Rebuilding a great racing name: the return of Lola Cars
When I first heard about the plan to revive Lola Cars, I had some trepidation. In these days of SPAC-fueled exuberance and blockchain hype, it would be easy enough for a company to take the cynical approach: design (if not necessarily ever build) a ridiculously expensive electric hypercar and can -be a few NFTs and wait for the hype to unfold Fortunately, these ideas couldn’t be further from the new owner’s plans.
“Put simply, our plan is to return Lola to an older version of herself. To me, that means being a design and engineering force in modern motorsport,” explained Till Bechtolsheimer, an investor and amateur racing driver who purchased the company’s assets in June.
Older racing fans will know the name Lola. The company was founded in the UK in 1958 by Eric Broadley, and by 1962 had entered Formula 1 as a constructor, but never with much success. A pair of second-place finishes for John Surtees that year were the best results Lola-built F1 cars could achieve, and the company’s planned return to the sport in 1997 with MasterCard backing was a complete fiasco. which ended when neither of the company’s cars qualified for this year’s opening race in Australia.
But racing is much more than F1, and Lola has had considerable success building customer cars for other series and regulations. It built decent cars for Formula 2 and its successor Formula 3000, although the real headlines came from winning races on Lola chassis like the Indianapolis 500 (in 1966, 1978 and 1990) and in particular the success in sports car racing.
Notably, Ford was so impressed with the Lola Mk6 sports car that it contracted Broadley to help develop the GT40 in its early days, although Lola had minimal involvement with this iconic racing car, which has was built to beat Ferrari at Le Mans. That’s because he was busy making his own sports prototype, the T70, which debuted the following year in 1965.
The T70 proved popular; over 100 T70s were built, in coupé and Spyder bodies, and these numbers kept the cars competing through the same loophole that led to the Porsche 917. The T70 never won Le Mans – no car carrying the Lola badge did – but a pair of T70s replaced a Porsche and a Ferrari in staged crashes in Steve McQueen’s Wonderful and Imperfect Le Mans. Much more success at La Sarthe in France came in the 2000s, with five class wins in the LMP675 class. More recently, Lola prototypes have also been campaigned in LMP and LMP2, forming the basis for Mazda’s IMSA driver until 2016.
Lola had already ceased operations four years before this season, and the following year the LMP2 rules changed so that LMP2 chassis are now only allowed from four manufacturers (Dallara, Multimatic, Ligier and Oreca).
For this reason, don’t expect to see Bechtolsheimer’s Lola at Le Mans or IMSA just yet. And as mentioned, there are no immediate plans to produce a road car, which is extremely refreshing to hear. And there are no plans for a factory team, to the Glickenhaus and his efforts in the World Endurance Championship or on the Nordschleife.
Instead, a high priority is upgrading the company’s UK wind tunnel. Before belonging to Lola, the tunnel was 50% owned by British Aerospace and had been involved in the development of the Concorde and the Eurofighter.
“Before buying Lola… feedback from [those in the] the industry that knows and uses the Lola wind tunnel has been universally convinced that it is a very solid and reliable tunnel that provides really good and reliable data,” Bechtolsheimer told me.
“It’s important to note that this data is highly correlated to on-track performance,” he said. “It’s just outdated – there hasn’t been any investment for a long time. The control systems are outdated; they don’t communicate with modern software. A lot of the hardware is no longer supported. So really , we’re planning some nice bulk upgrades that should make it the best performing 50% scale tunnel in the world, now it’s not a 60% scale F1 tunnel. “It’s not a full-scale tunnel. We’re not necessarily trying to compete with those types of tunnels. But not everyone who wants to spend time in the wind tunnel is going to spend the F1 budget.”