A RICH AND SUCCESSFUL HISTORY FOR LOLA AT SEBRING 12 HOURS
During Lola’s rich and varied history in endurance racing, Sebring has played a special part in enhancing the heritage of which the UK constructor remains immensely proud today. Undoubtedly, 1960 was a pivotal year for Lola. The success of Eric Broadley’s tiny 1150cc Lola Mk1 ensured that domestic competition was expanded to international assaults and the first ever US outing for any Lola was at the 1960 Sebring 12 Hours with entrant Charles Voegele’s Mk1, co-driven by Peter Ashdown who at the time was one of Great Britain’s rising stars.
It was an epic start with Voegele and Ashdown driving a flawless race to finish 17th overall but more importantly take the 1150cc class honours. Speaking a half a century later Ashdown remembers the weekend well: “Everything was so new to us in 1960. Eric came over and was essentially the engineer/test driver/mechanic and administrator. Charles was getting more and more competent behind the wheel and I was really finding my feet in the Mk1. The whole week went so well that Charles decided to do a whole year including Le Mans on the back of it. The Mk1 may have been small but it was certainly perfectly formed and was so reliable.”
More success followed in 1961 when Lola America was formed with Charles Kutz and Milard Ripley retaining the 1150cc class silverware for Lola. By 1963 the compact Mk1 was replaced by the monstrous Mk6 and a roaring Chevy engine. Augie Pabst and Walt Hansgen were entered for the new look Lola America team which was now managed by John Mecom and entered under the Texan oil magnate’s own name. A succession of Lola T70s entered the 12-hours in the mid and late 1960s with the Mk3B notching up 10 entries with evocative names such as AIR / James Garner, Penske Racing and Ulf Norinder. The best result for Lola in this period was a sixth overall in 1969 by Lothar Motschenbacher and Ed Leslie.
By 1971 the 2-litre Lolas came to the fore with the T210s and T212s showing nimbleness and staying power in Florida. The stellar trio of Larousse/ Bonnier and Wisell took sixth overall in 1972 in the famous yellow and red of Ecurie Bonnier.
The advent of Group C in the early 80s was too much of an engineering temptation to resist for Eric Broadley and the T600 entered by Ralph Kent-Cooke roared on to the Sebring airfield track in 1982 and 1983. The Mazda-engined and developed Lola T616 of Chuck Kendall, Paul Lewis and Max Jones ran in 1986, kick-starting a five year straight run for the T616 under the privateer Wonzer Racing concern.
If the US based Lola fans thought the T600 and T616 were potent, they hadn’t seen anything until the 1988 race when Sarel Van Der Merwe and Elliot Forbes Robinson tamed over 1000bhp + in the truly brutal T810 Lola-Chevrolet entered by NA SCAR legend Hendrick Racing.
A gap of nine years’ inactivity at Sebring followed but after present owner Martin Birrane saved the company in 1997, one of his first visions was of taking on the endurance challenge. The Lola B98/10 was the first product since the Group C T92/10 and a trio of the new cars were entered in 99 with DAM S, Intersport and Multimatic returning Lola to the Sebring fray.
The LMP675 Lola B2K/40 and then the B01/60 had great success in the last decade. Several class wins by Intersport (2002 and 2006), Dyson Racing (2003), Miracle Motorsport (2004) ensured long overdue silverware for Lola. A second place overall as well for Intersport Racing in 2006 remains Lola’s best ever result at the 12 Hours.
A new generation of Lola LMP1 and LMP2 cars quickly invaded the ALMS scene from 2006 onwards with the Dyson Racing, Intersport and Autocon teams. The Aston Martin-powered Lola LMP1 scored a superb podium place in 2010 with Stefan Mücke, Harold Primat and Adrian Fernandez enjoying the champagne.
Last year saw the Level 5 team have a dream start to their LMP adventure when they won the LMP2 class with the Lola B11/40 LMP2 open car. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Tucker and Luis Diaz taking the top step of the podium on the cars competitive debut.