July 30th, 2009 by Shannon Whitmore
Three decades on from their Olympic-winning performances, human athletes are invariably long past their prime. But today, as the Lotus 79 becomes available to members of the iRacing.com service, this remarkable racecar is every bit as fast as it was in its halcyon days 31 years ago, when it carried Mario Andretti to the 1978 Formula One World Championship.
And by any standard of measurement it’s still a very quick racecar. Just how fast is the Lotus 79? With its light weight and road-hugging ground effects, the Lotus 79 is about quick enough to match the road-circuit lap times of a modern IndyCar.
“It’s neat that the first historic racecar we’re introducing to the service is one with contemporary performance,” said Tony Gardner, iRacing’s president. “The braking and cornering ability of the Lotus 79 is amazing, and getting the full performance out of the car requires a lot of skill.”
Gardner predicted that both the car and iRacing Classic Lotus Grand Prix Series would prove extremely popular with members of the iRacing service.
“We want as many members as possible to have the opportunity to race this great car. The Lotus 79 is fantastic and our members are going to really enjoy racing it.”
The iRacing Lotus 79 was developed with the cooperation of Classic Team Lotus, which has since 1992 served as the Lotus Works for historic motorsport activity. Classic Team Lotus continues to maintain and operate Lotus F1 cars for owners around the world, and it preserves the Team Lotus archive and Works Collection of cars.
“Of all of the racing cars in Lotus’s long history, including others that have won world championships, few have had such an impact on the sport,” said Clive Chapman, managing director of Classic Team Lotus and the son of Lotus founder Colin Chapman. “The Lotus 78 was designed around the notion of underbody aerodynamics, but the 79 was the first car that fully exploited ground-effect principles. And that changed the face of racing. It was an amazing car for its time, and it remains an amazing car today. I’m pleased that iRacing has made it possible for people today to experience what it is like to drive the 79.”
One person who knows the Lotus 79 first-hand is Mario Andretti, whose input helped iRacing’s vehicle dynamics engineers accurately develop the digital version of his championship-winning mount.
“Driving the Lotus 79 was one of the most satisfying experiences in my career as a race driver,” Andretti recalled. “The car was exceptionally responsive to different setups that we used to adapt to different circuits. Because I understood the dynamics of the car so well, I was able to achieve perfect balance with that car most of the time, which was very rare. I always looked forward to crawling into that cockpit. Of course that car also is significant in my life because I won the World Championship driving it.”
It was with the Lotus 79 that Chapman realized the full potential of ground effect. With redesigned sidepods and front and rear suspension components repositioned so as not to impede the airstream’s entry or exit, the 79 generated 30% more downforce than the 78. The 79, which wasn’t introduced until the 6th race of the 1978 season, was miles ahead of the competition and with it Andretti dominated the rest of the season, winning the Drivers Championship and helping Lotus secure the Constructors Championship.
The Lotus 79 is available for download by all current iRacing subscribers on the member Web site for $15.00.