|Emerson Fittipaldi at Monza 1971|
'Pratt and Whitney', two names synonomous with the world of aviation for producing engines. Yet in 1971 the cutting edge Lotus team married a such an engine to a Formula 1 car. The result was the gas turbined Lotus 56B, a radical approach to speed whose journey and development proved bitter sweet.
|The 1949/50 'Rover Jet 1|
Rover had been experimenting with gas turbined cars, producing 'JET1' in 1949. After further development and prototypes they paired up with BRM to enter the Le Mans 24 hours in '63 and '65. A best place of 8th showed some promise and potential.
|1965 Rover-BRM Le Mans entry|
|Like Father Like Son: Damon Hill driving his Dad's 59|
|The 'Silent Sam' with its side by side engine layout|
The potential was recognised by Colin Chapman's legendary Team Lotus, a team always pushing the boundaries of engineering technology. Impressed with the British outfit's proven track record the STP oil corporation duly supplied sponsorship money. Andy Granatelli worked alongside Colin Chapman and Lotus designer Maurice Philippe to produce a contender. The same Pratt and Whitney ST6 engines were supplied with some small modifications. With Team Lotus' creative chassis design and resources the result was a much more sophisticated effort than 'Silent Sam'. It featured a low slung nose to give the car an aerodynamic 'wedge' shape. Coupled with the Lotus ethos of keeping overall weight to an absolute minimum the design clawed back the lost ground from the air restrictor plate.
|Graham Hill at the 'Brick Yard', aka Indianapolis|
Entering the 1968 Indianapolis 500 with four cars the project was to star the phenomenal talent of Jim Clark. The double Formula 1 World Champion had already won the famous race in 1965 and was teamed with the equally successful Graham Hill. Sadly Clark was killed in a Formula 2 race at Hockenheim that year and was replaced by Mike Spence. The tragedy was to be further compounded before the race began. The car proved competitive in practice when Spence set the fastest average speed of 169.55 mph. However when misjudging the entry to the first corner his car smashed into the unforgiving concrete wall. The right front wheel entered the cockpit and left the 31 year old with fatal head injuries. The three remaining cars of Graham Hill, Joe Leonard and Art Pollard entered the race. Pollard was the last team car remaining and with a few laps to go narrowly missed out on victory, retiring from the lead with fuel pump failure. The 'Silent Sam' STP-Paxton entry had missed the grid after a previous crash in qualifying. It seemed only a matter of time before a gas turbine powered car was going to take victory at Indy. Unfortunately a new raft of rules from the governing body would make this form of propulsion uncompetitive.
|Fittipaldi in the 56B|
The car debuted at the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch that March. Emerson Fittipaldi qualified 7th but retired with suspension failure. The same problem plagued the car at the next two non-championship meetings, but Fittipaldi managed 3rd place in the final heat. What was becoming apparent was the four wheel drive made the 56B untouchable in wet conditions. However in the dry this system would have produced undesirable understeer making driving this strange car even more of a challenge. According to Fittipaldi it was "very difficult to drive. Very very difficult. We knew we would have to do a lot of development on that car to make it competitive, but it never gave good results."
|The Pratt and Whitney ST6 in the back of the 56B, Monza|
"I think this was a blind alley because if we had eventually become successful with it, it would promptly have been banned and then a great deal of money would have been wasted. It happened before at Indy, where the four-wheel drive turbine cars were banned as soon as they started to be successful. Unfortunately the innovator in motor racing is often penalised the moment he produces something of benefit to himself and which makes his cars go faster than those of other competitors. If I could have been sure of at least two year's stability, I would have carried on with developing it, because the turbine is a very good converter of torque. What was wrong with it in Grand is that we ran it with four-wheel drive. If we had built a two-wheel-drive turbine I think that with its smoothness, its very high torque at low rpm and the power it was capable of producing under the formula equivalence, it woukd have been very competitive." -Colin Chapman, Team Lotus
|The sole remaining Lotus 56B at Autosport International 2016|