Lola picks Formula E for its motorsport comeback

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Lola Cars, a name synonymous with past CART, Le Mans 24 Hours success and occasional Formula 1 entries, is set to return to international motorsport and enter Formula E next season.

The Race has learned that the company, now owned by IMSA SportsCar Championship racer and US-based British businessman, Till Bechtolsheimer, will take delivery of a Gen3 test car this month and will be on track early in the summer after registering as an official manufacturer for the all-electric world championship earlier this year.

It is expected to enter as a powertrain supplier and partner with an existing team.

Bechtolsheimer acquired the Lola name and some of its remaining assets in 2022, a decade after it went into administration. He has since scoped out the motorsport landscape in a prelude to committing to an international racing programme, selecting Formula E after initially visiting the 2022 New York City E-Prix.

Lola has recruited significantly in recent months, having captured the services of former key Techeetah figures Mark Preston (below) and Keith Smout.

Mark Preston in 2017 Formula E

It has also long since had experienced technical staff that have included former McLaren and Williams designer Mark Tatham as technical director and ex-HWA and Mercedes-Benz engineer Michael Wilson as managing director.

Lola has already been active in Formula E working group meetings, including those attended by the Formula E Teams and Manufacturers Association [FETAMA], which Preston has attended.

Bechtolsheimer was present at the London E-Prix last season and at the 2024 season opener in Mexico City in January. It is believed that he attended the FETAMA meeting to introduce himself to other team owners at that event.

The Lola Cars company was founded in 1958 by Eric Broadley and won three Indianapolis 500s as well as countless championships and races with customer programmes in sportscars, F3, Formula Nippon, F3000 and more.

The MG Lola EX 264 in the Le Mans Endurance Series at Spa in 2005

The late Martin Birrane took over the company in 1997 and immediately presided over a successful period that included manufacturer projects with MG at Le Mans and recapturing the CART title with Newman Haas and Cristiano da Matta in 2002.

Birrane even attempted to re-enter F1 in 2009 but was ultimately scuppered by the withdrawal of a planned cost cap for 2010.

When approached by The Race for comment on the plans, Bechtolsheimer was reticent to confirm any details, saying only that he was “busy ensuring that Lola returns to racing soon” and that the company is “building up to something really exciting, which could be communicated imminently”.

Why has Lola chosen Formula E?

The Formula E field at the start of the 2024 Sao Paulo E-Prix

In June 2022, when Bechtolsheimer announced his acquisition of Lola, he said that the plan was to “re-establish Lola as a leading design and engineering force in modern motorsport”.

He had majored in energy efficiency in his business life so it perhaps should be no surprise that he pinpointed Formula E as a preferred route for Lola.

“Motorsport plays a significant role in the innovation and testing of new solutions,” he said. “Through Lola, we hope to develop and provide investment for some of these solutions.”

Bechtolsheimer has taken his time to evaluate several motorsport series since the summer of 2022 when he went public with news that he was the third owner of Lola.

Back then he said that he “firmly believed that our biggest asset is the Lola name and what it means to so many in the motorsport industry”.

“It will help us to attract great talent and form lasting partnerships,” Bechtolsheimer added.

Till Bechtolsheimer, Lola Cars owner

He has been good to his word in collating an experienced and well-respected team but as of yet has not officially declared where the Lola name will return to the track.

That is set to change shortly with confirmation of the Formula E programme expected, a decision that also reiterates Bechtolsheimer’s vision and desire to take Lola into fresh and innovative areas of motorsport.

Formula E does have a 12th licence for a racing team available and has done since Audi left the grid in 2021. However, it is not believed that Lola will take this, rather that it will partner with an existing team and be a powertrain supplier for the rest of the Gen3 era and potentially beyond.

The Abt Cupra-run Formula E car in the Sao Paulo E-Prix

Which one of those teams it will partner with is currently not known but The Race understands Lola held talks with several current teams including ERT, the MSG element of the Maserati squad and the Abt Cupra entity.

Abt recently confirmed it is looking for a powertrain for the Gen3 Evo period of the world championship after talks with Porsche came to nothing.

Beyond that, Bechtolsheimer will no doubt feel that launching a new epoch of Lola, into what many feel is a future-proof category like Formula E, is a shrewd move to evidence the overall refresh of the Lola brand.

This is not the Lola that Broadley and Birrane presided over. Large volume customer car programmes are not on the agenda anymore, in the short-term at least, with a focus seemingly more on alternative-power projects and partnerships with manufacturers.

That will start in Formula E, a world away from the ingrained image of lairy Formula 5000 cars, the potent Nissan Group C machinery and of course the iconic Lola T70 range of sportscars.

But perhaps the link between old and new Lola will live on through what the company sets out to achieve in its new era, which will attempt to add to a rich heritage stretching back almost 70 years.

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