Sunday night sports-cars: Lola T-600

So, how ’bout a bit more history and car porn around here?


lola-t600The #10 Lola T-600 of Cooke-Woods Racing at Portland in 1983.  Image link goes to RSC gallery, where you’ll find many more outstanding photos.  I’ve posted local copies of the images to avoid abusing their bandwidth.

The Lola T-600 is a rather surprising car by today’s standards.  In 1980, John Bishop took a look at the IMSA Grand Touring championship, with its long run of utter dominance by the Porsche 935, and decided that things would have to change if he was to maintain the interest of corporate sponsors and race fans.  He created the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class, similar in principle to the FIA’s Group C class, with the idea of attracting a wide range of manufacturers and a variety of technical solutions to the problem of going around a race track really quickly.  Lola, a chassis manufacturer that had dabbled in just about every form of racing to date, saw IMSA GTP as a chance to sell a lot of cars to private (non-factory) teams, and cooked up the T-600 to GTP specs.  This makes the Lola T-600 a generalist chassis, built to be adaptable to a number of different engines and affordable by smaller racing teams, that won the IMSA GT championship in 1981.

The T-600 was built around an aluminum honeycomb monocoque chassis with a steel rollcage, leading to a car that was much stiffer than any of Lola’s previous offerings.  A stiff chassis makes for more responsive handling, as the lateral forces produced by the tires are better spent on changing the car’s direction than on twisting its structure.  Lola combined this stiff chassis with a shaped underbody designed by Dr. Max Sardou.  This underbody, similar to the “ground effects” employed in Formula One at the time, generates downforce the way an airplane’s wing generates lift: it accelerates air out from underneath the car, lowering pressure between the car and the track and sucking the car into the ground.

lola-t600-rearT-600 underbody tunnel exits.  Image taken from 962.c0m, source at the image link.

Unlike their contemporary Formula One cars, IMSA GTPs were prohibited from running skirts along the sides of the car to prevent air from intruding therein.  Sardou’s underbody therefore accounted for airflow from the sides, reducing the car’s sensitivity to yaw and changes in ride height.  It also generated a lot of downforce that the previously-dominant Porsche 935s lacked, as their low-mounted flat-six engines took up space the tunnels would require.

Brian Redman drove the first T-600, powered by a 350ci Chevrolet V-8, to victory at its first race at Laguna Seca in 1981.  He would later win the 1981 IMSA GT Driver’s Championship, finishing first or second in ten races that year.  In 1982, John Paul Jr. would win the IMSA GT Driver’s Championship, again in a Lola T-600.  Other teams would run Indy-derived turbocharged Chevrolet V-6s, heavily-turbocharged Porsche flat-sixes from the 935, and Ford-Cosworth V-8s, entering T-600s in the Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft and FIA Group C endurance series as well as IMSA GTP.

In addition to the IMSA GTP-focused T-600 chassis, Lola built two low-drag T-610 cars for a Le Mans 24h bid and a slicker, lighter T-616 car targeted at the smaller-engined FIA Group C-2 prototype class.  One of the four T-616 chassis, powered by a Mazda motor, won its class at Le Mans in 1984.  Another made somewhat unusual headlines by carrying the Polimotor, a four-cylinder engine derived from the Cosworth BDA that made 320hp from a 2.0l displacement and was made largely from plastic.  That motor never had any of its plastic parts fail, and was 150lbs lighter than its metal-block predecessor, but was never properly developed.

T600_tustinImage link goes to John Starkey Cars article on the Lola T-600

By 1983, the Lola T-600 was losing ground against the March 83G, and in 1984 the Porsche 962 sealed the T-600’s fate.  Dr. Sardou had left the T-600 project shortly after designing its underbody, and the car went undeveloped after its release — suicidal in the rapidly-advancing sports-car prototype world of the day.  Lola, however, continued as a major player in the IMSA GTP world, first developing a powerful but poorly-used chassis for the Corvette GTP car, then working with Nissan on their R89 and R90 Group C prototypes.  A number of Lola chassis are being campaigned in the 2009 American Le Mans Series, in both the LMP1 and LMP2 classes, and continue to rack up strong results — with a variety of engines — against factory works teams.



3 Responses to “Sunday night sports-cars: Lola T-600”

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    June 29, 2013 at 02:29

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