Friday, May 16, 2014

Brickyard ‘Loti - Lotus Indy Cars (1968-71)

Joe Leonard's Pole winning Lotus T-56 on display at the IMS Hall of Fame museum in 2012. The Tomaso Collection)

With Lotuses “High” surely being the 1965 victory, arguably one of Colin Chapman’s darkest - if not thee darkest day was the unexpected death of driving Ace Jimmy Clark at Hockenheim on April 2, 1968...

Type: T-56
Engine: Pratt & Whitney Turbine
With Andy “Granna-belly” Granatelli and brothers radical STP Paxton “Silent Sam” Turbocar having almost won the previous year’s 500 with its “Unfair Advantage,” the Pratt & Whitney of Canada ST6 B62 turbine - the competition immediately pushed for the USAC rules makers to ban the “Wooshmobile” from further competition. And USAC was quick to react, as although I still don’t know its exact meaning; the Annulus Intake area apparently became a household word, which in effect limited the amount of air that could be forced into the turbine, i.e.; limiting its horsepower.

Yet the Granatelli’s weren’t to be denied and thus told Colin Chapman - who to that point had simply been sponsored by STP to let loose upon creating a new & improved version of the Turbocar for the upcoming race in response to USAC’s intentions of deriving them from winning with a turbine powerplant.

Thus, Lotus Chief Designer Maurice Philippe penned the evocative Type-56 wedge shaped Ferguson 4WD IndyCar propelled by the Pratt & Whitney STN6B-74 turbine, for which Granatelli had secured exclusive use of.

Lotus arrived at the Speedway minus its team leader Jimmy Clark, as The Flying Scot had unfortunately perished in a formula 2 race at Hockenheim in April, and thus the team’s four driver line-up included Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, (signed as Clark’s replacement) Greg Weld and Mike Spence who were tabbed to drive the new Lotus 56’s - with Joe Leonard designated as the chauffer of the updated original Silent Sam - which he promptly clouted against the wall in practice and the car never raced again.

Yet Stewart would be unable to compete due to having injured himself previously in a Formula 2 incident which required him to wear a cast for 4-and one-half months. As he’d fractured his wrist; while sadly during the first week of practice, rookie driver Spence perished from head injuries whilst driving Weld’s chassis - upon striking the wall in Turn-1 with the front wheel hitting him in the head, ripping his helmet off and effectively killing him... As a distraught Chapman returned to England...

Yet come Pole-day, it appeared to be a virtual shootout between two of the three remaining Lotuses, as first Graham Hill took the Pole before being upstaged by Joe Lenard - giving Chapman a 1-2 sweep of the front row, while the notably unheralded Art Pollard had had his contract bought out by Granatelli and was promptly inserted into the teams remaining (third) T-56 and qualified it a respectable P11.

And although Leonard who’d upstaged the British World Champion Hill, it was the Brit who exited the race first when suffering suspension damage on Lap-110, thus just leaving Leonard and his unexpecting Wingman Pollard to challenge the race’s dominant Bobby Unser aboard his turbocharged Eagle/Offenhauser. And with a late race caution taking longer then expected - the wily ‘Granna-belly implored Pollard to Slow Down in order to make Unser have a greater distance to make-up to then race leader Leonard... Yet it was all to no avail, as shockingly when the green returned on Lap-191 Leonard unexpectedly slowed and ultimately retired with a broken fuel shaft, which ironically also saw the exact same failure end Pollard’s race, as the Day-glow Lotuses would be scored 12th and 13th respectively...

Type: T-64
Engine: Ford DOHC Turbocharged V-8

The Lotus team showed up with an All-star driving trio with Mario Andretti, Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt tabbed to pilot the three ‘Day-glow STP cars, as Colin Chapman’s design team had introduced the T-64 chassis - surely a development update of the now effectively obsolete T-56 turbocar’s. As the T-64 sported four-wheel drive along with other previous design carry-overs, but instead saw a Ford DOHC V-8 mated with a Garret  turbocharger spitting out a monstrous 700bhp stuffed behind the drivers backside instead.

And whilst Mario’s car was the only one featuring the many modifications he’d sought previous to the Month of May, the other two cars didn’t receive these updates, and perhaps is why they were so far off of Mario’s pace.

Yet, as Mario continued battling A. J. Foyt for top speed honours prior to qualifications, Andretti’s car suffered a right-rear hub failure at speed which effectively wrote off the car. And as Chapman feared the same failure could occur to the sister cars, Chapman simply withdrew these chassis, having them sent back to England and Lotus was never to be seen at Indianapolis again!

On an interesting side note, the previous year’s Pole-sitter car, Joe Leonard’s Lotus 56 was sold to Vels Parnelli Jones and extensively modified - including the installation of a turbocharged Ford V-8. And although I believe this car didn’t race, I don’t know what ultimately happened to it? As it seems a shame that such a  piece of history was cobbled into something else...

Type: T-63
Engine: Ford-Cosworth DFV V-8

Although not entered at Indianapolis, I’m including the Type 63 – which draws its lineage from Lotuses four-wheel predecessors, both the Type-56 and Type-64 racecars.

The T-63 was campaigned partially during the '69 season in Formula 1 - as a hopeful successor to the all conquering Type-49 which Colin Chapman feared was getting a 'Wee bit "long in-the-tooth," albeit the team's lead driver's Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt refused to drive it.

Thus, the T-63 was campaigned with mostly unsuccessful results, being driven by the relatively unknown  John Miles whom Chapman drafted into the team, along with future F1 world champion Mario Andretti - a fan of 4WD, although he only drove it when his USAC commitments didn't clash with European events...

Type: T-56B
Engine: Pratt & Whitney Turbine

Another Lotus racing car that wasn't entered at Indianapolis was the revamped Type 56B – which was campaigned for one season in Formula One with unheralded results; as reportedly it was actually one of the four Type 56 Indy Cars built in 1968, when Lotus had planned a production run of six chassis, but only produced four; two for the Lotus/STP drivers, with a spare chassis in reserve, while the other chassis was designated for Granatelli's "American" driver.

And although the car wasn't announced until August, 1970, work upon the T-56 protégé actually began two years earlier when a lone rolling chassis was built,

Thus, I’m guessing it was the spare chassis since contractually Lotus wasn’t allowed to install one of the innovative Pratt & Whitney STN6B-74 Turbine powerplants into it – at the time being, especially due to Formula 1's different requirements.

Or perhaps it was the damaged Mike Spence car - since design improvements were made to it? As I'm unaware if there were ever actually four Lotus 56's on-track at the very same time at Mother Speedway? (Indianapolis)

Yet always the master innovator – and looking into the future, Chapman once again dipped  into his creative genius and decided to revive the unconventional Type 56-model, this time as an updated 56B, hoping to find the elusive "Unfair Advantage" for his F1 team instead.

Having worked out a deal with Pratt & Whitney, a newer version turbine power unit was installed, this being the STN-76, a single stage turbine vs. the IndyCar's three staged compressor STN6B-74 unit, albeit I'm certainly not an expert upon the inner workings of turbine engines. (So DON'T Quote me on this!)

The Type 56B made its racing debut in the squad's primary colours of its red & white Gold Leaf Team Lotus livery at Brands Hatch in March, 1971 with lead driver "EMMO," aka Emerson Fittipaldi at the controls for the Daily Mail Race of Champions - unfortunately having to retire due to the track's bumpy surface damaging its rear suspension.

And whilst EMMO was the car's primary chauffer, Lotus driver's Reine Wisell and Dave Walker took turns at the wheel, albeit with little success, as the lone Type 56B made its proper Grand Prix debut at Zandvoort.

And I’ve also read that it was this very car and not the Type 72 that debuted the legendary John Player Special paint scheme, albeit the black & gold racecar ran sponsor less under the World Wide Racing banner at Monza that year in fears of potential legal problems resulting from Jochen Rint’s tragic death the preceding year at Monza’s Parabolica corner.

Thus, it was once again Fittipaldi behind the Team’s solitary entry at the Italian GP where he finished a quiet eighth-place, ironically the Type-56B’s highest finish that season before a final F-5000 race outing at Hockenheim...

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