Classic Race Cars

Lola T90 (1966)

June 17, 2011

Graham Hill Lola T90 Indianapolis 1966Lola had made its first appearance at the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 with pair of T80 race cars. Due to the late completion of the cars, testing was insufficient and therefore both cars had number of problems in the race. Drivers Al Unser and Bud Tingelstad both complained particularly about the handling problem in the corner. It was later discovered that a flaw in the suspension geometry caused the car to be “heavy” when cornering. Learning from the previous year, Lola made sure the new T90 was ready in plenty of time before the 1966 race.

The T90 consisted of a aluminium monocoque constructed from the 16-gauge aluminium that the Indy regulations stipulated. Sheet steel diaphragms were fitted at the front and the rear of the tub with additional internal stiffness coming from four braces housed within the pontoons that would take the Firestone-designed fuel cells whilst externally a sloping scuttle in front of the instrument panel gave additional rigidity. Tubular steel subframes were attached to both the front and rear of the chassis, the front subframe carrying the oil tank, radiator and the forward mountings for the lower wishbone. At the rear there were two subframes above and below the two-speed Hewland gearbox, the upper one carrying the attachment point for the single top link and the top spring/damper mounting. The lower subframe had the mounting points for the lower wishbones.

The T90 was designed to have either the 2.8-litre, 4-cylinder Offenhauser engine or the 4.2-litre 4-cam Ford V8. The Offy, built by Meyer-Drake in California was fitted with Hilborn fuel injection and a Paxton Roots-type supercharger and gave some 520 bhp. The Ford V8 was slightly less powerful, but had proven itself winning 1965 race in Jim Clark’s Lotus 38.

Front suspension was inboard with fabricated rocker arms at the top operating the coil and damper units and wide-based lower wishbones. The front anti-roll bar was unusual employing a single bar that linked to the inner ends of the rocker arms via rod ends but was clamped at it’s extremities, this allowed for a 60% longer bar than would have otherwise been possible if it had just run between the ends of the two rocker arms. Rear suspension was fairly conventional with one departure from the norm. At the top of the upright was a single adjustable top link attaching to the top chassis subframe whilst at the bottom a wide-based wishbone (reinforced on the left), mounting to the rear of the upright, was mounted to the lower chassis subframe. There was a single adjustable lateral link running from the lower front of the upright to the subframe that allowed for toe-in alterations. The unusual feature to the design was the single top radius rod, a lower rod was not used to to the difficulty of a suitable chassis attachment point due to the fuel tank design. As was the norm at this time front and rear suspension was offset to the left by three inches, the theory being that this helped the car through the left-hand turns at Indianapolis.

The T90 made it’s debut by the John Mecom Racing Team at the March season opener, held at the Phoenix International Raceway. Success was immediate with Roger Ward finishing second in his Offenhauser-powered T90 and a month later Ward won the rain-shortened race at Trenton’s 1-mile paved oval. In May there were three T90s, all entered by John Mecom’s Houston-based team, ready to run at Indy qualifying. Roger Ward in his successful Offenhauser-engined car and Rookies Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill who were both Ford-powered. There was nothing much between the cars at the end of qualifying, Stewart was 11th fastest at a speed of 159.972 mph, Ward 13th at 159.46 mph and Hill 15th at 159.243 mph. Graham Hill replaced the original driver Walt Hansgen who was tragically killed driving a 7-litre Ford GT during the Le Mans Test Days.

The 1966 race saw a chaotic opening lap following a collision between two cars at Turn 1 setting off a chain reaction that resulted in eleven cars retiring and the race being stopped for over an hour. The race restarted under a yellow flag. When the green was shown at lap 17, Mario Andretti took the lead but had a damaged engine and fell away immediately. Jim Clark then took the lead in his Lotus. After Jim Clarks spin, the race was between Lloyd Ruby’s Eagle and Jackie Stewart’s Lola until fuel stops put Clark temporarily back in front. Ruby was soon back in the lead but his car was black-flagged on lap 152 because the car was leaking oil. After Ruby’s retirement Stewart’s T90 was in comfortable lead, followed by Clark’s Lotus and Graham Hill’s T90. Hill had been quietly progressing up the field and at the lap 175 he passed Clark and moved to second place. Stewart continued to lead until a sudden lack of oil pressure forced the Scot to retire. Hill moved to the first place and just three and a half hours after the start Graham Hill and Lola won the 1966 Indianapolis 500.