The financially crippled Lola Cars group has today announced it will place itself into voluntary administration as it continues its search for an investor who can bail it out of its latest financial mess.
The company, founded in 1958, has blamed the current European debt crisis for its current cashflow issues, leading to its latest decision.
“It is with enormous regret that a decision has been taken to issue Notices of intention to appoint an Administrator to Lola Cars International Limited and Lola Composites Limited,” a statement issued today reads.
“This step allows the board to continue its discussions with possible investors and prospective purchasers with a view to securing the best outcome for the staff, creditors and customers of both businesses.”
Lola’s chassis designs have featured in almost every major motorsport category in history, and of late, the company has enjoyed considerable success in endurance racing, claiming five LMP2 titles in the last dozen years.
Last year, it won the LMP1 and LMP2 constructors’ titles in the American Le Mans Series, as well as claiming the manufacturers’ crown in the Le Mans Series.
But one of the greatest mysteries about Lola is how it never managed to successfully crack Formula 1. When its founder Eric Broadley built his first sports racing car in 1957, Lola would go on to become the most productive racing car builder in history. Yet for all its efforts, it never made the grade in Formula 1, and frankly it never looked like coming close.
Its first attempt in Formula 1 came in 1962 when it built cars for the Bowmaker team. It was quick from the get-go, and John Surtees put the car on pole position for the year’s season-opener at Zandvoort. The Englishman scored a sequence of points’ finishes that year en route to fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, including second-placed finishes at the British and German Grands Prix.
When Surtees left to join Ferrari in 1963, team boss Reg Parnell kept the Lola chassis for another season, but it was not a successful venture.
Lola returned to the fray in 1967 to design its T130 chassis for Honda, and with Surtees behind the wheel of a car many dubbed the ‘Hondola’, the team won the Italian Grand Prix (a win which would be credited solely to Honda).
Lola was later asked to build cars for Graham Hill’s Embassy Racing team in 1974, and they continued into the 1975 season until Hill’s own bespoke chassis’ were ready for use.
Lola remained out of F1 again until 1985 with the Beatrice-Haas team, although its involvement was limited, save for the fact that Lola’s American importer Carl Haas was behind the project. It was not a success, and the team closed its doors at the end of 1986.
Undaunted, Lola joined forces with former F1 driver and team manager Gerard Larrousse, who had parted company with Renault and decided to go it alone with his own F1 team, co-founded with Didier Calmels. The project soldiered on for five seasons, with the team achieving sixth place in the Constructors’ Championship in 1990, courtesy of Aguri Suzuki’s third-placed finish at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Lola came back for another bite in 1993, this time partnering as the new chassis builder for the Scuderia Italia team. Despite being equipped with Ferrari engines and no less a talent than Michele Alboreto as lead driver, the T93/30 was a truly appalling car which frequently failed to qualify. The team collapsed before the year was out and merged with Minardi for the 1994 season.
Lola’s final crack at F1 came just a few years later, when Broadley decided that the only way Lola would make a proper first of F1 was to enter as a standalone venture.
The outfit set about testing a concept car – the T96/30, which was unique in its absence of an airbox – before hastily preparing an entry for the 1997 Formula 1 season.
The project was rushed with no testing; indeed, the T97/30 didn’t even undergo any windtunnel testing. Despite the team’s ambitious hopes, its final F1 fling lasted just the opening round of the season at the Australian Grand Prix, when neither Vincenzo Sospiri or Ricardo Rosset was able to qualify.
The margin by which they missed out on qualifying – the faster car being a mammoth 11 seconds a lap off the pace! – was simply staggering, and realising that he needed no less than a miracle to get onto the grid, Broadley called his team back to Lola HQ before the freight even arrived in Brazil ahead of the next Grand Prix.
With money extremely tight and no contingency measures in place to tide the team over, plans to return in time for the fourth race at Imola came to nothing. A rescue bid failed and the team was put into administration with millions owed to its creditors, taking parent company Lola Cars along with it while the mess was sorted out.
Irish motorsport enthusiast Martin Birrane took control of the operation and appointed former failed team owner Keith Wiggins to help sort the mess out.
Later on, the operation was taken over by Robin Brundle – brother of F1 racer/commentator Martin – who had held hopes that Lola could make a return to F1 as a constructor if the FIA were to open up tender opportunities for more teams to join the field. This, predictably, came to nought.
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