FEBRUARY 24, 1997
Lola's last-minute launch
THE Mastercard Lola Formula 1 team launched its Grand Prix challenge last Thursday at London's Hilton Hotel, unveiling the Lola-Ford T97/30 which will be raced this year by Brazilian Ricardo Rosset and Italian Vincenzo Sospiri.
The program is being funded by an unusual sponsorship scheme involving American credit card company Mastercard which is offering its 380 million card holders the chance to be involved in a very exclusive club. It remains to be seen whether the scheme will actually work, but as only a tiny percentage of cardholders are needed to sign up to make it viable the team is optimistic that it will be a success.
The team has additional backing from Safra bank, Lycra and the Track & Field clothing company (all brought to Lola by Rosset) and from Cosmo Gas (Sospiri's sponsor). There is also some support from Men's Health magazine and from Pennzoil.
The prototype T97/30, which was finished the night before the launch, has been designed by Lola engineers. ChrisÊMurphy has, unexpectedly, been credited with the design although he does not appear to have been greatly involved in the project, while the team has also named composites engineer Liam Maloney, aerodynamicist Joanna Moss and gearbox designer Duncan McRobbie as important members of the design team. The entire project has been a very rushed job as the designers did not get the green light to go ahead until November 5 last year.
Lola's plans to build its own engines is going ahead but it is likely that these will not now be raced until next year although Italian Andrea Montermini has been taken on by Lola as a test driver to concentrate on the engine development program which should begin in the mid-season.
The new car - which will be powered by Zetec-R V8 engines is due to run for the first time at the Santa Pod drag strip and will then spend two days at Silverstone before everything has to be packed up and sent out to Australia at the end of this week.
Team founder Eric Broadley is - rather optimistically - talking about scoring a few points this year and is aiming to win the World Championship within four years, the term of the Mastercard deal.
A large percentage of people in the F1 paddock are willing to bet large sums of money that this will not happen...