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Six-wheeled prototypes

Could they have changed history?

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dunlop
12/12/2013
14h01

The Tyrrell P34 made an impact on the history of F1. In endurance, a project featuring a six-wheeled prototype existed, but never became a reality.

In 1976, Tyrrell unveiled the first Formula 1 car with six wheels, a feature that designer Derek Gardner had been mulling over for several years. Despite a good start and even a victory in Sweden, the P34 did not progress at the same pace as its competitors, notably because of a lack of development for the special tyres used. This didn't stop constructors from trying their hand at the concept like the March (2-4-0 in 1976) Ferrari (312T2 in 1977) or Williams (FW08 in 1982).

Tyrell P34 (1977) Rondeau (1977) Williams FW08 (1982)

In August 1977, Jean Rondeau made a splash when he adapted the idea to fit an endurance prototype. According to him, there are numerous advantages: better aerodynamics, more surface contact the road, and therefore better handling, better braking ability in the rain, lesser impact in case of a puncture. But...as soon as 1976, sporting bodies limited race cars to four wheels only, with the rule taking effect on January 1, 1979. Was the small car builder based in Le Mans simply looking for media buzz in order to attract sponsors after his main partner Inaltera left? The six-wheeled Rondeau would never come about. 

A car would nonetheless have time to hit the track before the ban took effect in 1979. A Belgian, Daniel Lebacq, decided to transform his Lola F5000 into a never before seen prototype after partially destroying it in an incident. Presented at the Gent Auto Show in 1977, the DL7 then participed in a hill climb event at Trôs Marets, without success. Later, in 2002, Italian constructor Covini revived the concept with their sportscar.

Today, the regulations for prototypes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans still require only four wheels (article 13.1.1). Without these restrictions, would six-wheeled cars have taken over at racing circuits? "Four wheel drive at the back would have been undoubtably the only way to go if the rules had remained the same, assures Patrick Head, former technical director for Williams. "All of our data in the windtunnel and on track confirmed that we were on the right track." 

Lebacq DL7 based on the Lola F5000 (1977) Covini C6W (2002) Alfa Romeo T33/6/12... The story goes that this car was testing at Sebring in 1970, two weeks after the 12 Hours race...In reality it's just a photoshop job! 

Julien HERGAULT / ACO - Translated by Rainier Ehrhardt /ACO

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