Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Brickyard ‘Loti - Lotus Indy Cars (1965-67)




Jimmy Clark's Lotus T-34 on display at the IMS Hall of Fame museum in 2012. The Tomaso Collection)

After the disappointment of being runner-up to ‘Ol ‘Rufus - Could Parnelli Jones hold off the renewed assault of The Flying Scot at the controls of Colin Chapman’s lotus?

1965
Type: T-38
Engine: Ford DOHC V-8

The ford DOHC V-8 was now clearly the engine of choice at the Speedway, powering unprecedented 17-race cars, while only six starters remained in front engine Roadsters...

Ford sold the prior year’s Team Lotus T-34’s to A.J. foyt and J.C. Agajanian for driver Parnelli Jones. Interestingly both teams’ utilized a single rival Lola T-80 chassis as their backup car, while Agajanian’s entry was classified as a Kuzma-Lotus Ford. As I’ve just learned of the name Eddie Kuzma, who was an excellent Fabricator of the day, building many racecar’s – and thus I can only assume he was hired to massage the Lotus entry...

Meanwhile, an older Lotus T-29 Ford was campaigned by a local Ford dealer; entered by Jerry Alderman Ford and driven by Al Miller, whilst possibly being chassis 29/2 which was wrecked in practice two years prior by Dan Gurney.

Meanwhile, for the ‘65 season, Team Lotus went with a virtual unknown Rookie – a NASCAR racer by the name of Bobby Johns; as Johns had tried qualifying the previous year behind the wheel of Smokey Yunick’s truly radical Hurst Floor Shift Special, which he crashed during his qualifying run. But in 1965 Johns made the show, albeit the slowest Lotus-Ford in the field, qualifying 22nd in his debutant Big Car outing...

Obviously Team Lotuses lead driver was Jimmy Clark, now making his third Indy 500 appearance, while ex-teammate Dan Gurney had branched out on his own with the creation of his All American Racers team. As Gurney would run a single car entry with the unusual backing of Yamaha for his Lotus T-38 Ford, while a further two Hallibrand-Fords were entered by AAR for Roger McCluskey and Joe Lenard.

And there was a bumper crop of 11 Rookie Drivers making the field, including Johns, Joe Leonard, Gordon Johncock and George Snider to name a few, with another notable Rookie in this year’s starting field being of Italian descent, as some of Yuhs may have heard of him? He’s commonly referred to as ‘Mario, a.k.a. the one and only Mario Andretti. While a further rookie later to become known as ‘BIG AL, aka Al Unser Sr. also quietly made his way into the field, driving for A.J. Foyt’ in the back-up Lola-Ford; qualifying a lowly 32nd at 154.440mph; nearly seven-miles per hour slower than the Pole...

But it was Al Unser’s boss ‘SuperTex, aka Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. making the headlines, as A.J. beat Team Lotuses Clark to that year’s Pole Position with a speed of 161.233mph; while  the Flying Scot lined up P2, with Gurney taking the outside of Row 1 to give the Lotus-Ford concern it’s first front row sweep.

And whilst Foyt and Goodyear tyres had landed the first blow - the race was truly never in doubt as The Flying Scot’s Lotus riding on Firestone tyres handedly controlled the race all day long. After Clark had led the opening lap, he simply let a.J. go by - thinking if he wanted to abuse his machinery that early, then so-be-it, as Foyt swept into the lead on lap-2. Yet Clark simply pulled up on AJ and decided that the Texan was impeding his progress and deftly repassed him - effectively leading from lap-3 to the chequered flag, with the exception of his first Pit stop.

And what I always forget about this remarkable performance is the fact that Jimmy had none other then NASCAR’s Wood Brothers as his Pit crew, whose lightning fast Pit stops were more than twice as fast as the competition’s... As Clark summarily pummeled the field, with Foyt having transmission woes and runner-up Parnelli Jones some two laps in arrears en route to giving Colin Chapman’s Lotus concern a 1-2 sweep! With third place going to Mario Andretti and his Brawner Hawk and thus giving Ford and Firestone a clean sweep of the podium...

1966
Type: T-38
Engine: Ford DOHC V-8

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - as many competing teams rushed to unveil their Lotus T-38 “look-alikes,” most notably being Dan Gurney’s All American Racers concern. As Gurney had lured the T-38’s designer Len Terry away from Lotus, who used his previous design as the basis for AAR’s brand new Eagle - which saw the team entering four chassis along with selling a fifth to Lindsey Hopkins; while A.J. Foyt’s Coyotes not only shared a striking resemblance to the Indy 500 winning Lotus, but actually was one! As according to Donald Davidson, Foyt’s Wingman George Snider’s Coyote had begun its life as the No. 83 Bobby Johns 1965 Lotus...

Colin Chapman had entered an arrangement to utilize the overly complex BRM H-16 engine in Formula 1 that season with the recalcitrant sixteen-cylinder engine being tabbed to propel the new Lotus T-42 IndyCar. Yet with the troublesome H-16 ‘lump being behind in development, Chapman, who was now sporting the orange hues of the Granatelli’s STP sponsorship opted for two brand new Lotus T-38’s for Jimmy Clark and Al Unser instead.

The front row for the 50th running of The Greatest Spectacle of Racing saw three (sort-of) different marques once again all powered by the now dominant Ford DOHC powerplant: with Mario Andretti’s Brawner Hawk securing the Pole. With Jimmy Clark once again starting P2 and George Snider in the Coyote (Lotus) on the outside of Row-1...

A.J. Foyt who’d wrecked his primary Coyote in practice caused his crew to pull an “all Nighter” thrashing together a brand new Lotus T-38 - which the Texan qualified on Day-2, while Al Miller once again chauffeured a Jerry Alderman Ford entry in a fourth Lotus.

Foyt was summarily out on Lap-1 - part of a massive accident triggered by Jerry Foster which ultimately saw eleven cars unable to continue the race which was Red flagged immediately! As the star of the Loti brigade was The Flying Scot who led multiple laps before ultimately finishing runner-up for his second time in four years, while teammate ‘BIG AL finished 12th...

1967
Type) T-42
Engine: Ford DOHC V-8

For 1967, defending race winner Graham Hill had joined Team Lotus in Formula 1 and thereby would also be Jimmy Clark’s teammate at the Speedway that May - as it seems that the boil had gone off of Lotuses 500 assault? With Clark qualifying an unfamiliar 16th while Hill barely squeaked-in with a last row appearance seeing him roll off P31! While the fairly unknown Larry Dickson aboard the Vita Fresh Orange Juice Lotus-Ford was the meat in the Team Lotus sandwich with a 21st place qualification.

Yet apparently first Hill and then Clark both ran out of STP's "Superior" oil protection - with both drivers retiring with burned pistons; as Hill only lasted 22-laps with Clark only managing a further unlucky 13 and retiring on Lap-35. As Clark & Hill would be classified 31st and 32nd respectively, while Dickson soldiered home 15th...

(Photo Courtesy of No Fenders ‘Offical Photographer ‘CARPETS)

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