Lotus went into the 1973 Formula One Championship season as World Champion Constructors with reigning World Drivers Champion Emerson Fittipaldi being joined by a new team mate 1971 Championship runner up Ronnie Peterson.
The team started the season with the same Lotus 72 D model as they had used through out 1972 albeit now running on Goodyear tyres in place of the previous seasons Firestones. Emerson started the season well with 2 wins and a 3rd place from his first 3 starts while Ronnie had only two retirements and an 11th place finish to show from the same three races.
At the non championship Race of Championship the Lotus 72 D were brought up to E specification which included mounting the rear wing above the oil tank further back from the rear wheels and a wider track for the wheels front and rear. I well remember seeing both of the new cars spectacularly bottoming out on their debut at Brands Hatch as they approached the fearsome off camber and steep drop to Paddock Bend sending a shower of sparks from under the cars.
Both cars retired from the Race of Champions but Emerson won the 1973 Spanish Grand Prix, his last in a Lotus, before scoring three further second place finishes and a third on his way to a distant 2nd place championship finish behind Jackie Stewart and his Tyrrell Ford 006 who had clocked up five wins and two seconds on his way to his third and final title.
Ronnie meanwhile scored his first four Grand Prix wins and two second place finishes on his way to third in the championship title, helping Lotus win their second consecutive constructors championship. For 1974 Jackie Stewart retired, Emerson moved to McLaren to drive the M23, based very much on the principles of the Lotus 72, and Ronnie was joined at Lotus by Belgian Jacky Ickx.
Lotus started the 1974 season with the 72 E for the first two championship races and then Ickx used a 72E at the non championship Race of Champions and won after pulling off a brilliant overtaking move on Niki Lauda in his Ferrari 312 B3 going into Paddock Bend right in front of my nose. If all had gone to plan this would have been the last ever race for the Lotus 72 which had been introduced in 1970.
The Lotus 76 was first raced in the 1976 South African Grand Prix where neither car finished, Ronnie qualified his 76 at the non championship International Trophy at Silverstone and again at the Spanish Grand Prix but getting the car to finish proved impossible and so the Lotus 72 E’s were wheeled out again for the 1974 Monaco Grand Prix where Ronnie won from third on the grid, Ronnie added to more victories to the Lotus 72 E’s tally during the season to finish a distant fifth in the Championship which was won by his former team mate Emerson Fittipaldi in his Lotus 72 copy the McLaren M23.
For 1975 the Lotus 72 E’s were wheeled out again as the Lotus 76 had been abandoned as a failure, it would take a full twelve months for Lotus to build a new challenger such was the lack of financial resources and Lotus commitment to road car and sundry other projects. Ronnie gamely struggled on scoring just three points paying finishes while Jacky Ickx quit the team before the seasons end having scored a single second place finish.
I believe the two cars seen here both belong to Classic Team Lotus with the #2 most likely being a replacement chassis for the wrecked Lotus 72/R5 driven by Emerson Fittipaldi in C spec to victory in the 1970 US Grand Prix and last used in E spec by Brian Henton in the 1975 US Grand Prix.
The #5 appears to be #72/R9 built new for the 1975 season and used exclusively by Ronnie Peterson who scored a best third place finish in the non championship 1975 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, and three further points paying finishes including a 5th place finish in the 1975 United States Grand Prix which would be the cars final appearance.
Fans of the Lotus 72 in the UK will be interested to know that there will be a 24 min documentary on the story behind the Lotus 72 on Motors TV in December, keep your eye out for it in the schedule. The films director Gary Crichter will also be releasing a full 90 min version with 60 mons of extra’s of the film on dvd in the near future. Keep your eye out on the www.lotus72dvd.com website for further announcements.
Thanks for joining me on this “Ronnie’s Rocket” edition of “Gettin’ a li’l psycho on tyres” I hope you will join me again tomorrow, don’t forget to come back now !