Club Lotus Australia WA’s Eddie Lankhorst and Vicky Rowe took off to the United Kingdom for an adventure earlier this year, taking the opportunity to build their own UK Lotus Experience while they were there. They’ve kindly shared the story with us and in this, part one, we head off to the Lotus Driving Academy.
By Vicky Rowe
There were very few arrangements made for our UK holiday, as we boarded our plane to London late in July. I’d literally just finished giving presentations at a workshop that had been months in the planning. All that focus had limited the planning for what we’d do for the next two and a half weeks. What we did have though was a rough mud map of where we wanted to go and the hope that our many emails to Hethel would manifest a lucky outcome, at the right point in our trip.
Landing at Heathrow around midday Tuesday we quickly utilised the only two things confirmed for the trip; a car (a surprisingly good diesel focus) and prearranged accommodation in Cambridge (being airbnb virgins I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it certainly met our needs). The plan, as rough as it was, was to spend a couple of days looking around Cambridge, before heading on to Lotus later in the week. But, at this stage, there was no word from Hethel.
I should add that there had been a great deal of correspondence with Hethel in the lead up to this trip. I was very fortunate to arrange a private factory tour of the Lotus factory, as well as a tour of Classic Team Lotus (CTL), but the timing of these visits were all pending arrangements with the Lotus Driving Academy (LDA). A deal had been struck for private coaching (for Ed and I) at the track, adjoining the factory, but it couldn’t happen without a coach. And now we’re in the UK and the airwaves are suddenly very silent.
Wednesday we had a lovely day exploring Cambridge. By now I’m a bit worried that we’d have to head a different direction, to see other parts of the English countryside, so I kept trying to contact Daniel from LDA. Finally, i got the call. “Yes, we have a coach, so you and Ed can have a day at the track on Friday”. And thus everything then into place.
Thursday was an awesome day, both the lotus factory and CTL were great. But I’ll save that for another day (or article for that matter).
Friday was even better though. When you pay a significant amount of (very expensive) British pounds to the LDA you get an exceptional experience, including exclusive use of an area overlooking the track where we could lounge about, dining on the lavish spread of pastries, salads and cold cuts. We pretty much felt like VIPs, having the track to ourselves and our coach, David, was at our disposal for the entire day.
At lunchtime we also got an intimate look the workings of Lotus Motorsport, which was quite a treat. That provided an up close and personal look under the skin of the new 3-11. Even better, we got a proxy fitting for the last T125 to be built. What an extraordinary car.
I’m not sure if it’s been a profitable venture for Lotus, but the concept is very progressive. Like some other super car companies, they’ve built an exclusive car for an elite group, providing a very personalised product. They even put on the races (and support for those races) so that the exclusive club of owners can have a serious play. How lucky! But I think they got the designation wrong. The F1 inspired track car has 650bhp (from a 3.5lt Cosworth engine), it weighs 650kg and apparently it costs £650k. T650 is more fitting I think.
As for the track, it’s a blast! Lots of twists and turns, as you’d expect, exploiting Lotus agility and showing up any driver deficiencies. So that leads me to the coaching. We paid some extra (very expensive) British pounds to utilise the skid pan and one of the supercharged Elises available to us had the smaller wheels (same size as the fronts) fitted to the rear so as to induce under steer and over steer.
Ed and I took turns out on the track (or skid pan) taking turns with David. Nothing was timed, but we certainly got faster as they day went on. So what did I get out of it? I hear you say. Well I got some very positive feedback, which was nice, but I also discovered that my heel toe downshifts were not always matched correctly, my ability to recover from oversteer was not as good as I thought and I’m sometimes lifting off the accelerator without realising. Now of course that can effect my times, but it can be downright dangerous at the wrong times if I’m driving my S1 Elise.
As for Ed, he said he’d learnt a lot on the skid pan, took a different perspective on how to take some corners and tried to overcome the fear of a wall (there’s a very prominent wall you face when you come out of the bend at the bottom end of the track).
I don’t know if I can claim it’s great value, but Ed and I thoroughly enjoyed the day and really feel we came away with some important lessons. I’d say do it if you can!