How Ireland and the Lotus 18 turned up the heat

Incredible though it might seem to the greyer fraternity among our readership, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Colin Chapman’s first rear-engined racing car, the Lotus 18. Innes Ireland stood the Formula 1 world on its ear with his early pace in the ugly duckling’s debut race, the 1960 Argentine Grand Prix.

Team Lotus’s most junior mechanic there was Maurice Levy, who recalls: “I think there were four of us, including Stan Ellsworth, who had taken over from dear old Willie Griffiths as Team’s chief mechanic. The car was finished just in time for the trip; we took it straight to the airport. I believe we flew to Buenos Aires via first Stuttgart, thence to Dakar, Senegal, and then on a beautiful Lockheed Constellation Super G to Buenos Aires, where we found some thieving bastard had stolen the car’s rev counter!

“Anyway, In between dry but humid periods interspersed with tremendous downpours which flooded the streets we did practice and qualifying, and the car performed really well. I saw Innes in the morning outside his hotel and he was limping badly, asking that when we got to the circuit could I bandage his toe? It turned out that the previous evening (probably about 2am knowing him) he’d leapt off an Estacione [Jeep] and attempted to land on top of the steps to the magnificent entrance of his hotel. He missed, of course, and had fractured his toe! I was sworn to secrecy not to tell Chunky, and it obviously didn’t affect Innes’ driving .

“We also had to look after Alan Stacey and a local named Rodriguez Laretta driving our front-engined Lotus 16s. But I was overawed by the fact that (I believe I’m right here) Froilán González had convinced the Automovil Club to run the circuit backwards, and each time he exited the left-hander before the pits in his works Ferrari, wearing a tee-shirt that was fit to burst, you would see his great hairy armpit.

“As the race progressed poor Stacey succumbed to heat prostration, rolled into the pitlane, nudged our pitwall and collapsed. He was as hot and dry as tinder, so the medics put a wet blanket over him till he came round. Innes had told Mike Costin to get a bucket of water ready out somewhere on the back of the circuit, and upon a signal from Innes to chuck it over him. The plan nearly worked it seems, but it was some unsuspecting bugger behind Innes who ended up getting soaked! Interestingly, Laretta had what looked like a big cabbage leaf on his head under his helmet and reckoned many locals did the same for their sports car races .

“The way Innes dominated much of that race is well recorded and we could have won but for a brake problem. I’m sure it was a sheared [loose] disc bolt that damaged a front disc, but for whatever reason I didn’t get to see the 18 after the race, as the 16s had to be loaded onto two DAF Mosquito car transporters for the journey over the mountains to Cordoba for the non-championship race the following week.

“I can’t be certain, but I think that when we emerged [at Goodwood] the prototype wasn’t used for the Glover Trophy, nor the next meeting, the Silverstone International – both of which Innes won!”

Well, I couldn’t find a photographic record of the water bucket being emptied in Innes’s direction – but here’s one (above) of him grabbing a drink as track temperatures were over 143F that day, and well over 100 in the shade. It really wasn’t easy, you know.