Classic Team Lotus provides a vital link from the successful F1 team to the present day. Here’s how it celebrated the marque’s 75th anniversary with a hectic Goodwood Revival outing.
Classic Team Lotus holds a unique place in the world of historic motor racing. Established in 1992, it overlapped the active years of the original Team Lotus and, with Clive Chapman – son of marque founders Colin and Hazel – at the helm, it provides a direct link between today and the glory days of the Hethel squad.
The spirit of the ‘garagista’ still pervades CTL, with 22 team and privately owned cars (11 of which were to be raced) in its care at the Goodwood Revival earlier this year. Normally, the operation would run six to 10 cars at this kind of event, but 2023 is a special year.
The Revival was celebrating 75 years of Lotus with a parade of examples representing the company’s ‘Colin and Hazel’ era, from the recently completed replica of their first trials car up to 1983’s Type 92 – and being driven by some famous faces including Johnny Herbert and Karun Chandhok. This made it the ideal occasion for seeing what it takes to run a major historic racing team at a high-profile event, so Motorsport.com travelled to Sussex for a very hot, and occasionally wet, weekend in September to join them.
Running any historic car tends to bring a particular set of problems with it. Demonstrating or competing in an old racing car even more so, not least because they may have unique features or have been designed to requirements that do not promote longevity.
An increasingly busy season, the creeping extension of which has eroded the opportunities for off-season maintenance, has forced a rolling programme of preparation for major events. Consequently, a flexibility to demands on Classic Team Lotus’s time has to be maintained if challenging schedules are to be met. One illustration of this is that Clive Chapman was only informed early this year that Lotus would be the featured marque at Goodwood.
Amid this tight timeframe, CTL’s achievement in fulfilling the obligations for the event is all the more remarkable when you consider that the Mk1 replica was only started in February, the Mk3 and Type 27 had to be recommissioned, the new-build Colotti gearbox on the iconic Rob Walker/Stirling Moss Type 18 arrived just in time to be fitted, the Type 16 (an ex-Graham Hill car) had a major gearbox rebuild, and Andrew Beaumont’s Type 22 was still in need of a ratio change when it arrived at the circuit.
Yet all of the cars were in the paddock on the Wednesday, Thursday was given over to preparation, and on Friday the public came through the gates. Among the more unusual cars they were able to see was the 56B turbine machine from 1971.
“The 56B is only running because of COVID – the team needed something to do as there weren’t any events taking place,” explains Chapman. “Colin was looking at it as a [alternative] power source because he didn’t want to have to pay Cosworth for their engines. Colin was really excited by the turbine and would have been up for electric cars.”
CTL’s commitment to support so many cars at Goodwood led to four trusted ‘volunteer’ mechanics being brought in to supplement the eight-strong core team. Among them was the inaugural recipient of the Simon Diffey Heritage Motorsport Apprentice Award, Emilia Brown, previously seconded to CTL through the scheme. In recognition of the outstanding team effort at this year’s Revival, Classic Team Lotus was proud to be awarded the Simon Diffey Spirit of Goodwood Trophy.
Talking to Chapman, it’s apparent that he maintains an overview throughout the event, while team manager and CTL co-founder Chris Dinnage takes responsibility for detailed planning and preparation. Having built a strong team around them, there is little need for micromanagement and, while considered conversations take place, no direct instructions are seemingly given – and it’s never felt there’s a need to. Mark Hicks, who joined CTL three years ago after a distinguished career covering multiple Formula 1 teams and the Bentley Le Mans programme, when pressed, describes the world of historic motorsport as “more relaxed [than F1] but more chaotic”.
For some, Saturday’s activities finish at 2030 in a near-deserted paddock when the 77 is once more declared fit for service
Within this chaos, CTL operates with slick precision, the cars in its care allocated to the various mechanics who take responsibility for them during the event. This includes ensuring that schedules for fuelling and positioning pre-race are met, along with providing timing and pitlane support, plus, of course, addressing any problems that may arise. If there is time between these activities, then each member seeks to help the others. With 10 customer cars racing and 21 in the parade, where slow-speed running exacerbates cooling issues under the blazing sun, such self-motivation is essential.
Dinnage, who has spent over 41 years at Team Lotus and CTL, perhaps provides a clue to the roots of this work ethic when he recalls the team dynamics during the last hurrah for the black-and-gold cars in the 1980s. “There were only 20 team members at the circuit and 80 at the factory,” he recalls. “We all worked together and you were encouraged to think for yourself.”
Unexpected problems ensure there are a couple of late nights at Goodwood, but the scheduling of the races helps, allowing Saturday to be allocated for general preparation. Tim Gardiner spends an uncomfortable day in the heat rebuilding the rear of Beaumont’s Type 18 after a driveshaft failed, but non-starting engines and fading clutches are more of a theme.
Both the Type 22 and one of the Type 79s have problems when firing up, the former due to a stuck starter motor burning out, while the latter is simply temperamental when warm. With no suitable spares, and no obvious problems with the recalcitrant Cosworth DFV, the pragmatic solution in each case is to push-start them.
Meanwhile, the Type 77 – an F1 race winner in 1976 with Mario Andretti at the wheel – and Type 88B (which was banned from F1 competition in 1981) are both suffering from inconsistent clutch pedals. A diagnostic assessment of the hydraulic systems leads to the formulation of a plan. The seals in the master cylinder of the 88 are thought to be at fault but deemed manageable for the demonstration runs. A solution would be implemented on the return to the workshop.
But the 77 has a leaking union at the rear and this needs to be fixed on site. While the crowds around him slowly fade away, or stand watching as Spitfires chase overhead in the gathering dusk, Hicks finds himself lying under the car with a torch and small rotary cutter. For some, Saturday’s activities finish at 2030 in a near-deserted paddock when the 77 is once more declared fit for service.
After spending more time with the team members, and speaking to them about their experiences, a different facet to their work becomes apparent, something beyond the cold record of results – which this year includes a podium for Beaumont in his 18 in the Richmond and Gordon Trophies contest.
When asked about the best thing related to her job, Brown replies: “When a driver has a smile and wants to talk about the race.” Dinnage similarly mentions how “historic racing is all about relationships rather than winning at all costs”. And Nick Woodward has developed such a good friendship with the owner of the ex-Moss Type 18 that he now always looks after it at events.
Reflecting on what defines CTL’s core identity, one word keeps occurring: “continuity”. To take a purely practical view, it means there is an unparalleled technical resource to call upon for the maintenance and repair of racing cars with ultimate historic accuracy. On an emotional level, there must also be something to working with a team that does more than appropriate a marque’s history, or which may exist merely as a shade of past glories.
The ultimate stamp of authenticity though is that it is still headed by a member of the Chapman family. With the next generation taking the wheel of various cars during the demonstration laps, it looks like those crucial historic links will remain unbroken for some time to come.