Monday, July 12, 2010

Race Oddity: Lotus 56 "turbine car"

Turbine powered automobiles have been tried and tested many times as a replacement to the conventional piston engine. Essentially a jet-engine mated to a mechanical drive shaft, turbines allow a vast power curve and relative simplicity. The idea became gained popularity in the late 1950's "Jet Age" and was experimented with heavily by Chrysler in particular. They proved rather impractical on street cars though for various reasons like extreme heat, noise, and high fuel consumption. Even Rover took the technology to LeMans in 1963 with Graham Hill and Richie Ginther, but that of course is another story.

Andy Granatelli's STP-Paxton turbine-powered special came close to winning the 1967 "500" at the hands of Parnelli Jones before dropping out 10 laps from the finish due to a bearing failure in it's unique 1-speed drivetrain. The turbine's wide operating speed range meant changing ratios was unnecessary, but power was sent to the ground with a bespoke Ferguson (as in Massy-Ferguson tractors) four-wheel-drive system. Though it didn't win, Granatelli was sold on the potential of the formula.
(The STP-Paxton chassis and engine)

The next year, Lotus joined STP's efforts with their vast racing expertise and built on Granatelli's idea. This project became known as the Lotus 56. As if the 500+ horsepower Pratt & Whitney turbine (designed for helicopters) wasn't radical or innovative enough, designer Maurice Philippe clothed the car in an unusual new aerodynamic "wedge" shape. Unlike the 56's predecessor, which placed the driver beside the engine, the Lotus had its turbine was mounted in the center behind the driver, which allowed for a completely symmetrical and balanced chassis. Perhaps even early in development, Lotus had plans for the four-wheel-drive car on tracks that were not just ovals. In any case, it seemed like a very promising package and STP's Granatelli was eager for his team to have a victory at Indy.

(Granatelli and his 1967 effort with Chapman, Clark, and the Lotus)

Initially, Chapman intended to have his best F1 drivers and Indy veterans drive the new machine - Jim Clark and turbine veteran Graham Hill. Tragically, Clark was killed early in 1968 in a Formula 2 crash before the Indianapolis event. Chapman then asked Mike Spence to step in, though he too died at the wheel. During practice for the "500" he struck the wall in one of the 56s and was hit in the head with the right front tire. Former motorcycle racer Joe Leonard replaced him and went on to capture the pole, his teammate Hill qualified in second, and relative newcomer Art Pollard took 11th in a third car.

(Spence's fatal crash in the Lotus 56)

When race day came, Hill's car was the first to bow out, losing a wheel at lap 110 and crashing into Turn 2. Leonard was passed after 31 laps of the race, however, he regained 1st after leader Bobby Unser had problems with his car's transmission. At a re-start after the final caution flag, both Lotus 56s suffered from snapped fuel pump shafts and were forced out of the running. Victory once again eluded the STP turbine-car effort in spite of so much promise. To make matters worse, USAC (Indy's governing organization at the time) banned turbine-power as well as four-wheel-drive.

(David Walker in 1971 at the wheel of a 56B - note addition of wings)

Back overseas, Chapman was still trying to get his money's worth. A modified version of the 56 (the 56B) was casually tried in Formula One during the 1971 season. The "B" would only compete in three F1 races where it proved heavy, unreliable, and overly complex. The car looked like a contender in the Dutch Grand Prix where wet-weather allowed the FWD system to come into its own, however driver Dave Walker went off-track and didn't finish. At Silverstone suspension failure put the car out, and finally Emerson Fittipaldi could only manage 8th at the Italian Grand Prix.

(Fittipaldi in Italy with later livery - front wings removed for this high-speed track)

The 56's career was finally over. Lotus had already carried-over the "wedge" design to the very successful 72 F1 car, but turbines whirred away into the history books.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Paperwork from the Past

Ah, the glory days of sports car racing were the early '70s when Porsche 910s and 917s battled with Ferrari 512s and 312s at Le Mans, the Nurburgring, and Watkins Glen. The cars can still be seen today at vintage racing events (or on a DVD "Le Mans" the film with Steve McQueen), but it's always interesting to have a peek behind the scenes of that era. Fortunately for us, some years ago, Watkins Glen International liquidated a great deal of their old records and now they're popping up in area antique stores at reasonable prices. Such an example are these entry papers my dad found in a shop downtown for the John Wyer Gulf-Porsche 917s and SEFAC Ferrari 312s in the 1971 6-Hours of Watkins Glen: (click to enlarge images)

Interestingly, the UK based Wyer team submitted their papers through the R.A.C. - Note various typos such as " (17k " on the visa slip and " MEXCIO " under Pedro Rodriguez's address.

And here, the Ferrari SEFAC (Scuderia Enzo Ferrari Auto Corse) papers. Amusing that even though the paperwork was being sent to the US, the letter is written in Italian. Ferrari also seems a lot more lax in general in terms of filling things out completely.

Roughly translated:
"To whom it may concern, we enclose your model registration for the 6 hours of Watkins Glen of July 24, 1971, drivers Jacky Ickx and Mario Andretti, and we confirm participation in the Can-Am race on July 25, 1971 with a car 312P and a Can-Am car."


130Andrea de Adamich/Ronnie PetersonAlfa Romeo T33/32796:00:25,000
21Jo Siffert/Gijs van LennepPorsche 917K277+ 2 laps
32Derek Bell/Richard AttwoodPorsche 917K259+ 20 laps
463Alain De Cadenet/Lothar MotschenbacherFerrari 512M253+ 26 laps
549Robert R.Johnson/John GreenwoodChevrolet Corvette229+ 50 laps
659Peter Gregg/Hurley HaywoodPorsche 914/6 GT228+ 51 laps
757Dave Heinz/Don YenkoChevrolet Corvette221+ 58 laps
841Bill Schumacher/Bob McClure/Bob KieferChevrolet Corvette210+ 69 laps
931Bert Everett/Bob BeasleyPorsche 911T168+ 111 laps
1068Pat Keating/Levon Pentecost/Anthony TorgersenPorsche 911S162+ 117 laps
DNF36Nanni Galli/Vic ElfordAlfa Romeo T33/3258Collision
DNF67Pete Harrison/Tom Fraser/Bobby Rinzler/Skip BarberLola T212 Ford226Collision
DNF43Tony Adamowicz/Mario CabralPorsche 917K191Not classified
DNF46Mike Rahal/Hugh Wise/Horst KrollPorsche 906180Not classified
DNF14Sam Posey/Ronnie BucknumFerrari 512M126Starter motor
DNF61Hugh Kleinpeter/Tony BelcherLola T212 Ford104Engine
DNF33Henri Pescarolo/Rolf StommelenAlfa Romeo T33/397Accident
DNF64Bob Baechle/Michael Summers/Fred KeplerChevrolet Corvette90Radiator
DNF40Jacky Ickx/Mario AndrettiFerrari 312PB55Starter motor
DNF6Mark Donohue/David HobbsFerrari 512M53Steering
DNF87Tony Dean/Steve Matchett/Chuck ParsonsPorsche 908/0247Fuel pump
DNF32Jim Locke/Bob BaileyPorsche 911S25Wheel
DNF48Herbert Müller/George EatonFerrari 512M17Collision
DNF16Michael Keyser/Bruce JenningsPorsche 911T13Collision
DNF50Richard Hoffman/Frank Cipelle/John GreenwoodChevrolet Corvette6Suspension
DNF60Robin Ormes/Bobby Brown/Bob BondurantLola T70 Mk.32Throttle cable
DNS21Gregg Young/Jim AdamsFerrari 512M0Fuel leak
DNS35Vic Elford/Nanni GalliAlfa Romeo 33TT30Accident practice
DNS80Milt Minter/Rudy Bartling/Fritz HochreuterPorsche 9110