Lola's new lease of lifeby Gordon Kirby on 22nd October 2012
It’s been a rough year for Lola.
Six months ago the venerable British racing car builder was forced into administration and a search for a buyer for its Cambridgeshire facility came up short. A skeleton crew was retained in Huntingdon but nobody was interested in acquiring the company’s wind tunnel or fabrication and carbon shops. In recent weeks it appeared that Lola’s hopes of survival had come to an unhappy end.
But a formal announcement is soon expected that the Lola name will continue in business amid a new partnership between Lola’s longtime American sales agent and distributor Carl Haas Auto and Canadian automotive and racing car parts manufacturer Multimatic. Under the new arrangement Multimatic will manufacture Lola-branded components and parts at its headquarters in suburban Toronto while Carl Haas Auto in Chicago will serve as the sales and distribution house. We expect Multimatic will also design and build a new range of Lola Le Mans or Daytona prototypes.
Multimatic was founded in 1984 and is based in Markham, Ontario, northeast of downtown Toronto. The company has established itself as a leading supplier of components, systems and services to the worldwide automotive industry. Last year Automotive News ranked Multimatic 81st on its list of North America’s top 150 suppliers to the industry.
A racing division called Multimatic Motorsports was formed in 1992 and has built and helped field a variety of successful Le Mans and Daytona prototypes and GT cars. Multimatic-manufactured cars won the LMP675 class at Le Mans in 2000, the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in 2003 and the Sebring 12 Hours GT2 class in 2006.
The company builds the carbon chassis and suspension for Aston Martin’s One-77 GT cars and built and developed the Mustang Boss 302R for Ford Racing. The Mustang is a top competitor in Grand-Am’s Continental Sports Car Challenge and Mutimatic runs its own team in the series with drivers Scott Maxwell and Joe Foster. Multimatic Motorsports is run by Larry Holt who also serves as vice-president of Multimatic Engineering. Peter Czapka is the president and CEO of the parent company.
Carl Haas Auto was founded in Chicago by Carl Haas in 1961 and has been located in Lincolnshire, Illinois, half an hour north of downtown Chicago, since 1985. A former amateur sports car racer, Haas established his business as a dealer in Elva sports cars and Hewland gearboxes. He became Lola’s American agent and distributor in 1967 and was renowned for many years as the USA’s top sales house for sports/racing and formula cars.
In fact, Lola’s biggest successes came in America where Carl Haas Auto sold thousands of Can-Am and Formula 5000 cars, Indycars, Formula Atlantics, Super Vees, Formula Fords and Sports 2000s. Among Lola’s astonishing record of accomplishments are 181 individual Indy or Champ Car victories, including three Indy 500s, as well as eleven CART or Champ Car titles and seven consecutive Formula 5000 and Can-Am championships between 1974-’80.
In 1983 Haas formed Newman/Haas Racing in partnership with actor/racer Paul Newman and the team immediately established itself as one of the best in CART Indy car racing, winning championships for Lola with Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Cristiano da Matta and Sebastien Bourdais. But IndyCar’s decline and a lack of sponsorship resulted in Newman/Haas closing its doors at the end of last year.
In recent years Lola has built a batch of cars for the Jim Russell School plus a handful of Formula 3 and Grand-Am cars. But the company has focused on building LMP1 and P2 cars working with Nissan, MG, Honda, Aston Martin, Dyson and others. Lola chassis have won the LMP2 category at Le Mans five times since 2000 and took last year’s ALMS LMP1 and P2 constructor’s titles and the LMP2 manufacturer’s title in the European Le Mans Series. But P1 and P2 cars represent a small market nothing like the high volume of cars a constructor needs to build in order to make a successful business.
Of course, over the last ten years the spec car plague has entirely overtaken every form of worldwide open-wheel racing below Formula One. As this phenomenon took hold Lola missed the boat perhaps because the company’s most recent owner Martin Birrane never embraced the spec car mentality.
Two years ago Lola joined competitors Swift, Bruce Ashmore and Delta Wing in making sales pitches to IndyCar to design and manufacture this year’s new spec car. But all were rejected by IndyCar in favour of Dallara. It was a serious blow for Lola leaving the company without any remaining market for open-wheel cars, a sad indictment of the great spec car plague.
In recent years Lola made a serious effort to diversify beyond racing with Lola Composites expanding into defence, aerospace and renewable and wind energy industries, but none of it could save Lola from bankruptcy. Thanks to Multimatic and Carl Haas Auto, the Lola brand will continue in business. We hope Lola not only continues but thrives.