Several classic Team Lotus cars entertained the packed crowds at the 2014 Autosport International Show’s Live Action Arena. The Lotus 79, which dominated the latter part of the 1978 world championship, took to Europe’s largest indoor race track for the unique demonstration, alongside the Lotus 49.
Driven by some true greats from the world of F1, including Ronnie Peterson and Mario Andretti, the ‘Black Beauty’ proved to be a highly successful machine.
The 79 was the first Formula 1 machine to really take full advantage of ground effect. It was designed in late 1977 by Colin Chapman, Geoff Aldridge, Martin Ogilvie, Tony Rudd and Peter Wright.
It was powered by a 3.0 litre Ford-Cosworth DFV engine that was naturally aspirated and produced 450bhp. The car used a five-speed Hewland gearbox, ran Goodyear tyres and was found to produce 30% more downforce in comparison to its predecessor, the Lotus 78, following a series of tests before its debut.
The black and gold liveries car was most famously driven by Mario Andretti during its two seasons in F1. The American driver’s career started at the age of 13, where he progressed through the stock car ranks before moving to single seaters and winning titles in Champ Car. While racing in America, he raced part-time in F1 between 1968 and 1974 but moved to the series full time with the Parnelli team in 1975.
He then raced for Lotus, bringing them back to the front of the grid, until 1980 when he left to move to Alfa Romeo. America beckoned once more and he returned to the IndyCar series, where he took the title in 1984. He raced in the series until 1994.
The 79 was also driven by Ronnie Peterson, a hugely talented Swedish driver who was a regular frontrunner in the 70s. He raced for March between 1970 and 1972 before switching to Lotus. He stayed there until 1976, when he briefly returned to March before racing for Tyrrell in 1977. Lotus called once more for 1978, which was a successful campaign until he tragically lost his life at the Italian Grand Prix.
Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jarier briefly drove for the team to replace Peterson, but he did not make an appearance in 1979. Andretti was joined by Argentine Carlos Reutemann, who had previously raced for Brabham and Ferrari.
The 79 made a late debut in 1978 but dominated the second half of the year, with Andretti winning five races at the wheel of the iconic F1 machine en route to the championship. He suffered four retirements but fortunately Peterson’s consistency helped the team maintain their presence on the podium.
He won once at the wheel of the 79 and made it onto the podium at four other races. However, he unfortunately died in a crash at Monza and ended the year as the posthumous runner-up in the championship. Lotus won the constructors’ title that year, but the car was replaced shortly after by the 80. It proved to be a disaster and the 79 was brought back. Despite improvement’s being made, it couldn’t match the cars previous success.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic