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Lola going ahead?

THERE are rumors in Europe that Lola Cars is going ahead with its Formula 1 program in 1996. Lola has been out of Grand Prix racing since it ended its disastrous relationship with Scuderia Italia at the end of 1993.

Eric Broadley's company then took the decision that it was best to avoid working with partner teams and create its own F1 racing operation. During the 1994 season Lola built a Ford-engined T95/30, to a design by former Benetton engineer JulianĘCooper. This was developed in the 40% windtunnel at Britain's Cranfield Institute automotive research facility, with which Lola has an exclusive deal. It was run for the first time in the autumn of 1994 with driver Allan McNish and was displayed at the 1995 Paris Racing Car Show.

The original plan was to re-enter F1 in 1996 but the company could not find the money to do the job properly and so its entry was delayed another year. At the start of this season Lola hired Pacific Racing boss Keith Wiggins to mastermind the F1 team but he quit the operation in September. Lola was expected to delay its F1 return for another season although the decision to compete in 1997 was kept open pending talks with a large motor manufacturer and a big sponsor - both believed to be American.

Lola recently announced that it had formed its own engine company to build a V10 Formula 1 engine. The unit is to be designed by Al Melling and the prototype should be ready to run next summer. Lola, however, has contingency plans to start 1997 with Ford customer V8 engines before switching to the new V10. Although a late decision seems unlikely, many of the components of the car - notably the gearbox - have been run on test rigs during the last couple of years. The original T95/30 was done on CAD/CAM so could be modified relatively quickly while Lola has a complete composite department and two autoclaves which would speed up production. Former Lotus designer Chris Murphy, who worked at Lola in the late 1980s, has been back at Lola for the last six months.

All these factors make it possible that the company could enter F1, but the need to build a race team in such a short space of time might prove to be too complicated. One solution would be to join forces with a top Formula 3000 operation and with David Sears's Super Nova based close to the Lola factory, this would be the obvious choice. Sears, however, has been very cautious about entering F1 although he does admit that ultimately he would like to see the team in Grand Prix racing.

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