Lotus’s return to IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 in 1984 failed

Monday 5th April 2021 Posted by René Fagnan

In 1965, the British manufacturer Lotus won a 500-mile drive from Indianapolis and had an idea, 20 years later, to return to the famous Breakyard, but the deal never materialized.

Scottish Jim Clarke had the first rear-engine car, the Lotus 38-Ford, to conquer the Indianapolis high-speed circuit in 1965. Around the same time, former American racer Roy Wilkellman founded his racing team. Relationships with Lotus and her boss, Colin Chapman.

Let’s go back in time to the early 1980s. After a few years away from motorsport, Wilkelman became interested once again in establishing the new CART series (auto racing teams) that ran the IndyCar series. But this former CIA agent (apparently) doesn’t want to do like the others by simply purchasing a rolling chassis from Mars or Lola. He wants an official factory registration and has factory installed Cosworth DFX turbo engines.

Also around this time, Ferrari was also interested in the CART series (to bend the FIA ​​in fact) by producing its Model 637. Even the French Ligier team entered a modified F1 into operation in the CART series.

Lotus Technology, Wilkelman Finance

In 1984, two years after Colin Chapman’s death, Wilckelman contacted Peter Warr of Team Lotus and presented his Indy project to the new technical director, Gerard Ducarrug. The structure is simple: Lotus designs and builds cars while Wilkelman finds financing and manages them in the CART series.

Dukarrug attends CART at the start of the season and returns with the rulebook. However, the Frenchman has a full hand in developing Formula 1 Lotus 95T, and thus he is handing over the Lotus 96T design work to Martin Ogilvie and Gene Varnier. Meanwhile, Al Unser Junior has been contacted to test the machine.

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So this 96T is a modified and enhanced 95T of F1. La monocoque est produite par Lotus, mais contrairement à celle de la 95T, le sandwich emprisonné entre les deux feuilles de fiber de carbone / Kelvar n’est pas du nid d’abeille en Nomex, mais en aluminum afin de mieux résister aux impacts contre Walls.

In an interview published in the British magazine MotorSport, Varnier said: “We worked a week or two on the 96T, then a week or two in the future on the 97T. [de F1]. It was a tremendous amount of work for a very small design team. The worst part is that during the first two months of the business, we had to contact the subcontractors without disclosing to them what we were working on. “

If a prototype of the 96T is tested in a wind tunnel, then things start to get complicated. Cosworth does not provide the engines directly to Lotus, which forces the technical team to borrow the engines to verify the vehicle’s manufacturing steps. After that, rumors began to spread, claiming that despite all his guarantees, Wilkelman was unable to find the necessary funding.

Then, CART series leaders and team owners begin to worry about the arrival of the factory team in a chain that prefers small private stables. CART is also concerned to see the arrival of an expensive carbon frame in place of traditional aluminum structures.

Varnier specifies that if the carbon fibers withstood the first impact well, we know nothing of the later shocks, because the struts were a frequent occurrence in the CART series. So Peter Warr went on to plead on the carbon issue with CART executives, but nothing helped. CART clearly didn’t want to see the official Team Lotus land in its series.

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To ensure this, CART also changed its technical regulations for the 1985 season by banning monohulls made from 100% carbon fiber. From now on, the carbon frames must be covered with an aluminum outer layer. Then Winckelmann lost his sponsors and the project was abandoned. Al Unser Junior was then recruited by Doug Cherson’s team.

Finally, only one model of the Lotus 96T is painted in the popular ‘British Racing’ green and yellow, and is still the property of Classic Team Lotus in the UK. According to the information obtained, the 96T was never on the right track.

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