Making a rare appearance from US shores, the iconic STP Lotus gas turbine Indy car from 1968 is due to take centre stage at the 2011 Goodwood Festival of Speed, with former STP driver Parnelli Jones set to steer the four-wheel drive racer up the famous hill.
With Goodwood’s 2011 theme 'Racing Revolutions – Quantum leaps that shaped motor sport', the Lotus type 56 developed by Colin Chapman and run in the 1968 Indy 500 typifies an era of ingenuity and endeavour that helped shape the face of future motorsport, and herald a period of rapid progression in engineering.
Following ‘Mr STP’, Andy Granatelli’s own turbine Indy car – codenamed ‘Silent Sam’ – that retired just four laps from victory of the1967 Indy 500 at the hands of Parnelli Jones, three Lotus cars were entered in the infamous 500 mile race by Chapman, in STP colours, in 1968.
Driven by turbine ‘veteran’ Graham Hill, Art Pollard and Joe Leonard, it was former motorcycle racer Leonard who blasted to pole-position with a record speed of 171.559mph, ahead of Hill’s 171.208mph in second place and Art Pollard in 11th place.
Despite a storming performance, all three cars would retire from the race however, Leonard from the lead, just 10 laps from victory. Sadly, the public weren’t to be treated to further sights of the revolutionary technology, as The United States Auto Club (USAC) banned turbine cars and four-wheel drive shortly after, but the status of the STP Lotus gas turbine cars remains legendary and typifies the innovation in design for which Lotus remains famous.
Designed by Maurice Philippe, the wedge shape was testament to the growing realization of the importance of managing aerodynamic lift/downforce, whilst the four-wheel drive system honed by Ferguson (of Massey-Ferguson fame) was considered to be ideally suited to the peculiar demands of oval racing.
Gas turbine power via a Pratt & Whitney engine (designed primarily for helicopters) offered significant advantages in terms of power and reliability – developing over 500 bhp and 1560 Nm of torque – especially for oval racing where cars needed to maintain very high speeds over long distances. Colin Chapman’s son, Clive, concludes: “Amongst its competitors the STP Lotus type 56 looked years ahead; and it was! My father learnt a lot from Andy Granatelli about the commercial and promotional aspects of motor racing which would not go to waste.”
STP’s own heritage is steeped in stories of spirited endeavour and a succession of racing firsts, with Granatelli overseeing a successful era from 1963 to 1974 that saw STP debut in land speed record bids, win the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, and embark on a relationship with legend of NASCAR, Richard Petty, which would become the longest continual sponsorship in motorsport.
The rich legacy of record-breaking and motorsport involvement that sees STP positioned at the forefront continues unabated today, as the Bloodhound SSC World Land Speed record project attempts to break the 1000mph barrier, with STP alongside as a founder sponsor, in 2013.