Progression Ladder Stage 0 Focus #2: 2011 Lola Simraceway F3
Before being the Simraceway flagship that you all know, the Lola B06/30 was a common sight in various Europeans F3 championships, even winning the German F3 championship. Here, its carbon-fibre tub houses a turbocharged 4 cylinder Mitsubishi engine, producing around 300bhp, giving it a mighty 645bhp-per-ton power-to-weight ratio. Not bad for a school car, eh?
I’ll say it right now, the F3 is one of my favorite cars in Simraceway. Easily top 5. Now I know that statement will surprise some of you, and especially the less experienced. And I get that: the F3 is not a very easy car to drive. The turbo gives it much more torque than its rear tires can manage, and the short wheel-base and very direct set-up can make it very snappy, tricky to drive smoothly out of corners. And because it is a Progression Ladder Stage 0 car, most of us began their racing careers with this car. I know I did: I spent weeks going around Sonoma for the usual Hot-Lap and Challenge events, most of the time ending up being very frustrated in around 10 minutes.
I couldn’t feel the traction, so it was very hard for me not to spin the car. The braking was also difficult to figure out, and I ended up locking up the front wheels -- or spinning, depending on the corner -- every other lap. But as I lapped again and again the very challenging Californian track, I got better and better, spinning less often and cutting chunks of seconds off my time.
And then I began to love it. Nearly 7,000 miles later, I can’t think of a better car to educate young simracers, and to provide guaranteed fun to everyone else.
You see, all of the parts forming the Lola are awesome in their own ways: the very torquey engine makes for fast corner exit, the amazing brakes provide endless stopping power, the chassis is beautifully biased towards the rear, making the nose incredibly agile and precise, and there is just enough aero to have to work with it, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming. All of the parts, except one: the tires. They seem to be made of plastic, offer little grip and overheat pretty quickly. And that’s exactly what makes the Lola SRW F3 so fun, and so educative as well. I did nearly 6,000 miles of testing at Sonoma with this car, and I never stop learning new techniques, new tricks to get faster.
Because there is little mechanical grip, you always have to think ahead about your attitude towards corner entry, mind the wheight transfer, and be very careful with your throttle application. It can be quite the challenge on some tracks, but also greatly rewarding when you get it right. Take for example Turn 1 at Laguna Seca: if you brake like in any other car, you’ll either lock up, understeer to the outside line or simply loose time because of a too long braking zone. Instead, you need to brake quite late; stomp on the brakes until you’re back in 4th gear, then quickly let go of it, and in 3rd have only little pressure on the brake pedal. As you begin to turn in, the rear of the car will come into play, and the front immediately teleport itself to the apex. It is immensely satisfying. And because mastering the brakes on this car can take a lot of trying, during a race it will provide you with great passing opportunities.
And here we come to another area where the F3 excels: racing action. Because the car is so small, and has the right power-to-weight-to-downforce ration, it never ever disappoints. Right now I can’t think of a better racing combo that F3/Zandvoort. Close racing, intense driving, a lot of passing opportunities: this combo always delivers.
I find it amazing that one of the (if not the) best car in SRW is free. Sure, it’s not very exotic or legendary, doesn’t have a charismatic design or engine sound. But throughout your Simraceway career, you won’t find a more reliable, trustworthy or entertaining sparring partner. And to the more inexperienced of us: trust me, it does get better. A lot better. Just remember to Use the Torque, Luke.
The link to the Test Drive Tuesday cars leaderboards: https://goo.gl/ATr6mF