|Lola Mk6 GT Chevrolet|
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Motorsport was going through a big revolution in the early 1960s; from front to mid engined racers. Not surprisingly endurance racing was the last category to fully pick up on the latest developments. For size reasons, the mid mounted engine much favoured smaller engines. Never quick to react to changes, Ferrari continued to run front engined prototype racers up until 1962, which were able to fight off the mid-engined competition with their well developed chassis and hugely powerful engines. The 1963 season proved to be a most important year and a turning point in Le Mans history; Ferrari entered a mid-engined V12 prototype and maybe even more important was the small Lola Mk VI GT roaring down the long straights.
Eric Broadley's Lola made their racing debut with the front engined Mk I sportscar late in the 1950s. With the subsequent Mk II - V single seater races Lola participated in Formula 1 and Formula Junior racing. Broadley recognized the slow adaptation of mid-engined design in endurance racing and figured he could have a shot at it with a new car. Apart from the technical difficulties, the development was also hampered by the governing body's decision to run the world championship for GT cars as of 1962, rather than the full blown sports cars of the past. A second class was added though to keep the spectacle alive, one for 'experimental GTs'. This allowed for prototype racer, but required them to be equipped with road equipment, like a spare tire.
It was for the experimental GT class that Broadley designed his new Mk VI GT. Inspired by Colin Chapman's Lotus 25 Formula 1 racer of 1962, a monocoque chassis was constructed, with a front subframe to support the radiator and suspension. The engine and transaxle were bolted on the monocoque. The gearbox and rear bulkhead supported the rear suspension. For the first car Lola used mainly steel for the monocoque, but the for following two aluminium was used. Suspension was by double wishbones coil overs all around. Despite being designed to hold a big V8 engine, the Mk VI's wheelbase was shorter than the marque's single seaters of the day.
John Frayling was commissioned to design a low drag coupe body for the chassis. His previous work included the original Lotus Elite. The fibre glass body he sculpted very well suited the small chassis, with very short front and rear overhangs. One of the more striking features were the doors, which cut into the roof considerably, to accommodate for quick driver changes in endurance racing. This solution was carried over in its much more famous successor, but more about that later. Another novelty was the central air intake for the engine located in the roof of the car. The cut-off Kamm style tail of the car was livened up by a pair of Ford Cortina rear lights. The completed car was a very attractive racer, more than a match for Ferrari's new 250 P mid-engined prototype, at least in the looks department.
The first car was completed in time to make a late debut at the 1963 Racing Car Show in the UK. This was the steel monocoque, which understandably stunned the crowds. It made its debut at the Silverstone Daily Express Meeting in May, where it was driven by Tony Maggs. Starting from the back, Maggs had never driven the car before, but still managed to finish an incredible fifth. Next up was the Nürburgring 1000 km race, where wheel nut problems put the car out of the race. Meanwhile Lola worked hard on completing a second car to race at Le Mans.
Although Broadley drove the new car, complete with aluminium monocoque chassis, from the factory to Le Mans himself, Lola were actually too late for the official scruteneering, but the organizers accepted to take a look at the new car anyways. Unfortunately they were not too happy with the central air-intake, which according to them blocked rearward vision. Refusing to give up the team created new intakes on either side of the car and removed the original intake. It did not improve rearward vision much, but the organizers were impressed with the work put into making the Mk VI eligible. Another point of concern was the fuel tank; it was too big. This was solved by inserting a number of empty bottles in the tank.
Eventually one car was ready and eligible for the 24 Hours race. All the scruteneering problems gave Lola no time for real testing, which was most obvious on the long straights; the wrong gearing was chosen. Drivers David Hobbs and Richard Attwood had to back off the throttle at speeds which later proved to be at least 30 mph under the car's potential top speed. Despite the gearing problems the Lola clocked very competitive lap times and was running as high as fifth in the race. Sadly the gearing was not the only problem of the Colotti gearbox; it also started to suffer from a selection problem in the race. In the 15th hour of the race Hobbs crashed out as a result of the gearbox problem. It was to be the last outing for the Ford powered Lola Mk VI GT.
Ferrari dominated that edition of the Le Mans race, filling the first six places. This news was not very well received in Detroit. In the spring of that year Ford had tried to buy Ferrari, but when the deal went sour, they set out to design a Le Mans racer of their own to beat those 'fast little red cars'. Work had already started before the 1963 Le Mans race, but when the Ford powered Lola Mk VI proved to be a highly competitive racer, the plans were changed. The Le Mans car was purchased and Eric Broadley was commissioned to help design the new Ford racer. Much of the Mk VI chassis design was carried over, but executed in steel and combined with a Detroit designed body, which did include the canopy doors. Ford dubbed the racer 'GT40' and the rest is history.
Broadley quickly left the project again after Ford decided to make modifications to the chassis that would make it suitable for road use as well. He believed that this would hamper the race car from ever becoming a winner. Ford extensively used the Mk VI GT as a running prototype for the GT40, but was never raced again. The other Mk VI was sold to John Mecom andfitted with a Chevrolet engin. It raced with some success in various North American races. Today the Mk VI GT is a little known racer, despite being one of the most influential racing cars ever built. With proper preparation, it could probably have been more of a contender for the Le Mans victory than the GT40 ever was in 1964 and 1965.
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