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The Lotus 56 STP Oil Treatment Special for the 1968 Indianapolis 500

The Lotus 56 was designed by Maurice Philippe as Lotus 1968 entry in the Indianapolis 500, replacing the successful Lotus 38.

Contents

Indianapolis 500

Based on Parnelli Jones' STP Granatelli turbine car ("Silent Sam") that almost won in 1967, Colin Chapman's team again produced an even more innovative design. The 56 was shaped like a wedge on wheels, in the same vein as the later Lotus 72, which was also designed by Philippe (who had replaced Len Terry, the designer of previous Lotus Indy 500 cars)[1] and Chapman. The engine of the 56 was also noteworthy, as it was a Pratt & Whitney gas turbine engine of over 500 bhp (370 kW) and 1560 nm (1150.44 lb/ft) . To get the best out of the power produced, the 56 was fitted with four wheel drive, something also used on the Lotus 63 without success.

Jim Clark was enthused about the car in testing, but he was tragically killed in an F2 Lotus 48 in April 1968 before he could qualify the car at Indy - an occasion in which Mike Spence died in the 56, adding more tragedy to Team Lotus.

Nevertheless, Graham Hill, Joe Leonard, and Art Pollard were entered for the race, with Leonard claiming pole position. In the race Leonard was leading with ease with just a handful of laps to go when the engine failed. Lotus' innovation incurred the wrath of the governing body of American motorsport, and USAC deemed turbine cars and four wheel drive illegal shortly after, much to Chapman's frustration.

The 56 would not be a total loss in any event. It inspired the Formula Ford 61 and, in combination with wings (pioneered by the 49), would transform Formula One.[2]

Formula One

Undeterred by USAC's decision to ban the 56's technology, Chapman developed the car as a potential F1 machine after the failure of the Lotus 63, but while the car was promising, it was too heavy and too overcomplicated for F1. The car was designated as the 56B and Emerson Fittipaldi tried it in the 1971 Race of Champions and International Trophy non-Championship meetings. At Brands Hatch, during wet practice, the 56 was far and away the fastest car on the track, but the race was held in dry weather and the car was lost in midfield. At the Silverstone-based International Trophy, the car only lasted three laps of the first heat before suspension failure forced Fittipaldi's retirement. Dave Walker ran the car in the Dutch Grand Prix, and had progressed from 22nd to 10th in five laps of the very wet track, before sliding off the road and into retirement. Fittipaldi used the car again in that year's 1971 Italian Grand Prix and managed to bring the fragile design home 8th. By then Chapman decided to cut his losses and abandoned the 56, the four wheel drive concept and the gas turbine engine to concentrate on the Lotus 72 (heir to the 56's wedge and 49's wings),[2] which went on to win the drivers' and constructors' championships for Lotus in 1972.

Formula One World Championship results

(key)

Year Entrant Engine Tyres Driver 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 WCC Pts.
1971 Team Lotus Pratt & Whitney turbine F RSA ESP MON NED FRA GBR GER AUT ITA CAN USA 21* 5th
Emerson Fittipaldi 8
Reine Wisell NC
Dave Walker Ret

* No points with the Lotus 56B

Notes

  1. ^ Setright, L.J.K., "Lotus: The Golden Mean", in Northey, Tom, ed. World of Automobiles (London: Orbis, 1974), Volume 11, p.1233.
  2. ^ a b Setright, p.1234.

See also

Gas turbine

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