This 800BHP monster forced the three-time world champion to hang on for grim death. He survived, but not before it gave him an ulcer
From his very early days in the sport Jackie Stewart made sure he always had good machinery at his disposal, and not just in Formula 1. Even when moonlighting in other categories he didn’t want just to make up the numbers. ‘That was part of the business,” says Stewart. “It’s no good driving a donkey. That’s what most people don’t understand. There’s a lot more to motor racing than steering the wheel.”
However, there was one occasion when he lucked out. Ask him what was the worst car he ever raced, and the answer is immediate.
“The Lola T260 Can-Am car would probably make that one. It was quite quick, and we won a couple of races but, boy, was it a dog to drive! The H16 BRM runs it a close second.” The T260 was built for Stewart to use in the 1971 S. Can-Am series at the instigation of importer and team boss Carl Haas. “We always called Carl ‘Shaky’,” Jackie says. “He isn’t known as that now, nobody knows that in modem times, but he was always very nervous, very highly strung.”
The sportscar races were conveniently arranged so there were no clashes with grands prix. For JYS, it was an attractive proposition. The prize fund was good and backing from the L&M cigarette brand ensured that Haas had a strong budget, and could afford the services of the 1969 world champion: “It was pocket money. That’s why we did it.”
The cars to beat, of course, were the works McLarens of Denny Hulme and Peter Revson. And the only way to beat them was to come up with a better design, since privateer M8s never seemed to match up to the factory machines. “It was the only competitor to the McLaren and it showed great promise. It was going to be a brand new car and Carl had a lot of confidence in it. I knew Eric Broadley because I’d driven at Indy with Lola and John Mecom. But it certainly wasn’t a great car.”
Designed by Bob Marston, under Broadley’s guidance, the T260 looked purposeful; huge trumpets sticking out of the massive 8.1-litre Chevy serving to emphasise the brutal appearance. Frank Gardner undertook the initial testing in the UK, but Stewart was able to draw few conclusions from a single outing in the wet at Silverstone before he went to the first race at Mosport in June.
In practice the car was quick enough to challenge the McLarens, but Jackie was decidedly unimpressed by the handling. ‘The thing was all over the place — it was terrible to drive. Sometimes it was quick but, my God, did I have to hustle it.”
The main problem was dire understeer. The Lola’s blunt nose was dotted with mesh-covered holes, through which the underbody air could pass. In theory this helped to provide some downforce. In its initial guise the shape of the front didn’t seem to have any other obvious way of providing grip; Broadley had deliberately opted not to have a fashionable chisel nose. But the lack of downforce at the front was borne out by the position of the giant rear wing, which was unusually far forward — just behind the protruding trumpets — in an attempt to achieve some kind of balance.
Was JYS able to do anything to compensate for its shortcomings? “Yes, I sweated more. It was just a difficult car to drive. There are some cars that are easy to drive and others not, and that was one of the ones that was not.”
JYS actually put it on pole at Mosport and led until the transmission seized after all the oil had leaked out.
Next time out, at the spectacular Mont Tremblant circuit, he found the car a handful over the bumps. In practice the car suffered a suspension breakage, and gave Jackie a real fright when it performed a wheelie as he crested the track’s notorious hump. Fortunately the nose flopped back down. In the racejacicie delighted the Canadian crowd by winning, albeit after Revson had retired and food poisoning had forced leader Hulme to drop back. But at least the McLarens had been beaten at last, and Stewart’s underdog campaign began to attract a lot of support Less popular were his many battles with race organisers to have telegraph poles and trees removed; North American circuits had fallen far behind their European counterparts.
Stewart led for a while at Road Adanta, before retiring when the suspension broke. At Watkins Glen, where yet again the suspension failed in practice, he took another pole, but retired with gearbox failure. At bumpy Mid-Ohio there were no fewer than three suspension failures in practice, and after deliberately opting for a conservative run on race day, Stewart won — ironically after both Hulme and Revson suffered broken suspension. The results weren’t too bad, but JYS was still unhappy. Efforts were constantly being made to improve the aerodynamics, and the nose changed its shape at every race. It briefly grew unsightly high wheel arches after an incident when a tyre had worn through the top of the bodywork. A sign that at least s, some progress was being made with the front end was that the massive rear wing was moved further back, to a more traditional position.
Stewart: “Eric tried everything. Everything! Every race he’d come over with a new pile of parts, and it would take on a new look at the front end. It came out with a ‘cowcatcher’ on it and various aerodynamic aids to get downforce on the front.”
The second half of the season proved less successful than the first, and in the last five races Jackie never qualified better than third. His one chance to beat the McLarens came in the rain at Edmonton, but he slipped up, going off twice while leading and handing the honours to Hulme.
For the last two races, the Haas crew hung an ungainly wing in front of the nose — the cowcatcher referred to above. If nothing else, it would have given JYS a useful advantage in a photo finish.
“I was third in the championship; the McLarens were first and second. I won at Mont Tremblant and Mid-Ohio, and we were on pole position a couple of times. But it was just an amazing hustle. I earned my money on that one!
“It was a terrible car. We could beat everyone except the two works McLarens. Just to keep up with them was a nightmare. They looked so good to be behind — they were great-looking cars. That’s why the next year I agreed to drive one, but I never did it because I got my duodenal ulcer.
“I got mononucleosis driving that bloody Lola!” Jadde Stewart was talking to Adam Cooper