In what is a once in a lifetime event, 3 Lotus Type 79’s took to the track at Snetterton to celebrate the completion of the restoration of Chassis 1 for it’s new Dallas, USA based owner, Paul Rego. Paul is a life long Lotus fan and jumped at the opportunity to purchase the car when it became available. After he saw a well restored Type 49 he enquired as to where the work had been carried out, hence it returned to CTL in Hethel. Nick Yallop was lead mechanic, overseen by Chris Dinnage.
79/1 completed a few laps at Hethel on Tuesday before going to Snetterton on Wednesday. Also there was the Type 91 driven by Dan Collins. Doc Bundy went out for a couple of laps and on returning to the pit garage, he caught the off side rear wheel on a metal post. Repairs were needed to the suspension. Doc was used to racing ‘inboard’ cars and was obviously very excited and relishing being behind the wheel of the JPS 79. After the repairs, he returned to the track but had to come straight back in for more adjustments to be made to the brake balance.
Press and Media were in attendance and a photo shoot took place, some of the filming is to be used in a forthcoming DVD.
All three 79’s eventually took to the track behind the press car for a couple of laps driven by Doc Bundy, Clive Chapman and Chris Dinnage. Clive came in after a couple more laps, but Chris and Doc stayed out to enjoy the moment, lapping the new Snetterton 300 in about 1 minute 50 secs.
79/1 is returning to the States, where it is hoped to run soon at the Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Alabama and also at the Canadian round of the F1 calendar at the circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Montreal on June 12th, in a supporting race.
79/1 was used by Mario in 1978 mainly as a spare but raced by Jarier at Watkins Glen. Unfortunately it ran out of fuel 4 laps from the end, but he took the lap record. It was then sold to Hector Rebaque and attended 12 GP’S in 1979.
The Lotus 79 was the first F1 car to take full advantage of ground effects aerodynamics, pioneered in its immediate predecessor, the Lotus 78. The undercar pressure problems in the 78 were resolved with the 79, with further design work on the venturi tunnels under the car, which allowed the low pressure area to be evenly spaced along the whole of the underside. This was achieved by extending the rear bodywork to a point inside the rear wheels, allowing the underside to extend further back, instead of ending abruptly in front of the rear wheels on the 78. As a result, the rear suspension was also redesigned to allow the air to exit the rear more cleanly than on its predecessor. This allowed a smaller rear wing to be designed, causing less drag. When the car first appeared, the upper bodywork was steeply raked and featured Coke bottle sidepods. After work in the wind tunnel, these features were found to be unnecessary, as the car generated so much downforce anyway. These features were however later incorporated into the Lotus 80. In all, five chassis were built during the cars’ lifetime, with the prototype 79/1 being sold to Hector Rebaque to race as a privateer entrant.
The car was powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV and constructed of sheet aluminium honeycomb, specially strengthened for the pressures exerted on the car by the ground effects. The fuel tank was one single cell behind the driver, as opposed to separate fuel tanks as on the 78. This had the advantage of increasing fire protection and moving the centre of gravity to the middle of the car, helping cornering and braking. The 79 was also the first F1 car to be designed using wind tunnel and computer design aids. In fact it was the first F1 car to use computers to analyse it in the pits on race weekends.
The car was secretly tested in late 1977 by Ronnie Peterson and proved extremely fast, but the chassis suffered early fatigue due to the severe suction and g-forces generated by the ground effect. The 79 produced about 30% more downforce than the 78, something not foreseen by Ogilvie and Rudd, who went back to the drawing board. The chassis was strengthened in specific points, mostly around the monocoque and load bearing points on the chassis tub, and the car was found to be even faster than before.
The need for smooth airflow dictated the car must have clean lines; as a result the 79 was one of the most beautiful cars ever to take to the track. Nicknamed ‘Black Beauty’ by the press and F1 fans alike, for its graceful design and sleek profile and its black and gold livery through sponsorship by John Player Special cigarettes, the Lotus 79 was instantly competitive on its debut, the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. It took pole at the hands of Mario Andretti by more than a second, and won the race comfortably. Andretti said after driving the 79 for the first time that the Lotus 78 was like driving a London bus. Peterson once quipped, after scoring an impressive pole position, that the car was so brilliantly set-up all he had to do was steer.
The 79 was not without its problems however. Wright and Ogilvie noted that the car was very marginal in some aspects of its design; Andretti had reservations over the car’s brakes, which faded noticeably over a race distance especially in hot conditions, the exhaust had a tendency to overheat, and the monocoque tub was not as stiff as the team would have liked, which meant a new casting had to be done several times during the two seasons the car was used.
Thanks to Trevor Yallop for the words and images.