Lola aiming high in the fast lane

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The Independent Online
He stepped, almost sheepishly, on to the stage, looking more like a benign grandfather than a Formula One protagonist, and declared his intention to win the World Championship within four years.

Even given motor racing's propensity to lay on the sales pitch, that rates as a fairly bold pledge. This team boss has had, in differing guises, a number of earlier shots at grand prix racing, the more recent ending in dismal failure. His latest car was completed at 2 o'clock yesterday morning and, a week from now, after just a couple of days' testing, it will be bound for Australia and the opening race of the World Championship, on 9 March.

What is more, the driving force behind this venture is a bearded, bespectacled figure of 68. The alternative of carpet slippers and comfortable armchair is patently repugnant to Eric Broadley. "If I wasn't motor racing, I'd be sailboat racing," he said, disarmingly.

He is not likely to have much time to indulge himself in his other passion this year. While his 250-strong workforce, at Huntingdon, continues to supply chassis for IndyCars, Indy Lights and Formula 3000 teams, the company is now mounting its first sole assault on racing's premier category. A Lola engine will eventually replace the Ford unit currently powering the car.

Broadley said: "The company's ready. It's the right time for us. Formula One is already huge, but it is going to take off in a new dimension and we need to be part of it. Our future is in Formula One. I think Formula One has been a bit predictable and now we are seeing new teams, like ourselves and Stewart, and Bridgestone Tyres, coming in."

Despite a race win with Honda, in 1967, Formula One remains the unconquered peak on Broadley's horizon. He founded the company 39 years ago, which means, after Ferrari, Lola will be the longest established racing team in this season's World Championship. Five IndyCar championships and three victories in the Indianapolis 500 testify to the experience and expertise he has developed within the company. Two of his more celebrated old boys are Patrick Head and John Barnard.

But can he genuinely expect to scale the heights this time? Many consider Broadley an avuncular dreamer; he maintains he has a realistic chance. "Customer teams are a way of life in IndyCars but in Formula One the teams are integrated," he said. "You can't compete in Formula One in the way we attempted with Scuderia Italia in 1993 and we decided then that we would not come in again unless we did so with our own team.

"I like challenges and I'm excited by this one, but what I am doing is not for my own satisfaction. We have a company. The thing has a life of its own and we are attempting to steer this large animal. What I am doing is right for the company.

"We're coming in to make a serious attempt on the World Championship, not this year, or next, but between now and our achieving that objective we hope to win a few points."

Broadley, who discourages the "chief designer" syndrome nurtured by his rivals, penned the basics of the car that was unveiled in London yesterday. He has a four-year sponsorship deal with Mastercard and two drivers of no mean ability in the Italian Vincenzo Sospiri and Brazil's Ricardo Rosset.

Broadley is confident his drivers will qualify for the races and that building his own engine will not stretch the company too far. He said: "I don't believe it costs $100m to produce an engine and you're not going to win in Formula One without a super engine. If we do a good job for the drivers, they will do a good job for us."

Some say it is too late for Broadley but, of course, he does not agree. "I suppose we probably should have done this 20 years ago," he conceded. "But we did a lot of other things instead and we're still here."