I think the idea of asking any racing enthusiast “What’s Your Favorite Racecar” is setting oneself up for being on the receiving end of a dizzying array of race cars, some cool, others-perhaps not so cool. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that stuff. Rather than suggesting just one favorite racing car, I am going to come up with my list – some of the cars are current, some are old school, but in each case, those cars have special meaning to me for various reasons. To kick things off, I am starting with what is probably my all time favorite racing car, the Lotus 79.
The Lotus 79 was a revolutionary as it was beautiful. A natural progression from the extremely effective Lotus 78 used during the 1977 Formula One season, the 79 was the first full ground effects car, which is perhaps what the car is most well known for. However, it was also ground-breaking in that it was the first Formula One car that was fully designed using Computer Aided Design, and it was also the first car to download data after a run into a computer. Pretty advanced stuff for something that ran 35-odd years ago!
Mario Andretti pretty much dominated the 1978 Formula One season with this car on his way to winning the World Championship, with the team winning 6 Grands Prix and scoring a number of 1-2 finishes during the year. His teammate, Ronnie Peterson, finished second in the driver’s standings despite being killed in a start line crash at Monza during the early stages of the Italian Grand Prix.
Despite the car’s superiority over the field (the only cars to win a race did so with the Lotus entries failed to finish), it did have some weaknesses. Andretti felt that the brakes were always a bit suspect, as they faded dramatically towards the end of a race. Perhaps more importantly was the fact that due to the enormous downforce the car produced, the chassis itself, an aluminum monocoque tub, was initially unable to handle the extra loads imposed on it, and the car never really had the strength to handle those forces. Lotus was forced to replace broken bulkheads in the chassis on numerous occasions during the course of the season, a problem that would never be fully rectified until carbon fiber tubs were introduced a few seasons later by McLaren.
I loved this car the first time I saw it, and the fact that it was the car that my hero Mario drove to a World Championship just helped to cement it in my mind as my favorite race car of all time. But, there were others that came close…stay tuned to find out about another of my favorites next week!