 1970 World Championship. That is how dominant he had been, up to that point! Team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi likewise took a drivers' title - in '72. Indeed, he was the youngest driver to do so, at the time. He was just 25 years of age. In '73, Ronnie Peterson - also in a 72 - amassed a record nine pole positions in a season. From 1970 to '75, then, Lotus ruled the F1 roost. Their early adoption of the Cosworth DFV had paid huge dividends. The Lotus 72 was the chief beneficiary!