Ever wondered what makes a great driver really great? People often ask us what the secret is to maintaining oversteer, negotiating a slalom or mastering ‘heel & toe’. The answer: track time and expert training.
Complete with a newly refurbished Lotus Test track and new Chief Instructor in the form of former Lotus F1 driver, Martin Donnelly, the Lotus Driving Academy (LDA) opens its doors for the autumn term with a brand new syllabus and the ‘Lotus Licence’.
The ‘Lotus Licence’ is a tiered programme that delivers full driving training and qualification to drive the amazing Evora GT4 at race standard. Level 1 covers heritage and an introduction to the Lotus brand, an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the production facilities and general vehicle handling training. Subject to successfully passing Level 1, drivers will advance to Level 2 and eventually to Level 3 where they hone their skills learning everything from the theory of vehicle dynamics and tyre grip to trail braking and powersliding.
Completion of Level 3 entitles drivers to their ‘Lotus Licence’ and access to the Hethel track in the Evora GT4 - this is where the fun gets serious! Level ‘GT’ 4 is the ultimate race driving tuition. All aspects of the circuit for racing are encompassed with special attention to race lines, analyses and a full debrief, after the serious bit it’s on to the fun stuff, and that’s the car! The Evora GT4 is a real race car with FIA regulated safety features.
The Evora GT4 is a transverse mid-engined, rear wheel drive, sequential 6-speed transmission with paddle shift and twin plate sintered clutch. Shod in slick tyres, it delivers 354hp (257.5kw) at 6500rpm and 328lbft (400nm) at 5500rpm of torque - sounds good? The LDA allows you to find out what it’s like to drive on track and really unleash your racing talent.
What’s unique about the LDA is that drivers receive dedicated 1:1 tuition for the entire programme. Selected by Martin Donnelly, instructors are not only of the highest calibre, but they are completely focussed on their pupils so drivers can advance at the quickest possible rate and receive a truly bespoke experience.
Chief Instructor Martin Donnelly comments: “Lotus cars are real drivers’ cars. The Lotus Driving Academy is the perfect way to experience the special relationship between a car and the track and it’s a great opportunity for customers or aspiring customers to push themselves to the limit and experience everything Lotus has to offer. The syllabus we have put together is very technical so the training is comprehensive and challenging. There really is no better driver training out there!”
Managing Director Robert Lechner talks passionately about his plans for expansion: “We are really confident with the Lotus Driving Academy model, we have seen drivers progress and achieve their potential quickly so they keep coming back! Our success is down to creating the perfect learning experience with expert instructors in a world-class environment. We are very happy to run our programmes at the re-launched Lotus track and are planning to open Lotus Driving Academies internationally, our first centre outside of the UK is at the Hungaroring in Budapest and we are looking at new locations at some of the greatest circuits around the world.“
Nigel Mansell officially opened Group Lotus’s revised and restored Hethel test track with a roar from the 1981 Essex-Lotus 81B in which he started his glorious Formula One career more than 30-years-ago.
Mansell led a convoy of seven stunning racing cars from the Lotus stable, including the innovative 1980 Type 88 twin-chassis car – which the rule makers never allowed to race; the Lotus Type 125 Exos Experience car driven by fellow F1 legend Jean Alesi; and a brace of Lotus Renault GP cars piloted by current F1 stars Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna.
This was the first time that modern-era F1 cars had blasted around the historic Hethel tarmac since the early 1990s. The layout of the 2.2 mile circuit had changed very little, with one extra corner added, but the new asphalt and larger run off areas are better suited to modern racing and performance car testing. Its mixture of corners, straight and braking zones makes it ideal for testing and optimizing every performance aspect of the new era of Lotus products, and evaluating car control at the Lotus Driving Academy. In addition to a spacious new workshop, the test track will soon be accompanied by a new pit building and hospitality suite.
Dany Bahar, Group Lotus CEO said: “A year ago we set out our plans to introduce a new model line up, ambitious motorsport plans and a revitalization of the iconic Lotus brand. A year in, we are meeting all the targets and milestones we set ourselves. One of the milestones was the opening of our test track. You might say this is just a refurbishment of a track and not a major achievement in itself, and I agree. However, mentally and psychologically seeing this project accomplished demonstrates that step-by-step our vision is becoming a reality. It shows our entire workforce and our partners that we are delivering on our promises.”
Nigel Mansell, Group Lotus ambassador and 1992 Formula One World Champion said: “What a joy it was to be reunited with my old 81B after 30 years. This is a very special place, Hethel, and it was wonderful to open the circuit today by driving alongside my sons Leo and Greg.”
Clive Chapman, Managing Director of Classic Team Lotus said: “I remember my father testing the Lotus 49 on this circuit. He didn’t wear a helmet and you could see him grinning from ear to ear because he knew he had another winner. The circuit’s longest straight doubled as a runway, and we would land here in my father’s plane after adventurous and race tracks around the world. The revised circuit has managed to keep a lot of the character of the original, and seeing those seven cars lapping today is something I shall never forget. Lotus is enjoying exciting times once again, and it fills me with pride when I see brand new Lotus’s around the world still bearing my father’s initials.”
Jean Alesi, Group Lotus ambassador and F1 legend said: “It’s extremely fast. The first time I went out I was surprised about the length of the straights, but then of course it’s not only for motor sport but for testing road cars. The layout is perfect for that. It’s a proper test track. Today I drove Lotus’ customer F1-experience car, the T125. The development of this car is ongoing, and very very promising. James Rossiter is doing a great job helping to develop the car, and will make this new track his home. I shall be validating these tests.”
Bruno Senna, Lotus Renault GP third driver said: “Vitaly [Petrov] and I got to chase each other around in our F1 cars today, which was awesome. It’s a really fun, technical track designed to test the car’s handling and braking. I guess this is the first time in many years that a contemporary F1 car has been driven around here. The relationship I have with Group Lotus is very special, to be given the opportunity by these guys who trust my abilities and what I can bring to the team. And we have family history, of course. Ayrton [Senna] made his name at Lotus so there is a lot to be grateful to Lotus for. For me, to drive this circuit where my uncle used to test his cars, is a special feeling.”
James Rossiter, Lotus Motorsport factory driver said: “The circuit has been completely resurfaced and extended. Now there’s a lot more track and you can push harder thanks to that. The thing that makes it so perfect for Lotus is that it has every aspect of corner you can imagine; high speed, medium speed; slow speed; changes of direction at a steady-state, decelerating, and accelerating; you’ve got a massive braking area at the end of a long straight, with a tight chicane; there are two 190 degree corners, which are long, open and steady-state. So it has a little bit of everything, which is ideal for developing every aspect of a performance car.”
Karl Heinz Kalbfell, Group Lotus Operations spokesperson and former CEO of Rolls Royce Motor Cars and Maserati said: “Every time I come back here to see the changes, both in infrastructure and the product, and to see people here driven by Lotus’s inspirational goals, it gives me a lot of confidence that we are all on the right track. This is exactly what Colin Chapman would have wanted. He was a man always looking forward, not backwards.”
Scheduled for 27 May 2012, Group Lotus brand ambassador Jean Alesi will make his return to competitive racing flying the flag for Group Lotus at the world’s biggest motorsport race – the 96th Indy 500.
Despite his considerable experience, Jean has never before taken on competitive oval racing. Following a 12 year stint in F1 from 1989 to 2001, Alesi moved onto DTM racing and then last year made his most recent competitive race appearance in the Le Mans Series. In January 2011 he joined Group Lotus as a brand ambassador and development consultant on the F1 customer race car, the T125. Although never straying far from the race track, the Indy 500 and oval racing represent completely new challenges for Jean.
Commenting on the announcement Jean Alesi said: “I’m thrilled that Lotus has given me the opportunity to compete in such a world famous race. It’s going to be a very special experience for me but I also know that I have a lot of hard work ahead. I’m very focused on the task I’m facing – I’m taking my training very seriously, I have some amazing support on this front from a ‘comeback’ expert and of course I will be testing extensively. I’m really excited about the race.”
Jean’s development role with Group Lotus will stand him in good stead as he prepares for his new challenge as he will be competing in a Lotus powered by the new Lotus IndyCar engine. Development of the 2.2l twin turbo V6 is going to schedule with the first engine fire up set for mid October and track testing planned December.