Monday, May 12, 2014

Brickyard ‘Loti - Lotus Indy Cars (1963-64)

Jimmy Clark's Lotus T-29 on display at the IMS Hall of Fame museum in 2011. The Tomaso Collection)
Otay, think Y'all know the drill by now? As once again the nebulous No Fenders WormHole Vortex has consumed this long dormant trilogy, begun 'Wayback in 'Twenty-ten, and then slated for publishing two years ago during the re-incarnation of the "Lotus-Lotus" renaissance, or was it death by suffocation as those underpowered Luddi' lump Slowtueses left "Symona-symona" (de Silvestro( and "Mean "Jean Alesi wonderin' what in thee HELL had they gotten themselves into. As it  pains me to think that the true Lotus legacy would be tarnished so badly at  Mother Speedway...

Although I’m guessing many would claim that it was Jack Brabham’s revolutionary Cooper Climax that started the rear-engine revolution at The Brickyard in 1961. The (then) Double Formula One World Champion was behind the wheel of what most considered an Oddity that May, as Brabham’s Kimberly Cooper Climax Special was the only rear-engined chassis in the field of 33-starters.

This Racecar was based upon its Grand Prix Predecessor, the Cooper T53, although this specially-built Indy only T54 featured a longer wheelbase with offset suspension and an enlarged 2.7 liter Coventry Climax inline four-cylinder engine.

Interestingly, Brabhan who was making his inaugural outing at The Speedway would square off against another notable Rookie named Rufus “Parnelli” Jones, who was behind the keyboard of J.C. Agajanian’s Watson-Offenhauser Roadster. Brabham Qualified a very respectable 13th with Jones an impressive eight places ahead - lining up in the middle of Row-2 P5. As both men would suffer problems during the race...

 Sir Jack Black would finish in the Top-10, becoming the very first ‘Mid-engine Racecar to go the entire race distance, as the ‘Aussie came hone in ninth place after suffering from tyre wear issues to his Dunlop rubber.

Parnelli soldiered home 12th after having led 27-laps before suffering from a lost cylinder – causing a lengthy Pitstop along with having to clear his goggles from pooling blood incurred when he was struck by a flying piece of debris!

Two other notable Rookies in the field were Lloyd ruby, who took over Tony Bettenhausen’s vacant ride after his tragic testing death just prior to the race. And future 500 winner Roger McCluskey; but it would be ‘Ol Rufus – who would feature prominently in the forthcoming skirmishes with a certain Double Formula 1 World Champion known as the (Original) Flying Scot...

And although Brabham’s Cooper was the forbearer to the British Invasion at the Speedway in the 1960’s, ultimately it was Lotus that served first notice of what was to come. As Colin Chapman and Jimmy Clark wowed the Brickyard’s Spectators during their May, 1963 debut – Before becoming the Sport’s very first ever rear-engine entry to win the Indy 500.

Another Rookie set to make not only his mark at the Speedway, but upon the sport of motor racing in whole - made his Indy debut that May. His name was Daniel Sexton Gurney...

And in what was to become his trademark & typical ‘Tinkerer fashion, Gurney began the month as the driver of a rather unusual vehicle entered by 1955-56 Indy 500 winning Car Owner John Zink – a rear-engine Boeing turbine-powered Kurtis Roadster. Yet this unconventional contraption wasn’t ready when the track opened, so Gurney took his rookie test in a conventional Watson front engine Offenhauser instead. And unable to get the turbine Car up-to-speed, Gurney left Zink’s team to drive another oddity - a Buick powered rear-engine chassis entered by none other then innovator Mickey Thompson...

Legend has it - that Gurney also invited a BLOODY BRIT by the name of Colin Chapman to come and watch the Indy 500 in hopes of inspiring Chapman to construct chassis in the near future that year, while another person by the name of Roger Penske dropped by to wish Gurney Good Luck in the race.

Yet, 1962 was supposed to be ‘Ol Rufus’s coming out party, especially after having won the Pole by becoming the very first driver to crack the 150mph barrier at Indy – yet it wasn’t to be. In what seems like a most Chapman-esqe maneuver; the Agajanian squad elected not to install an auxiliary brake system in favour of weight savings. This was to haunt the team and more specifically Parnelli Jones, who lost his brakes whilst leading on lap-70 when swerving to avoid hitting A.J. Foyt – who’s Bowes Seal Fast Special, had lost a wheel. And thus Jones was unable to stop during the requisite Pit stops and ultimately finished a dejected seventh, while Roger Ward led a 1-2 sweep for Bob Wilke’s Leader Card’s team.

Meanwhile, Gurney was classified as finishing 20th, having retired with transmission woes on lap-92, albeit having qualified a most impressive eighth in only his second ever Oval race. And thus, with Brabham’s performance the year before, Gurney’s exploits and Chapman observing – it seemed that a rear-engine explosion was inevitable...

Type: T-29
Engine: Ford V-8

Although ultimately a front engine Watson Roadster powered by the ubiquitous four cylinder ‘OFFY (Offenhauser) would win the race. There was a new force to be reckoned with – named Lotus...

Interestingly, the rear-engine Armada doubled in volume for the 1963 May classic, with Colin Chapman entering two Type-29 models for soon-to-be World Champion Jimmy Clark and teammate Dan Gurney. Whilst Gurney’s former employer Mickey Thompson returned with two even more radical contraptions dubbed the “Skateboard” with his new lead driver being Graham Hill – who was Gurney’s replacement... Yet Hill decided to abandon the race after hitting the wall, and Masten Gregory was bumped from the field by 50-year old Duane Carter in the sister ‘Skateboard.

Chapman’s Lotus Type 29, like the Cooper Indy Car, was also based upon its Grand Prix Predecessor – in this case the Type 25; albeit the 29 utilized a longer wheelbase with offset suspension to combat the Oval tracks unique demands. Yet the Lotus 29 incorporated a monocoque tub, the first of its kind in IndyCars along with running a Ford Fairlane derived 260cid V-8 engine, as opposed to the venerable Offenhauser 4-cylinder lumps that had won Indy for several years...

As the leading duo of Parnelli Jones and Roger McCluskey peeled off to make Pit stops, Clark’s Lotus suddenly became the race’s leader on lap-68, the first time ever in Speedway history for a rear engine chassis to lead the 500. And for good measure, teammate Gurney had worked his way up to second place, thus giving Team Lotus a 1-2 placing until lap-92.

And although Clark obviously was the top Rookie, he shared earning his stripes (Rookie status) with some other notable names, as in Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford, along with lesser known Art Malone - as Clark easily won Rookie Of the Year honours with his stunning runner-up finish, with Parnelli’s win being viewed somewhat controversial due to its potentially dripping some “Slippery liquids” (oil) ontrack, raising Chapman’s ire along with calling for No. 98 to be black flagged late in the race...

Type: T-34
Engine: Ford DOHC V-8

The mighty “FoMoCo” returned once again with its largest presence at The Brickyard since its dubious 1935 outing with an armada of five rear-engine “FunnyCars” making the show: three Lotuses and two radical Mickey Thompson entries, along with the brand new ‘Mega Hip Ford Mustang as that year’s Official Pace Car... The first of three times in Speedway history: 1964, 1979, 1994.

Hmm? Wouldn’t it have been AWESOME if Ford could have gotten the new for 2012 BOSS 302 to be the next Stang' or even better yet, this year's 50th Anniversary Mustang to be the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car that Dario Franchitti wields around Mother Speedway - instead of another FREAKIN' Chevrolet! But I digress...

As Ford was once again paying the bills for Team Lotus’s foray – as in Powered-by-Ford as the entrant, therefore the Dearborn Giant arranged for one of the team’s previous Lotus T-29 racecar’s to be loaned out to Lindsey Hopkins with the popular Bobby Marshman as the car’s chauffeur, along with Marshman doing the majority of the new Ford DOHC V-8 development work. Thus presumably, it was entertaining to watch Marshman and Jimmy Clark trade fastest lap times all week leading up to qualifying – as Marshman was the first to unofficially breach 160mph at Indy.

While Marshman drew an early qualifying slot, nevertheless he managed a blistering 4-lap average of 157.850mph – but was disappointed; knowing Clark still had yet to qualify and feeling there was more speed left in his Pure Oil firebird Special.

Then Jim Clark wowed the Speedway’s crowd by throwing down a brand new 1-lap record speed of 159-plus mph and bumping Marshman for the Pole Position with an overall qualifying speed of 158.820mph. While Dan Gurney who was suffering from leg burns qualified on the outside of Row 2, in sixth place with a 4-lap average of 154.480mph.

During the race, Marshman was overcome with the Red Mist, having passed Clark for the lead, while Clark’s teammate Gurney had moved into third place, thus giving Lotus-Ford its first 1-2-3 at Indianapolis... Albeit this would be short lived, as Marshman ignored his Pit board telling him to take it E-Z... Thus bottoming out on the track’s apron when trying to pass a backmarker in quest of putting the Flying Scot one-lap down... And Ripping out his Oil-plug in the process, as Marshman’s day soon was over, while Clark noticed a major vibration from his Super-soft Dunlop rubber, )tyres) as his suspension would collapse upon lap-47, with Gurney later retiring also due to tyre wear issues.

Yet sadly, the race will always be remembered for the tragic deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald, one of the two Thompson-Ford "Skateboard" drivers - as the duo perished in a fiery first lap accident triggered by McDonald and involving seven cars...

(Photo Courtesy of No Fenders correspondent "Randal, thy Moniker King")