Today’s news about Lola Cars International entering administration is pretty depressing. When I started following motor sport in the 1980s, ingenious British racing car manufacturers such as Eric Broadley’s Lola ruled the racing formulae outside of F1.
In International Formula 3000 for example, Huntingdon-based Lola were joined by the likes of Reynard (from Bicester and later Brackley), Ralt (Australian-originated, but based in Woking) and March (Bicester again).
Their individual fortunes ebbed and flowed, but between them their chassis won every F3000 championship from the formula’s inception in 1985 to its finish in 2004.
Across the Atlantic, there was a time when to succeed in the Champ Car single-seater series you had to have a March, Lola or Reynard. Even US racing team Penske set up a base in Poole, Dorset to manufacturer its chassis.
It was an altogether simpler and more accessible time, where racing teams could buy a chassis from one of the aforementioned teams, bolt in an engine – often an off-the-peg Cosworth V8 – and go motor racing at an international level.
I like to think that the level of competition and rivalry between Lola, March, Ralt and Reynard in the 1980s was one of the reasons those companies continued to prosper on the international racing scene for such a sustained period. It was certainly a key reason why Britain’s motor racing industry was the envy of the world.
For a motor sport fan, it was also much more exciting. Myriad chassis and engine possibilities added a level of interest, competition and colour that’s not matched by today’s international single-seater racing, which tends to revolve around one chassis, one engine, one tyre manufacturer and subsequently seems rather flat and artificial.
That move towards single-chassis race championships can been seen as one of the reasons why opportunities dried up for the likes of Reynard, Ralt and March, all of which effectively disappeared from international-level motor racing.
Lola has been in administration before – in the late-1990s, following a disastrous attempt to enter F1 that drained the company’s coffers and resources. That time, the company bounced back brightly when Irish entrepreneur Martin Birrane took over. Let’s hope a similarly keen investor can be found this time around.