In 1976 Ted Wentz won the UK Indylantic championship driving the Swan Lager-sponsored Lola T460, he faced stiff competition from Tony Trimmer, also in a Lola, the Boxer of Tony Rouff, the Sana of Terry Perkins and the Chevrons of Alo Lawler, Phil Dowsett and Jim Crawford. Below Ted rememebers his T460 with great fondness.
"Let's see - the Lola T460.
For what it's worth I think that the Lola 460 was the greatest racing car I ever drove.
I remember after the 1976 season was over and we had won the championship Lola, who had not been selling many cars in the UK invited prospective clients to test the car (at Brands I think). Among others Alo Lawler drove the car and set some cracking lap times. After he pulled into the pits he jumped out of the car and said it was the easiest car to drive fast he had ever experienced and that he could've won the championship in that car. He was astonished that a car could feel so confidence inspiring. His enthusiasm didn't surprise me, although I might've disagreed with the championship part.
To understand the T460 you have to start with it's predecessor the T360 and the philosophy of Lola Cars.
Throughout the seventies and later Lola was pretty much dominated by Illinois car dealer and race team owner Carl Haas. Nearly all of Lola's production went to Carl and they pretty much built whatever he wanted. This was a very lucrative arrangement for both parties and because of it Carl as the USA's exclusive Lola importer pretty much gobbled up all of Lola's production capacity. This left very few cars being campaigned in the UK.
Add to this the fact that Carl wanted his cars to be very easy to set up and drive for amateur American club racers. Since racing cars are always a compromise the T360 being designed to be very forgiving was in fact a bit off the pace. Why? Well the car has pretty long and wide tracked. It's weight distribution was overly rear biased and although this gave the car a nice comfortable bit of understeer it killed the aggressive turn in that puts you on pole. And the car was hard on its suspension. Hard cars are easy to set up, but they lose out in wet conditions and on bumpy surfaces. Ironically these facts made the T360 a much better F2 car than and FA car, but that's a great story for another day. Finally the T360 featured a tub that was shared with other Lola Formula cars and was adapted to it's FA mission. Kind of a jack of all trades master of none situation. But don't get me wrong here, the T360 was a nice car, heck we won a championship in it, it's just that we knew we had to do better to be competitive.
Toward the end of the '75 season Eric Broadly was putting the finishing touches on a development car that included novel ideas about suspension that he'd been wanting to try for some time. All that year we had a fabulous relationship with the factory and they were constantly helping us try new bits and setups. So when they showed up at Silverstone with this car I was really keen to try it. They had grafted this very soft narrow track suspension onto an existing T360 tub. The geometry was such that as the car rolled the roll center shifted radically upward giving an effective rising rate on relatively soft springs. The car felt a little strange at first, but after getting used to it it really went well as long as you didn't try to slide it too much. It was the first car that I drove at Snetterton that you could take the long sweeping Coram Curve totally flat and stay flat all the way through Russell past the pits and down to Riches. I don't know what it's like now, but at the time that was really attention getting. Bobby Rahal came over from the States and drove the same car at Snetterton and very quickly got sown to some competitive lap times. We knew we were on to something."
"Over the winter Lola's designer Bob Marston penned an immensely strong tub that pushed the driver further forward in the car in front of a centrally mounted fuel cell. To this a revised version of the narrow track development suspension was fitted. We also fitted the largest F2 brakes and a much smaller tail section. On paper the new car addressed all of the 360's shortcomings while adding a few new wrinkles of it's own. One of the coolest features was something I've never seen before or since. We allowed for an adjustable roll center for the upper front and rear suspension links. This way the car could be quickly changed to a very comfortable wet weather setting on the grid if necessary. It worked beautifully. You wouldn't believe how easy that car was to drive fast in the wet.
We did lots of testing, but from the first time I sat in that car I knew we had the weapon we needed to win races. The car had massive grip in corners, turned in like a fighter jet, and had telepathic brake feel. It's biggest weakness was perhaps some straight line speed, but that could be cured with development. We did a lot of testing, but never really varied the basic configuration. It was a great car to race because you always felt that you could do better than whoever you came up against.
So why was the car disliked in the States? I can answer that in one word - Tires. On tyres such as our British Goodyears the car was spectacular. On Tires such as the American Goodyears it was nasty. You see we never tested the car on American tires during the racing season. It wasn't until October of the '76 season the Carl sent over some American Goodyear tires for us to test the car on. I remember arriving a Snetterton on a really cold morning with the car sitting there on the American Goodyears ready to go. You have to bear in mind that the races held in America were normally in quite hot weather and the American tires were of a fairly hard compound compared to what we used. The construction was different too. To make a long story short I went out on the tires and couldn't even get them up to a temperature where they began to offer any grip. We learned nothing useful that day. Believe it or not, we never tested on the American tires again.
I had been in North America a few months prior to that test and Carl had put me in one of Pierre Phillips cars at Gimli to see if the American run T460's could be competitve. Tom Klauser was having some limited success but the benchmark at that time was Gilles Villeneuve. I had a really bad race weekend. With virtually no practice time I couldn't get the car set up to my liking. After Gilles lapped me in his March I followed him for a while to see how his car was set up. Then along came Tom. You could see that Tom's car was set up much softer than Gilles and it was obviously costing him time. It was pretty obvious to me that if these cars had benefited from the amount of testing that we were able to do in England they would've been quite competitive.
Maybe Carl should have hired Gilles.
The T460 has a lot of suspension travel and thus really needs to be set up right. When it's right it's a fabulous car to drive. About a year ago I saw a T460 for sale on the internet - almost bought it just to play with.