CHAMPCAR/CART: Interview with Keith Wiggins of Lola

Interview With Lola VP Keith Wiggins by Mike Stucker - Motorsport News International Lola Cars was founded in England in 1958 by Eric Broadley. They've been building race car chassis for many forms of motorsport including everything from ...

Interview With Lola VP Keith Wiggins by Mike Stucker - Motorsport News International

Lola Cars was founded in England in 1958 by Eric Broadley. They've been building race car chassis for many forms of motorsport including everything from endurance racing, Can-Am, and Champ Car racing to club racers like Formula Fords and sports racers.

An abortive attempt at Formula One in 1997 nearly caused terminal financial difficulties for the company, and before the end of the year Lola Cars Ltd. had filed for bankruptcy. Thankfully, Martin Birrane, a British businessman with motorsports in his background, took control of the company and reformed it as Lola Cars International Ltd. After being one of the top CART chassis manufacturers for years, difficulties have Lola supplying only one Champ Car team (Davis Racing) in 1998.

Motorsport News International spoke with Lola International Vice President Keith Wiggins about the future of Lola in Champ Car racing.

MNI: "What are your CART Champ Car plans for 1999? Do you see adding teams?"

KW: "Oh, yes. I mean, obviously our plan is to get back into Champ Car racing. The company is restructured, been through whatever. There's a whole new management group there and a huge investment going into the technology side, where the patch was short in the past, with our new wind tunnel and seven post rig. It will be the best facilities available to anybody.

That's all on song. New groups of people joining all the time.

This year's been quite hard to break the mold of the memories, shall we say, of the bad period Lola went through, which often happens to people, especially with their length of time, and sometimes is what's needed to revamp. You know, new people come along with new ideas and the important thing now is that we've got a clear focus, we've developed a good car. Like everything, you have to have good packages, good teams, good drivers, everything together to win. I think the level of confidence over Lola is growing again, and the fact we are here and we're not going to disappear."

Obviously we'd like to get as many teams as we can. The other manufacturers are doing a good job, so people are always going to be cautious at first. I think we'll have, at the moment, probably around four teams. "

MNI: "I assume Gerald Davis is signed, sealed, and delivered for next year."

KW: "We're negotiating. Certainly Gerald is committed to us. I mean from a sponsorship point of view, it's always easy to point a finger and say, well, you know, there must be a problem because it's the only one. Obviously, I think there's a number of issues there in terms of all the ingredients that go to make a winning package, shall we say, and they're working hard at making an improvement in that. So we're discussing with them the same as everybody else. I hope and expect that they'll stay and be one of our teams and benefit from the other teams that come on board as well, you know, because the numbers always make a difference as well."

MNI:  "Gerald was on the radio here locally last week and he implied he was
coming back with Lola.  Although I don't think he explicitly stated it."

KW: "Well, I mean, obviously it's a competitive business now and everybody will be trying to take him away, just to prove a point or just to keep the competition out. I think people realize that the job we're doing is pretty good. There's been some good showings off and on, and other drivers believe, on seeing the car, that it's good. I think as we get one or two on, that information will help Gerald and you'll see people start to knock into the top and then we'll get back a bit of market share, you know. I think there are three good manufacturers there, and I'm sure there'll be a --not, obviously, counting the Eagles and Penskes, because they do their own thing -- you could find a pretty competitive competition between us."

MNI: "What was the major problem last year? Was it that the car was just wrong out of the box or was it that because of the problems in F1 there just wasn't the support to keep at it?"

KW: "I think it's hard for me as I only joined Lola since Martin bought the company, so I would never want to criticize what's happened in the past. I mean, obviously, they've been very successful in the past. I think that in all honesty, I mean I've discussed it with the boys, and very openly they accept that the '97 car was clearly not a car that was competitive. They know the reasons why and maybe they didn't during it -- and I think times have changed -- and I think they were behind on the technology on the things that make the car work. And then it sort of slipped a bit. I don't think the F1 caused that, I think there was a bit of a slide away against the opposition.

But of course, that was compounded by (F1). The F1 really brought it to a head. It probably needed that to bring a focus on it. But certainly, F1 was the straw that broke the camel's back. I mean obviously, it's a huge amount of finance to go out and dilute the focus, and all leads to disaster, really. It's sad but those thing happen, you know."

MNI: "Is there any kind of surprise announcement about teams or anything special we should be looking out for? Or will it be, 'OK that makes sense that they're switching'?"

KW: "I think that would be difficult to say. I mean, we've worked on a couple of teams very hard that would probably be a big surprise. At the end of the day, whether those will come up I don't know because it is a big risk for teams with big sponsorship. Obviously, for those people who are viewing it, for us, it is the right thing to do because to get on board on the cycle of other people -- it's a bit like one's up, one's down, now with the focus of attention we've got to come back up -- could be the best thing you do. But you know there are lots of elements and personal inputs into that, and if they don't come now I'm sure they will the year after. But apart from that, I think we're just climbing up slowly with teams which we will help get to the next level. And it would be good for us to work with them and do a good job."

MNI: "Do you think there is any apprehension in any of the Reynard teams about Reynard's impending F1 debut?"

KW: "Yes, I'm sure there is some. I think Pat Patrick changed (to Swift) for that reason. There is that concern and, of course, it's a bit like that -- I mean I can't talk from their point of view -- there were people concerned when we were in, or when Lola was in, and anybody will knock and use anything to their advantage. Obviously, there is always some concern there and some people will be concerned about it whether it's justified or not. We shouldn't get into it, but yes, I'm sure some people do, but their question is perhaps the opposition. If we were stronger at the moment in terms of showings, I'm sure there'd be a lot more people who would be willing to change over just to avoid that possibility. But, you know, the performances we've got at the moment still leave that open to question."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Martin Birrane