“Adding power makes you faster on the straights, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.”
Lotus Exige and Elise: “Simplify, then add lightness”
by Michael Allen
How many threads are there on the forums about removing weight from your, oh let’s say 3500 pound, car? These threads have thousands of posts and go on forever. People using heat guns to melt the sound deadening material and insulation from their floorboards. Other people using dry ice to freeze the sound deadening material and insulation from their floorboards. Picking away at it for hours and days. Then they have to deal with the new problem of roasting their feet while driving. Others are spending thousands on miniature light weight batteries and other weight reducing car parts. They are removing the crash beams from the front and rear of the cars and praying they don’t get hit. And we all know there is a method to this madness. The lighter our cars are, the quicker they go. I have heard that for every 100 pounds you take out of the car, it is like adding 10 horsepower. Do the math. If your car was 2000 some odd pounds instead of 3000 plus, that would be like having another 100 or more of extra horsepower.
Enter the Lotus vehicles. Those aluminum floor boards are a thing of beauty. They not only look cool, but they communicate purposefulness about the cars. These things are serious light weight sports cars. They are perfect track day cars as well. We have all heard all too often about how Lotus vehicles are the closest you can come to kart-like handling. And they save you money too. They are cheap to operate. The tires and brakes do not have to be as large. They are better on gas. All of this is because of their light weight.
Lotus has been around for about sixty years and the brand is synonymous with the name of its founder, Colin Chapman. Here are a couple of great quotes form Chapman: “Simplify, then add lightness,” and “Adding power makes you faster on the straights, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.” The philosophy of this racing dedicated car company is to focus on performance via handling. Lotus does not sell sedans and it does not sell SUVs. You can get yourself a two seater, rear engine sports car in the Elise and the Exige and then Lotus went and developed a 2 plus 2 (two seats in the front and two seats in the back) in the Evora. That is it. Focused and lean and handling like nothing else. Oh, and how many relatively small automobile manufacturers are still associated with Formula 1? Ferrari comes to mind. And Lotus: these guys are serious about transferring racing technology to the everyday consumer. And aren’t we lucky? Track day drivers can add the Elise and Exige to their lists of cars to check out.
Chapman built his first car in 1948 and it was for motor sports. His background was in aviation and manufacturing with aluminum, hence the focus on light weight. The racing team Chapman formed, Team Lotus, went on to win seven Formula One Constructors’ Championships and six Drivers’ Championship titles. Road going cars were developed to fund the racing. In 1960 the first Formula 1 win came in Monte Carlo, when Stirling Moss drove to victory as driver for the Rob Walker team. It was in 1966 that Lotus moved to a purpose-built factory based in Hethel, Norfolk. Built on a former US Air Force base, covering 55 acres, the old runways were converted into a 2.5 mile test track which is in use today. In 1986 Lotus group was acquired by G.M. and in 1993 the company was sold to Bugatti. This company had only the name in common with the original Bugatti company formed by Ettore Bugatti in 1924. The Lotus Esprit and Elan were a couple of iconic models that came out during these periods. In 1995 the Elise was born. Its composite and energy absorbing chassis was made from epoxy-bonded aluminum extrusions, as were its extruded aluminum suspension uprights and aluminum metal-matrix brake discs. The following year saw the acquisition of 80% of Lotus shares by Proton. Lotus came to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2000 with a testing and development facility and in that same year a souped up, hard top Elise was released and was called the Exige. The 2 plus 2 Evora was launched in 2008. In 2012 Kimi Raikkonen came in third in the driver championship and Lotus finished fourth as a manufacturer in Formula 1. It should be noted that the Lotus factory racing effort in Formula 1 ended in 1994. The Lotus name has been resurrected in Formula 1 in recent years under various convoluted and legally challenged licensing agreements. Lotus has an engineering consulting arm which helps other manufacturers primarily with suspension design.
Track day drivers could look at any of the Lotus offerings, but the Elise S Cup R and the Exige V6 Cup/R are the most track oriented. With a motor sport specific engine map and aerodynamic aids including a revised splitter, barge boards, winglets, floor extensions and rear wing, lap times for the Elise S Cup R on the 2.2 mile Hethel test track are reduced by about 4 seconds over the standard Elise S. Rupert Manwaring, head of Lotus Motorsport commented that “With so many markets becoming interested in motorsport, the Elise S Cup R gives us the perfect entry level track-car.” The car weighs only 900 kg and has 216 HP and184 foot pounds of torque. The Elise was introduced into the US, with a Toyota engine, to pass strict US emissions laws. The 1ZZ & 2ZZ Toyota engines used to have a Lotus ECU with their own fuel mapping. The supercharged Lotus Elise S accelerates from 0–60 mph in 4.3 seconds and does 0–100 km/h in 4.6 seconds.
Stepping up from the Elise is the Exige V6 Cup which is road legal and the track only Exige V6 Cup R. The former is right for those who may want to drive to the track and do an HPDE before driving home. Both are equipped with a harness bar, fire suppression, battery isolator (kill) switch, competition driver and passenger seats with four point harnesses, Pirelli Corsa tires, four mode Dynamic Performance Management, 2 piece brake disks, exhaust bypass switch, multi-adjustable suspension, removable quick release steering wheel, baffled wet sump oil system and front and rear towing eyes. By the way, the traction control system is fully defeatable. The Exige weighs 1,110 kg but boasts 345 horsepower and 295 pound feet of torque. The cars are eligible to compete in the Lotus Cup USA, which is open to all Lotus owners and their Elise, Exige, Evora, 340R and 2Eleven vehicles.
Chris Sneed of Sneed’s Speed Shop in North Carolina is currently racing in the Pirelli World Challenge in the Sneed4Speed MINI Cooper. We asked for his take on the two Lotus vehicles as he has had track experience with them. “Both Lotuses are surprisingly quick. They handle very well but are short wheel based with small tires, so it’s easy to lock the front brakes and power over steer spin on exit. Visibility is low out the rear and sides but the mirrors are good. They are very hard to get in and out of with any kind of grace and for larger guys like me they’re cramped in the cockpit. Overall if you like the styling and you are a smaller guy who doesn’t want a Subaru BRZ, then they’re a cool choice for a track/street car. I think racing one would be very hard because of the low visibility and horse power to weight ratio which pits you against Mustangs and Vettes which have V8s and big tires. The engines and cars are very reliable though and there’s a pretty good following for them as far as parts go, so you won’t be going at it alone.”
Auto TrackDay Monthly had a question and answer session with Gavan Kershaw, Technical Manager, Lotus Motorsport. We asked about the development of the Elise Cup R and the Exige V6 Cup/R from road to track car. Kershaw told us that “Lotus road cars have an obvious track influence, so much of the changes required to take them to focused track cars are around safety, aero dynamics, a specific race suspension set-up and component changes. As an example, the biggest transition from its road car origins on the Exige V6 Cup R is the 6 speed racing gearbox with pneumatic paddle shift operation which is fitted as an option. The other notable change is the increase of down force via rear wing, front splitter and canards. Safety systems that are developed for the track cars are roll cage, fuel bladder and fire extinguisher, whilst suspension and handling changes center on adjustable dampers, stiffer springs, anti-roll bars and often higher camber. The Exige V6 Cup R also boasts Variable Traction Control where % slip can be selected and adjusted while driving, plus there is also a Limited Slip Differential which is not on the road cars.”
When asked to explain what makes the two cars effective for track days, Kershaw highlighted the cars' low weight and focus on handling ability. He went on to say that “Lotus Motorsport cars offer a package which combines all elements of driving not just power or brakes or grip; we balance all of these elements to make the cars challenging and involving. The communication we build-in provides our customers with the feedback they need to develop their skills and improve as drivers.” Kershaw listed the key track performance features of each vehicle:
o Aero; rear wing, diffuser, barge boards, sail boards, front splitter
o Adjustable dampers
o Higher rate springs
o Brake pad material
o Increased torsion and bending stiffness with roll cage
o Aero; rear wing, diffuser, front splitter
o Adjustable dampers
o Higher rate springs
o Brake pad material
o Increased torsion and bending stiffness with roll cage
o Limited Slip Diff
o Adjustable Traction Control and Slip Control
Naturally we wondered which cars are seen as the main competitors by Lotus Motorsport and they somewhat dodged the answer. Here is what Kershaw had to say: “Mainly our competitors are our older Lotus products such as the Lotus 211 and previous 4-cylinder Exiges. All of these models are eligible to race in the Lotus Cup USA Series (East and West Coast series).” Speaking of racing and its influence on these street legal cars, Kershaw explained that “racing is used to push all Lotus products to high levels of tune and this information is used to gain knowledge for model variants and model-year updates. A perfect example of this is the case of the series 1 Exige; this car evolved from a coupé Elise designed specifically for a one-make race series (Lotus Sport Elise, unveiled in 1999). Such was the demand from the market that the car evolved and was productionized and sold as a road car model in its own right – The Exige was born!”
Unlike other manufacturers who use the Nurburgring circuit in Germany as a benchmark for track performance and bragging rights around lap times, Kershaw told us that Lotus uses reference lap times around their own Lotus circuit at the Hethel headquarters to gauge performance against class competitors and model evolutions. Here is what he had to say about how Lotus Motorsport supports drivers who want to take their cars to the track. “Track days are managed in 2 ways; dealer supported track days and specialist clubs who often run their own events. Our dealers are racing and driving enthusiasts themselves, so they often run localized track events.”
When asked about warranty coverage for these vehicles, Lotus indicated that “There is an element of goodwill extended to all our customers, but due to the extreme use of these cars, there is no manufacturer’s warranty on the Elise Cup R and the Exige V6 Cup as they are track-only variants.” To save some money, depreciation and risk, one may opt to go previously owned. If you are concerned about the price of entry for these very capable cars, check out Wire Wheel on the net. This Florida based dealership specializes in used British sports cars and often has a long list of Lotus cars for sale. You can pick up an early 2005 or so Elise for between $20,000 and $25,000. Many have already been well-optioned and modified for track day use. One point of clarification about these previously owned cars though is that they frequently have salvaged titles. A minor accident can cause the car to be totaled by insurance companies because the cars do not have separate bumpers from the bodies. As a result, body repair expense can be major. Many of the cars on Wire Wheel have salvaged titles. These special cars are fairly accessible as a result. Imagine all the money you will save on tires and brake pads with these super handling and lightweight vehicles. And the aluminum floor boards look cool too. But I won’t promise that your feet are not going to roast a little.