Tag Archives: Lotus

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The Lotus Eaters

If you think the current Grand Prix season has been full of unpredictable excitement, cast your mind back thirty years to 1982 when, against a backdrop of the FISA/FOCA wars and the transition from normally aspirated engines to turbos, no less than eleven drivers won races during the 16-race campaign.  Keke Rosberg wound-up as World Champion despite only winning one of the races – and he was driving an ‘outdated’ Cosworth-powered Williams.


There were plenty of other dramas too, the most tragic being the loss of Gilles Villeneuve at Zolder. Shortly before his fatal accident, the French-Canadian became involved in a spat with Ferrari team-mate Didier Pironi over driving tactics. The Frenchman – full of remorse at not having patched things up – himself suffered an horrendous accident during qualifying for the German Grand Prix a few weeks later, badly damaging his legs and so effectively ending his driving career. However, Patrick Tambay salvaged something for the Prancing Horse by winning that race at Hockenheim and Ferrari went on to claim the Constructor’s title despite winning fewer races than both Renault and McLaren.


Amongst the drivers to win races that year was Italian Elio de Angelis, the first his of his two victories for Lotus, when he crossed the line a scant 0.05-seconds  before Rosberg at the Osterreichring.

Amidst great  jubilation on the pit wall Colin Chapman famously threw his cap into the air. Little did we know that this was to be the last Lotus Grand Prix victory to be witnessed by the team’s creator for he would die of a heart attack in December that year.


I can actually say “I was there”, for I travelled to the German and Austrian races with Team Lotus, in some style I might add. I had previously worked for Lotus, leaving at the end of 1979 only to be let-down very badly in a promised new venture. I went on to work for a specialist car builder in London, but that business folded too, so I was job hunting.

With the two races being a double-header I thought it would be a good idea to get myself out there to look for work (well, that was my excuse!) but couldn’t really afford it. During the course of the British GP week-end I spoke to Lotus Team Manager Peter Warr about the possibility of hitching a ride on the transporter. To my surprise he was receptive and suggested I call a bit nearer the time. The response to that call was “sorry, no room on the truck but would I mind driving Colin Chapman’s Elite out to Hockenheim? Well, I really wanted a ride in a lorry but I didn’t need asking twice!


On the allotted day I duly left Ketteringham Hall in the black Elite, accompanying the transporter down to Felixstowe and across to Zeebrugge for an uneventful drive down to Hockenheim. Qualifying was overshadowed by Pironi’s horrendous accident and for the Lotus boys it was not a great day either. They had enjoyed little success so far in the season with the recalcitrant Type 91; de Angelis qualified 13th with Mansell even further back, lining up 18th on the grid.

The race saw de Angelis retire with handling problems but Mansell  salvaged some cheer on his 29th birthday by finishing ninth. We had already celebrated the occasion during the morning when the Goodyear guys marked up one of his tyres in a rather novel way – we all signed it! Despite the disappointments, the Team Lotus boys were as ever in good cheer.

We were sharing our hotel with the Renault team which at the time was hit with some internal strife between drivers Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux. At dinner in the evenings the French crew would raise their glasses with the time-honoured French toast of ‘Proste!’, to which the Lotus table responded very loudly with ‘Arnoux! It then turned into the nightly ritual of a bread roll fight.


I was duly entrusted with taking the Lotus Elite on to Austria, this time accompanied by Kenny Szymanski. Kenny was an American Airlines steward who miraculously managed to arrange his flight schedules so that he always turned up at the right place when a Grand Prix was on and spent the week-ends working as tyre man Clive Hicks’s assistant. Always very entertaining, Kenny was excellent company for the trip – especially as we broke down! Not just anywhere but in a tunnel. A passing mechanic (and a Lotus fan to boot) helped us push it out and we got it going again without really knowing how.

The Elite soon stopped again, our friend still following us. We built-up quite a little party on the hard shoulder as the Renault transporter stopped, the crew showing no hard feelings for the hotel mullarkey! Again we got it going and carried on, only to stop again. This time we were on our own and well into the evening. We were on a hill and couldn’t believe our good fortune when we investigated a side road opposite us to see a small hotel at the bottom, so we coasted down and checked in.

Much to Kenny’s amazement, the person who had checked in just before us lived in the next apartment block to him in New York! The next morning one of the team mechanics came out from the circuit and rescued us; the problem was some dirt in the fuel pump.

The Osterreichring enjoys a beautiful setting up in the hills with excellent spectating, the team’s hotel actually overlooking the circuit. Only downside was a monster thunderstorm that seemed to arrive regularly at 5pm every day! Qualifying proved a tad better than Hockenheim just a week before with de Angelis taking seventh on the grid and Mansell 12th.


In addition to the Elite the JPS-liveried Jet Ranger helicopter was also deployed for the weekend, being used by Colin Chapman to commute from the rather more salubrious hostelry where he and Hazel were staying. Naturally he wanted to land as close as possible to the paddock and was using a small grassed spectator area(!) at the end of the pits as helipad. Mike the pilot and I used to go and shoo the punters away when he was coming in. On race morning Mike and I duly went and taped-off the area and the ‘chopper landed, with the Old Man at the controls, Hazel alongside and Peter Dyke from Players, together with his wife, in the back.

As they landed, Mike went to the pilot’s door, yelling at me to go round the other side to open the door. As everyone disembarked, Mike got in, indicating me to do likewise. I obviously looked surprised, so he repeated it. I did as I was told and before I knew it, Mr Chapman was belting me in and putting a headset on me – I could now hear Mike properly above the rotors. “You said you had never flown. I’ve got to refuel so I’ve cleared it with the Old Man to take you with me”.


Talk about no time to panic! He was right, up until that time I had never flown, the reason being that I do not like heights so assumed I wouldn’t like flying. However, with no time to think about it, here I was in this little helicopter of all things. We flew out to a local airfield to refuel and upon returning to the circuit the morning warm-up was on so we followed it from the air – how cool is that! All fears of flying were forgotten and thankfully I had my camera with me so even recorded the occasion. To this day, I’ve never had a problem with flying.


The Italian Air Force aerobatic team had clearly been inspired by the Red Arrows performance at Brands Hatch a few years earlier and went one better by enveloping us in vapour trail as we stood in the pit lane! Once that excitement was over we settled down for an entertaining race that saw a delighted Elio de Angelis pip Rosberg by less than a car length to take a fantastic win. An overjoyed Lotus team swarmed onto the pit wall in celebration, me included, but little did we know then that Sunday 15 August 1982 would be the last time Colin Chapman would throw his famous black cap in the air.

Celebrations were short-lived as it was time to head for home. The Elite was staying behind so I found myself a lift as far as Luxembourg with Dan Partel, an American who had been responsible for re-establishing FF1600 and 2000 championships in Europe. Indeed a European FF2000 round was a support race at the Osterreichring, a young Ayrton Senna led all the way in his Rushen Green Van Diemen, followed home by Calvin Fish, now familiar to Americans as a TV commentator, complete with his delightful Norwich accent!


Once again we broke down, this time a stone jamming a brake on the poverty-model Fiesta that Dan had hired for the trip. From Luxembourg I got a train up to Eindhoven in Holland to spend a few relaxing days with some old family friends. The drama was not over though. They were driving me up to Zeebrugge to catch the ferry one evening when, as we approached the Dutch/Belgian border, a car we were about to pass suddenly did a U-turn (on a motorway!) across our path – he turned out to be a Greek who was lost. Both cars were written-off on the ensuing accident, fortunately witnessed by a group of Dutch policemen so there was no doubt about where the fault lay. The police even took us back home and I eventually caught the ferry home the next day.


So ended a momentous fortnight, the memories of which have remained with me to this day.
John Elwin September 2012 – All images courtesy of and copyright John Elwin

Front of House

 

TS Eliot declared that “April is the cruellest month” well he never worked at Le Mans, the Great Race sucks the life force out of you, so poor DDC and its reader have been neglected.

During two days at the Goodwood Festival of Speed I have seen the usual cornucopia of goodies, so here as a taster is the Lotus Position. On the front lawn no less…….

John Brooks June 2102

 

 

Lotus Blossom

A Lotus Le Mans Anniversary, 55 years ago Lotus scored their first success at Le Mans.

What have these Lotus types in common: Mark IX, Eleven, Fifteen, Elite, Elan, 47, Esprit, and Elise GT1? Answer: they have all taken part in the Le Mans 24 Hour race. In fact Lotus first raced at Le Mans in 1955 with a Mark IX Climax-engined car but Colin Chapman was disqualified when a rule infringement was committed after leaving the track at Arnage in the early part of the race. Now in 2011 Lotus is back with the V6 Evora and so it is apposite to look back to the marque’s first success in the famous event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This took place a year later in 1956 when the company decided to enter a team of three of its new Eleven models. New regulations drawn up in the aftermath of the 1955 disaster meant that the cars needed considerable modification: cockpits had to be bigger than the original and so the chassis frames were built wider at the centre section sweeping in abruptly before the rear wheels; a full-width windscreen of minimum depth and with a wiper was needed – Lotus fitted a sloping screen which wrapped around the sides. There were bucket seats and twin spot lights on either side of the air-intakes; all lights were mounted behind plastic covers. The cars had Coventry-Climax single cam“fire-pump” engines,, one of 1500c.c. and the other two of 1100c.c. John Eason Gibson was the Team Manager and the team was based outside of Le Mans at the Auberge de St Nicolas at Mayet.

There was also considerable modification to the circuit. That narrow two-car road past the pits just had to go! The whole pit area was widened and new pits were built and entry to the pits was strictly controlled by the need to keep to the right of a yellow line; any transgression incurred instant disqualification. Changes were made at the Dunlop Curve and at Arnage, the section at Maison Blanche was resurfaced and the whole pits signalling operation was transferred to the exit at Mulsanne Corner. All this work inevitably took time and the race was postponed until the last weekend in July, one of only three times that the race has not been held in June (the others being in 1923 when the very first race was held in May and 1968 when the May riots in France pushed the race back to September).

The three Lotus entries were: Car no.32   1500  Chapman/Mackay Fraser, Car no.35    1100  Allison/Hall, Car no.36    1100 Jopp/Bicknell. The race started in the wet but Chapman managed to complete the first lap in 16th place! By 5pm as the race settled he held on to 17th position behind his main opposition, the Porsches and a Maserati which soon broke. By the mid-day on the Sunday the Lotus lay second in class behind the leading Porsche but a broken big-end bolt ended its run. In the meantime the two 1100c.c. cars were locked in battle with the Hugus/Bentley Cooper. The weather was dreadful during the night and at dawn Cliff Allison had the misfortune to hit a dog on the Mulsanne Straight which resulted in the demise of the dog and the retirement of the Lotus. The remaining Lotus, however, was doing much better and by the end of the race had gained a lap over the American-driven Cooper, giving Peter Jopp and Reg Bicknell a win in the 1100c.c. class, Lotus’s first success in the Le Mans 24 Hours. They finished 7th overall and came 4th in the Index of Performance. This was the race when Ecurie Ecosse won for Jaguar after the works cars had suffered all sorts of calamities.

Four years later the company’s first proper road car, the Elite, went on to win its class for six consecutive years. Now the marque is back with the new GTE version of the Evora, a car in the early stages of its development. The two cars, run in collaboration with the factory by the Jet Alliance team, were: No. 64  Rich/Slingerland/Hartshorne, No. 65  Mowlem/ Rossiter/Hirschi. In the race the no. 65 car ran with practically no problems, just a fifteen minute stop to change brakes. It finished 22nd overall out of fifty-six starters and 7th in class.

The other car had some bad luck – Martin Rich was forced off and hit the wall, causing a bit of damage. In the following stint John Hartshorne was almost at the end of his drive when a rear wheel nut came off, causing the rear wheel to come off and the ensuing damage rendered the car too dangerous to drive; it was therefore abandoned near the end of the Mulsanne Straight. With the GT4 Lotus Evora finishing the Dubai 24 Hours this year and now this GTE version  doing similarly at Le Mans, the new chapter in Lotus endurance racing is getting off to  good start.

© David Blumlein 2011

Sands of Time – Uno

Caravanserai

For the past five years the Motosports’ world has been kick-started into life each January by the Dubai 24 Hours. The event has grown in scale and stature with the organisers taking good care of their customers, that is evident by the 84 cars that took the flag this year to commence the long pound round in the sand.

For those of us from the UK, we must be doubly thankful that attendance of the race in the United Arab Emirates gives us the perfect excuse to miss the Autosport Show held at the ghastly NEC. That alone is worth the price of the flight.

All the Sizes, All the Colours

The Dutch organisers, Creventic, have taken full advantage of the popularity and accessability of the GT3 and GT4 classes. They have also learned from the VLN and Nurburgring 24 Hours to try and accommodate a mix of GT and Touring cars. Some are factory efforts in all but name while many are genuine privateer teams who show great resourcefulness in taking on that most challenging of motorsport tasks, racing non-stop  for 24 hours.

Dutch and German Silver Arrows

Creventic have also been assisted in their mission by Grand-Am taking the Daytona 24 Hours on a different route from the rest of the endurance world. Right now the GT2-3-4 cars do not comply with Grand-Am rules and therefore cannot race at the Rolex, though Grand-Am’s management are having a good look at that issue. They may be too late. The traditional trip to Florida in January from Europe has largely become a thing of the past for racers. The delights of travelling to and from the USA as a Non-Citizen are not to be discounted either. Customers will vote with their feet.

Container Line

The containers were lined up behind the pits, disgorged of their contents. The mechanics twirled their spanners, the fitters from Dunlop inflated the tyres and we were all ready to go racing.

Three Stooges?

All, except one team. Lotus had been straining to finish their GT4 Evora, so planned to fly it out to the Middle East on the Monday night. They must have booked CrapAir as the precious cargo was unloaded from the aeroplane before take off, leaving the Anglo-Italian driver line up twiddling their thumbs. Here Johnny Mowlem and the Mansell brothers head back to Jumeira Beach.

Flat Out

Then the news from DXB was better, the car was in the UAE and once the Customs formalities had been observed the car arrived at the track.  The bad news was that it was Thursday evening by this time, with the event starting on Friday afternoon. A few laps in the Warm Up for JM and Stefano D’Aste were the sum of the running for this new car. Now for a 24 Hour race.

Lotus Position

The view for Johnny at the start was some 83 other cars between him and the front. He described the scene in a piece on the authoritative sportscar and endurance racing website DailySportsCar

“So for the race itself I was right at the back of the grid – and it was a BIG grid.  The rules say that you can’t overtake before you pass the start line and I reckon I was at least 6 corners from there when I got the call that the race had started – The race leaders must have been at least two thirds of a lap ahead by the time I had actually gone over the start finish line!”

 

Rub of the Green

“That said, the car was excellent and I could make pretty good progress – the rules dictate that you have to pit for a driver change every 2 hours but by an hour and a half I’d managed to get by the Aston Martin of Hancock, Kane, Masaood and Kapadia to take the class lead. We then pitted 20 minutes later from 30th place –  so 55 cars passed in a stint – that’s probably a record for me, but to be honest the car was so good it made my job very easy!”

 

Podium Celebrations

It was a mega-stint by any standards and set the tone for the whole race. Three driveshaft failures caused by an exhaust manifold overheating a CV joint delayed the Evora but getting a podium in the competitive SP3 class was a fantastic result and just reward for all the hard work. It was the best possible advert for the GT4 Lotus.

More from Dubai tomorrow.

John Brooks, January 2011