After a summer of fun with the Lotus, I decided to organise an autumn event for local Lotus owners. An early Sunday morning with some breakfast at the fabulous 57 Bridgestreet in USK.
Lotus on Track
Those that have seen my car may think it is a bit of a show pony, but I had always intended to take my Exige Sport 410 on track. I don’t necessarily fancy myself as the next James Hunt, but you can’t get the full Lotus experience driving on public roads. So where to start?
My first year of ownership flew by, mostly with shows and other car events, so it was Autumn of last year I joined Lotus on Track. They offer a packed calendar of track days in the UK and around Europe at tracks I would dearly love to experience. Unfortunately, a standard Exige Sport 410 exhaust will only pass noise restrictions at Hethel and Anglesey as far as I am aware.
So, I signed up for Anglesey, booked accommodation and a trailer ready for May and excited for my first experience of what the car can really do. But then the world entered the twilight zone of Covid-19 and everything was sadly cancelled. Not to worry, as I also booked Hethel in the Autumn to look forward to before any second wave.
A couple of days before I checked my booking, only to find out I had booked the hotel but not the track day! Thankfully, Paul at Lotus on Track (LoT) was able to fit me as there had been some cancellations due to storm Alex. The customer support from LoT in the run up to the event was superb, deftly handling the Covid restrictions, with reasonable paperwork, very clear instructions and online briefing.
Lotus circuit - Hethel
Whilst I have done several corporate and sponsored track days and hill climb events over the years, I have never done a track day in my own car. So, I was feeling a little anxious arriving at Hethel, to meet new people, at an unfamiliar event, in weather conditions that were rather ominous. I need not have worried however, as within minutes I had been warmly welcomed, given a track briefing and met a couple of other seasoned drivers.
The atmosphere of the group attending was welcoming and friendly, there was no rush to get out on circuit or pressure to blast around the circuit. Very relaxing to have a chat, then do a few laps, then have a chat again as the car cooled down. I got to hear about other enthusiasts’ cars, their modifications, pick up a few driving tips and share some stories.
Out I headed for my first run, taking it easy and gradually building up some speed. Whilst wet from the constant light rain the track was free of standing water encouraging me to push on. The Exige is a very capable car and the wet surface allowed me to feel the car slide around without too much speed, which in the dry would have required more bravery than I could have mustered on my first track day. It was amazing to feel the traction control system working its magic in the wet conditions and understand why it was much heralded by Chris Harris no less when he reviewed the Exige V6 at Hethel may years ago.
My final set of laps of the morning session demanded a lot of concentration with the car constantly squirming everywhere. The water was starting to gather on the circuit and there was a formidable amount of spray necessitating a significant distance to the next car. The circuit diagram has a red dot for every location I had a ‘moment’ during that set of laps, so I decided to come back in and relax before lunch.
The track day club run by Lotus enthusiasts for Lotus enthusiasts
A couple of minutes later, in the interest of safety, one of the Lotus chaps went out to do a sighter lap and assess the conditions and had a moment at the south end of the circuit. Following which we were gathered for a quick briefing suggesting we take proceed at reduced speed with extra caution through the Graham Hill curves and approaching the Andretti hair pin.
When you list the corners you realise just how amazing and steeped in history Hethel is from it’s F1 testing days; Clarke corner, Graham Hill complex, Andretti hairpin, Senna Curves, Chapman corner, Mansell main straight, Rindt hairpin, and finally Fittipaldi straight. It feels a privilege to be on the same track and experience in some small way what they did in those championship winning cars.
Over lunch I chatted with the other drivers, and everyone seemed very relaxed having enjoyed the morning session. A few like myself had decided if a Lotus driver was finding the conditions a challenge, I should probably call it a day. I had experienced a fantastic morning of driving my Lotus around the legendary Hethel circuit in a manner you could not attempt on a public road and left with a massive satisfying smile on my face.
What did I learn? LoT are well organised and immensely helpful, but most importantly for me at my first track day reassuring. The other drivers were very welcoming and friendly, I cannot wait to meet up again. Whilst the track at Hethel is a great experience of historic significance for anyone who loves motor sport LoT events at tracks to suit everyone.
The only disappointing aspect to the day was the embargo on photos. Partly due to the Type 131 being around and partly as the site is not looking its most presentable. Not that I or any other Lotus enthusiast would worry about how the site looks as we all excited to see the result of Geely’s investment in an ambitious new Customer Experience Centre. Feels like there is a great future ahead for Lotus. Perhaps Lotus will include some accommodation in the Experience Centre and start selling a weekend packages of factory tour, Classic Team Lotus tours and LoT track day. I would be back in a heartbeat.
For more information about Lotus on Track : track day events.