Motor Racing: Lola's exports prove the choice of experts: Most Indianapolis 500 drivers will rely on a British marque of class in Sunday's race. Patrick Miles reports

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The Independent Online
A WEEK after the European excess of the Monaco Grand Prix, the Americans are holding their own tribute to sporting dementia at Indianapolis. Indy drivers are the bravest of them all and the 500 is as American as apple pie and acid rain.

But there are no all-American cars in the Indy 500, despite what the labels say. Lola Cars Ltd, a spotless hive of industry in Cambridgeshire, would have this observation suppressed in the name of Anglo-American diplomacy, but the fact remains.

Lola, founded in 1958 in Bromley, Kent, and now based in Huntingdon, has built 28 of the 33 cars for the Indy 500 on Sunday. Nigel Mansell, the Formula One world champion, will be sitting in a Lola in the middle of the third row - waiting for a dignitary to say 'Lady and gentlemen, start your engines' - as will all but two of the drivers ahead of him.

Lola's domination, which is apparent throughout the entire CART IndyCar racing series in the United States, leaves just five American-built cars in the field, but they house engines constructed in Britain. The big names are present: Ford and Chevrolet. But they are in name only. The engines are, in fact, made by Cosworth and Ilmor, who have contracts with the famous American marques.

Whichever way you turn - and it is only ever to the left on the Indianapolis oval - British skill and technology is flashing past. It is a historical phenomenon. The Americans and the Japanese have mastered the mass market while the Europeans have spent millions going racing.

The Americans and the Japanese are Lola's biggest customers. In 1991, in a turnover of pounds 13.7m, the company sold pounds 12.5m worth of racing cars abroad: IndyCars and their junior version, Indy Lights, in North America, and Formula 3000 cars to the Japanese for their own championship.

Eric Broadley, the founder, chairman and chief designer of Lola, is the man with a vision. Except that he cannot remember exactly what it was. 'It was 35 years ago,' he said. In that time, he has built up the company from a 1172cc Ford-engined Broadley Special in a garage in 1957 to a plant whose output last year was 26 IndyCars (at pounds 400,000 each, minus engine), 26 F3000 cars and three Group C sportscars.

'We're really always looking for a new challenge, which is what you have to do,' he said. 'But the IndyCar situation is good at the moment. We can't afford to take our eyes off it and we're continuously developing.'

Broadley, a quiet, intense man who is completely self-effacing about the business awards and personal

honours he has been given, had just returned from Monte Carlo where, in a trying weekend, he watched one of his Lola BMS-Ferraris fail to qualify and the other break down in the race. 'I don't want to talk about Formula One really,' he says after a lengthy pause. But later he does, and with serious emotion. 'Hard work' are the words which frequently occur in Broadley's assessments of his company's success. He is thoughtful. Then he will smile disarmingly, in the manner his name suggests.

He is not going to the Indy 500 this year but he was there during qualifying. 'It's a good show,' he said. 'The Indy is a tradition. Thousands of people . . . but 20 per cent of them never see the race. They're pissed out of their minds.'

Lola, who are the champion manufacturers in IndyCars through their 'special relationship' with Mansell's Newman-Haas team, say they do not really mind which of their cars wins on Sunday, but they would be 'very disappointed' if none of them does.

Broadley believes that IndyCars and Formula One can co-exist happily but that the latter is becoming a little messy as the governing body tries to close the gap between the teams by limiting technology. In this regard IndyCars have an advantage because the teams govern the sport.

In the case of Formula One, Broadley says technology has 'spread the field too wide' and that 'the teams must get together and agree' on the rate of development. Then he says: 'If you allow technology to go wild in CART racing, you'll destroy it.'

Lola have been in and out of Formula One with mixed results. Broadley said he would like the company to have their own team but with a minimum requirement of pounds 10m even to think about going to a grand prix, he has settled for a partnership with Scuderia Italia.

Broadley says Lola build Formula One cars and IndyCars basically the same way but for two main differences, necessitated by the rules governing the two forms of racing. For one, IndyCar engines are turbo- charged and therefore require appropriate housing; and, as Broadley says, 'a Formula One car is a brick. They have a flat bottom while IndyCars have aerodynamic under-wing shapes. The rules govern the aero-

dynamic differences.'

Lola's commitment to IndyCars dates back to their first year in the US, 1965, and their victory in the Indy 500 the following year with the rookie Graham Hill at the wheel. Now, even if they do not like to boast about it, they are consistently beating the Americans in their own Brickyard.

(Photographs omitted)