Features - Technical
FEBRUARY 1, 1997
The Lola T97/30
BY JOE SAWARD
Lola's first three attempts in Grand Prix racing were in the 1960s and 1970s (with Reg Parnell, with Honda Motor and with the Embassy Hill team) and produced just one win for a Lola-built F1 car when John Surtees took a surprise victory in the 1967 Italian GP driving a Honda RA300 (or, as designated by Lola, the T130).
After success in many different formulae Broadley decided in 1984 that his company needed to be back in F1 to showcase its engineering skills. From 1987 Lola supplied F1 chassis to the Larrousse team, although the relationship ended in 1992 when Larrousse failed to pay his bills. Lola then had a disastrous one-year relationship with Scuderia Italia in 1993.
At the end of that year Broadley concluded that Lola had to build a completely in-house operation so as not to have to rely on partners and outside suppliers.
In 1994 Lola built a prototype F1 car - called the T95/30. This was tested by Alan McNish but the company could not find the money needed to do the job properly and chose to wait until it landed a big sponsor. The signing of a $35m deal with Mastercard in October last year was a breakthrough and, despite the lateness of the decision, Broadley decided to press ahead with a new company - Lola Formula 1 Ltd - for the 1997 season.
The last three years have been spent looking for sponsorship and building up the industrial infrastructure which is an essential part of the F1 business today. With a huge production business in single seaters in Indycars, Formula 3000 and Indy Lights at its headquarters in Huntingdon - 60 miles to the north of London - Lola easily has the capacity and the staff - the company employs 235 people - to produce an F1 car in its $5m Technical Centre, which was opened in 1991.
The Lola T97/30, which will be driven by Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset, was designed in the Lola drawing office - which has a separate F1 section. Everything has been done using a state-of-the-art CAD system which is linked to a computerized cutting machines. Like all modern F1 cars it has been designed by a team of design engineers and Broadley is very keen not to single out any particular designers, although some of the company's Indycar designers have been involved.
With the T95/30 having been made obsolete by changes to the F1 regulations, the T97/30 had to be a completely new car. Aerodynamic work was carried out by Lola aerodynamicists in the 40% rolling road facility at the nearby Cranfield Institute of Technology, which is linked by computer to the Lola Technical Centre. The Lola machining and fabrication departments have produced the metallic parts, using computer-aided seven-axis cutting machines while Lola's subsidiary Lola Composites Ltd - which boasts two large autoclaves and a staff of 100 people - has produced the chassis from CAD-CAM produced moulds. The production processes have been under the control of the company's director of engineering resources Roger Tyler (a composite engineer who worked briefly for Ligier in the late 1980s); the operations director Tony Woods and production manager Laurie Bray. In order to complete the work Lola has hired an extra 15 manufacturing staff.
The cars will be put together and run by the F1 team which is made up of 30 people under team manager Ray Boulter.
To begin with the Lola T97/30 will be powered by the three-litre version of Cosworth's Ford Zetec-R V8, known as the Ford AC V8. Lola has acquired 15 of these engines - which were used last year by Forti Corse - and there is an agreement with Cosworth for each to be rebuilt five times in the course of the season.
In the midseason Lola plans to begin testing its own brand new V10 engine, which is currently being designed for the company by Al Melling. This should begin bench-testing in March or April.
The team is planning to build its own half-scale windtunnel and a building to house the engine department, featuring two dynamometers.
The obsolete T95/30 did leave a useful legacy for Lola engineers as some of the components tested on the car will be incorporated into the T97/30, which should help the team's mechanical reliability.
The Lolas will run on Bridgestone tyres and should be unveiled on February 20.
"If we don't beat them," he says, "then we deserve to be given a good kick up the backside. With our experience and back-up, it should be no problem."
Lola chairman - Eric Broadley
"We made the decision in 1984 to be involved in Formula 1 but our experiences after that convinced us that we had to be in complete control of the programme. It is impossible to succeed without being self-contained. F1 is too specialized and too important for that.
"We have aimed for our own programme since 1995. We ran a test car that year and that formed the basis of our transmission development programme. The rule changes have since made that car obsolete so the T97/30 is a brand new design.
"The programme is running out of our premises in Huntingdon and will is utilizing our firm's wealth of experience in Indycars, Indy Lights and Formula 3000 technology. We are making use of all the facilities offered in the manufacturing operation. It is a comprehensive facility which is there to be used - it is a hungry machine. It is in the creation of the racing team that we have to start anew.
"We have knowledge from our composites shop, our engineers cross over from both programmes and the windtunnel work we have done at Cranfield with the Indycar is directly applicable to F1. We have basically worked at lightening components down to F1 needs. We have taken the best ideas from specialists in the windtunnel, aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics and the like to produce the final machine.
"We're committed to developing our own V10 engine through Al Melling because you have to control your programme. The new V10 will be on the test bed in March or April. We will use Ford's Zetec-R V8 engines until our V10 is ready to race. The current car has been designed to accept both engines. It isn't a problem. The V10 is the same size as the Zetec V8 and we have had plenty of experience from the USA in building cars with different engines.
"This is a new direction for the company. The market in America is changing - there are new manufacturers coming into CART and I don't believe that we will ever get back to the situation where we supplied almost everyone. We have the experience, the commitment and the desire to succeed in F1."