Lola to celebrate 50 golden years in motorsport
In 2008 Lola will have plenty to celebrate both on and off the track, when they reach a memorable 50 years in motorsport. During this period the Huntingdon based marque have manufactured almost 4000 competitive cars, recording more race and championship wins than any other racing car manufacturer in the world.
With Lola’s future firmly cemented under the current ownership of Executive Chairman Martin Birrane, the company stands proud as the UK’s longest-established manufacturer of racing cars, with many legends of motor sport having competed behind the wheel of a Lola, including Mario Andretti, Graham Hill, Nigel Mansell, Sir Jackie Stewart, John Surtees and Al Unser Senior.
The seeds of this remarkable success story were sown in 1957, when quantity surveyor Eric Broadley built the ‘Broadley Special’. A year later, using his £2,000 savings, Eric formed Lola Cars Ltd setting up a modest work shop in the South-East London suburb of Bromley. The first-ever Lola car, the Mk 1, was an immediate success becoming the first ever sports car of any size to lap Brands Hatch in under one minute.
Lola’s single seater ambitions were soon realised. Within four years of its establishment the Mk 4 provided the up and coming marque with its first taste of Formula One action. Reg Parnell commissioned the Lola built Bowmaker Yeoman Credit Team Formula One car, which was driven by John Surtees. The legendary British driver recorded podium finishes at the British and German Grands Prix, finishing fourth overall in the 1962 World Championship.
Lola’s impressive on track performances were soon noticed by the Ford Motor Company, who briefed Broadley to build a GT car capable of breaking Ferrari’s dominance at Le Mans. The result was the 4.2 litre Ford V8-powered Lola Mk 6 GT. The partnership enabled Lola to move to larger premises in Slough and introduce the design talents of Tony Southgate. After taking Lola to Le Mans for the first time in 1960 with a MK 1, the MK 6 followed three years later and was remarkably driven all the way to the world’s toughest endurance race by road from Lola’s new factory in Slough. Ford was so impressed with the design that the Mk 6 became the inspiration behind the world famous Ford GT40.
1965 marked one of Lola’s most symbolic years when Broadley unveiled the all-conquering T70. The performances on track matched its sleek design, providing John Surtees and Dan Gurney victories in the Can AM Championship. Roger Penske’s win in the 1969 Daytona 24 Hours, proved the car’s reliability and secured its status in world motor sport.
Lola’s continued success on American soil helped pave the way for Indianapolis 500 glory. In 1966 Graham Hill became the first Englishman to win the Indianapolis 500 driving the Mecom Lola. However, it was his team mate Jackie Stewart who stole the show, winning ‘Rookie of the Year’ honours after comfortably leading the race by almost two laps, before having to retire. Lola’s love-affair with the Indy 500 continued through to 2006, enjoying numerous race and championship wins with drivers such as Mario Andretti, Al Unser Senior, Mark Donohue, A J Foyt, Rick Mears and Nigel Mansell.
John Surtees the only person ever to win both the World Formula One & 500cc Motorcycle World Championship was instrumental for introducing Honda to Lola in 1967. It was a period when Honda was underachieving in Formula One and in just three weeks Lola worked with Team Surtees to produce the T130 Honda RA 300 ‘Hondola’. Their efforts were duly rewarded when they were involved in one of the greatest races in the history of the sport. Jim Clark led the 1967 Italian Grand Prix for most of the race, but ran out of petrol on the last lap. Surtees and Brabham seized their opportunity, fighting it out in a typical Monza slip streaming duel to the line, which Surtees eventually won by less than a car length.
In 1970 Lola moved headquarters to its current location in Huntingdon. Whilst Lola continued its winning ways on the track, the British marque was also fast becoming a breeding ground for talented designers. The young team of Patrick Head and John Barnard helped build the extremely attractive Lola T290 family of cars, which are now classed as classics of race car design. Their talent and skills, developed at Lola, were taken into Formula 1 where they have had a huge impact on the sport.
Throughout the 1970’s Lola’s 290 series continued to bring sporting success, were it dominated numerous European championships. The 80’s led to Lola designing and building sports racing cars for major manufacturers including Chevrolet, Nissan and Mazda, a trend that continues to the present day with the latest generation of LMP Mazda, a product of the Huntingdon factory.
Pure racing cars for single seat competitions continued to be Lola’s mainstay throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. From Formula One cars for Larrouse and Beatrice to the humble Formula Ford, Lola continued to win races and championships. The British manufacturer became the first and only company to be awarded the contract to build FIA Formula 3000 cars and, in its final years under Eric Broadley’s ownership, won in all four forms of international single-seater formulae.
Lola’s enviable position has been consolidated since 1997, under the ownership of Executive Chairman, Martin Birrane, who has kept the company at the forefront of the motor sport industry. A titanic battle for supremacy in the US based Champ Car series in the early part of this decade resulted in Lola’s winning the title every year from 2002 until 2006, the last three of these with current F1 driver Sebastien Bourdais.
In 2004, when Skeikh Maktoum of Dubai announced plans to introduce A1 GP, the new one-make ‘World Cup of Motorsport’, there was only one partner who could deliver the technical brief in such a short time frame – Lola.
More recently, 2007 marked Lola’s largest entry at Le Mans, with six Huntingdon built LMP racers competing, three in each of the LMP1 and LMP2 categories. The 75th running of Le Mans provided an unprecedented fourth consecutive Le Mans LMP2 class victory for Lola. A fitting tribute to the 50th anniversary year, 2008 will see Lola unleash the first-ever customer LMP Coupe, having put everything in place to deliver another world beating sports car.
Lola also recently gave its new Daytona Prototype a public unveiling just before Christmas with ex Grand Prix drivers Ricardo Zonta and Eric Van De Poele testing the Krohn Racing sportscar ahead of this months Daytona 24 Hours.
Martin Birrane, Executive Chairman of the Lola Group said, “It’s a wonderful accomplishment to reach 50 years in motor sport. We would like to pay special tribute to Eric Broadley and our highly skilled workforce. We also need to acknowledge the fantastic achievements of the world class drivers, and long list of private owners, who have raced our cars. They have all made a massive contribution to Lola’s illustrious history in motor sport. With exciting initiatives in place, we can all look forward to expanding the technical boundaries for the future of motor sport.”
Birrane’s vision has made Lola into a worldwide contender in many aspects of design and technology. Whilst Lola’s name is synonymous with motor sport, it seems a well kept secret that the company’s winning technology also expands across the automotive, aerospace, defence, communications and marine sectors.
Lola has identified the 2008 Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Le Mans 24 Hour race as fitting occasions to celebrate the manufacturer’s 50 years in motorsport, where cars and drivers from the past and present will support this landmark occasion. Plans to set up a public party in Lola’s hometown of Huntingdon, featuring a symbolic parade of Lola cars through the streets, will provide the perfect finale to the 50th Anniversary celebrations.
In 50 years Lola has mastered all disciplines of the sport including Formula 1, Le Mans, Daytona 24 Hours, Can-Am, Champ Car and Indy 500. The design, engineering and manufacturing skills of Lola’s workforce have assisted the company in achieving this success. The company will continue to gain international recognition in the 21st century by building on its reputation for providing world-class ‘technology to win’.