Chapman’s Lotus To Take Encore Laps At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2015
The famed Wood Brothers perform pit work on the then-revolutionary Lola at Indianapolis in 1965. (Photo courtesy of the Wood Brother Racing team)

The famed Wood Brothers crew perform pit work on the then-revolutionary Lotus at Indianapolis in 1965. (Photo courtesy of the Wood Brother Racing team)

Mike Harris | Senior Writer

INDIANAPOLIS – Representatives of the Henry Ford, a museum located in Dearborn, Mich., are on hand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Jimmy Clark’s win in the 1965 Indy 500.

bugindy500The sleek and iconic Lotus 38/1, designed and built by British legend Colin Chapman and powered by a specially built Ford V8, was the first rear-engine car to win at Indy, ushering in a new era of racing at the famed Brickyard.

The project was a collaboration among Chapman, American racer and car-builder Dan Gurney and Ford, all hoping that bringing Formula One technology to Indy would give them a leg up. It worked, although it took three tries to get to Victory Circle.

Clark, a Scotsman, was the first foreign driver to win the 500 since 1916, becoming the first driver to average over 150 mph (150.686). It was also Ford’s first win at the speedway.

Three-time Indy winner Dario Franchitti, who venerates the memory of his countryman who
died in a racing accident before Franchitti was born, will drive the restored car during the parade laps prior to Sunday’s 99th running of the 500-mile race.

Asked if he ever thought he would get to drive the famous Lotus, Franchitti said, “I got to touch it once.”

The Lotus that Jimmy Clark drove, Ford powered and the Wood Brothers pitted in 1965, will make a redux at Indy. On hand at Indy Thursday were, from left, Lotus Classic's Clive Chapman, son of team-owner Colin Chapman; Christian Overland, vice president of The Henry Ford museum and colleague Matt Anderson; Dario Franchitti, a three-time Indy 500 champion who grew up in Scotland as a Jim Clark fan, and Leonard Wood, whose Wood Brothers NASCAR pit crew serviced the No. 82 to victory on May 31, 1965. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

The Lotus that Jimmy Clark drove, Ford powered and the Wood Brothers pitted in 1965, will make a redux at Indy. (RacinToday photo by Martha Fairris)

He also got to test drive it briefly here at the speedway last month.

“It was amazing,’’ the retired driver said Thursday at the speedway. “I was being very, very careful. I didn’t want to take any chances with it. But, on the last lap, I gave it about half throttle going onto the back stretch and it just took off. The power surge was unbelievable.’’

Also on hand Thursday were Clive Chapman, Colin’s son and current head of Classic Team Lotus, and Leonard Wood, part of the original Wood Brothers race team, credited with inventing the modern pit stop and hired by Ford to pit Clark in the 1965 race.

“We had been working on improving pit stops since 1960,’’ Wood said. “By 1965, we had pretty much figured it out.’’

Wood said the brothers from Stuart, Va., were somewhat fearful that Chapman’s crew would resent their presence. Instead, they were welcomed with open arms.

“The only problem we had was the first day when one of those guys said, `I hope you guys pit faster than you talk.’ They made us feel like part of the team as soon as we walked in the door.”

Clark ran the entire race without having to change what were then treaded tires, but the decision to hire the Wood Brothers paid off big when they figured out a way to refuel the car seconds faster than anyone else, giving Clark a huge boost on the track.

“One of my brothers came looking for me a couple of days before the race and he couldn’t find me,’’ Wood said. “I had burrowed my way inside the big fuel tank (from which the cars were refueled at trackside) and was polishing the inside, to make it smoother and allow the fuel to flow better. We also moved the place where the fuel was put into the car to make it easier to reach and get a smoother flow.

“When we got done and tried it, one of the Chapman guys said he’d bet me $1,000 we couldn’t get 20 gallons of fuel in the car in 15 seconds. They had a guy timing it and we got 58 gallons in in 15 seconds. Wish I’d taken that bet.’’

It was an amazing success for such a radically new car, even if it did take three tries.

“All the drawings were done in three months,’’ Clive Chapman said. “The car took to the track six months after the start of the project. The Ford engine was the heart of the whole project and the car was fast from the first day it ran.’’

It was also loud.

“I’ve worked on a lot of engines in my life and I know a beautiful engine when I hear it,’’ Wood said. “That was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard.’’

Now Wood and everyone else on hand Sunday at Indy can look forward to hearing that beautiful sound and seeing that sleek Lotus for at least a few laps.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 21 2015
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