Driving a Lola F 5000
The Lola cars were built by Eric Broadley
in the UK, and it is rumoured that he coined the name after
the musical score, Whatever Lola Wants - Lola Gets! Having
been involved in the production of racing cars myself, I know
what Broadley would have felt. As you design and then build a
race car, it becomes top priority. The family starves before
the car is deprived of parts!
Many people wonder just what the
fire-breathing F 5000 cars were like to drive, and let me
assure you, that is exactly what they were. Fire breathers! 5
litre Chev V8’s delivering 550-600 BHP stuffed in the back
of an F1 style chassis weighing just over 600 kgs all up with
fuel and oil. I have had that opportunity to drive one, so
read on and see what it is like to do 300 kays per hour in a
Firstly a little about “my” Lola. This
was a Lola T 430, one of only three ever built as a special
order for Count Van Der Straaten for the VDS Team. These were
not related to the T 330/T 332/T 400 series cars, but were
three specials using, it is presumed, a smaller F 2 tub.
Brackets had to be added to the central tub to get the
suspension pick-up points far enough outboard, and at one
stage these cars were even known as the “Flying Brackets.”
As all modern race cars it was rear engined,
with the 5 litre Chev mated to a Hewland DG 300 transaxle
(gearbox and differential combined). Very wide slicks, huge
wing and large discs on all four wheels naturally. These were
purpose built 5 litre race cars that would do 0-160 kays in
4.6 seconds and a standing quarter of a mile in under 10
seconds. Of the three cars, one was destroyed in a race crash,
one is in America and this particular car I last saw
advertised for crazy money in a NZ magazine.
As I got in to drive the car for the first
time, the owner said, “Imagine you are sitting in a coffin,
surrounded by petrol, with 500 pounds of engine and gearbox on
your back and using your feet as the front bumper!” With
those cautionary words ringing in my ears I fired up 600
horsepower of Chevrolet.
These cars were before the auto
transmission, steering wheel flippers of today’s F1 car.
There was a strong clutch pedal to depress, a right hand gear
shift, and a tachometer to tell you when you reached 7,000 RPM
and it was time to change gear again.
And change gear you do, as there is so much
power to weight that as soon as you have found 3rd gear, you
are looking for 4th and then 5th. This is not a high revving
“peaky” engine, but an engine with Grunt. And that is a
capital G! At Calder Raceway in Victoria, Australia, Lola and
I did 300 kph down the short straightaway. It would have done
more if the straight had been longer.
Driving an F 5000 has been described as,
“Like throwing a four pound sledge hammer handle first.”
The weight is all in the tail, and indiscriminate jumping on
the go pedal half way round a corner will see the rear bite
and the front of the car lift and jump across the race
surface. These are cars that demand concentration and demand
to be driven into and around corners by people who are not
afraid of four pound sledge hammer throwing!
It is actually very difficult to drive
these things slowly. Get too low in the revs and the car
“lumps” its way around the track as you have got off the
power curve. The car will also not steer nicely in the corners
and you find that you are taking the bends in a series of
“swoops” rather than a smooth line. These vehicles need to
be driven hard to make the job easier, even though that sounds
a bit of an oxymoron.
The technique to going quick in one of
these jiggers is to leave the braking as late as possible, and
enter the corner under brakes, so that the front tyres are
biting. Now you gently feed in the power and as you get past
the apex of the corner you can start using as much welly as
you dare. You will find you come out of the corner so fast
that you are immediately looking for the next gear up, and
before you know it, there is another corner in front of you.
Brakes - gears - turn in - smooth power - to full power and
you’re away again.
The T 430 was known as a ‘nervous’ car,
and “mine” certainly was that day. Too much accelerator
too soon would see the Lola scrabbling for traction - none of
your sissy ‘traction control’ in one of these. With
undulations in the track surface, the Lola becomes
“squirrelly” and you rely on the huge back tyres to push
the car straight again. The F 5000 is not a car to relax in,
it is a vehicle that demands intense concentration. You do not
have to be Charles Atlas to drive one, but you need your full
faculties of concentration. 50 laps in one of these is more of
a mental exercise than a physical exercise.
The cornering speeds are so high, that you
don’t look and drive to a visual apex. You ‘sense’ where
the car is, relative to the track, and work out what
correction you have to do with your brain. Quite different
from road driving which is a visual sensory input. Driving
something as quick as the F 5000 needs you to have your
vestibular system working overtime (that’s the part of your
inner ear that tells you where you are in space and whether
you are upside down). You are not driving by the seat of your
pants - you are driving with what’s between your ears!
To reinforce that, when you are driving an
open wheeler at speed you do not “see” the front wheels.
You know they are there, but they “disappear” as you
concentrate on getting the car around the corner at the
fastest speed possible. You do not have the time to look at
the wheels, you are looking several hundred metres down the
track and just letting your peripheral vision pick up the
However, even though it is not the most
physical pursuit you can do, driving an F 5000 does have a
physical side. Physical pain. You may have read of drivers
having a “seat fitting” before going to test a race car,
and this is most important. You have to be comfortable in
them. The G forces in the corners and under brakes are so high
that unless the seat is a very snug fit, you move around in
the vehicle (even though you are wearing a 6 point harness)
and bang bits of your body on all sorts of tubes and
These were real “men’s” cars (although a couple of
ladies did compete in the category). Big, noisy and ballsy
(which is why none of the ladies who tried them were too
successful in them). I am happy to have left my fingerprints
in one! And 300 kays ain’t hanging about either!