Lotus owner and enthusiasts clubs were invited to send representatives to visit the Lotus factory in Hethel and the Lotus Renault GP facilities at Enstone to catch up on what the companies have been working towards of late and to gain an exclusive insight into the inner workings of a competitive and successful current F1 team. The two-day event included VIP access to parts of both factories not usually available, a rare treat of being able to take a camera on site and time with senior staff including Q&A sessions. This presented an excellent opportunity for finding out what changes were being made, especially at Group Lotus and why.
Starting off at the Lotus factory in Hethel, guests were welcomed by entertaining compère Richard ‘Jimmy Stewart’ Parramint and had a briefing on Lotus’s current and future Motorsport plans by Claudio Berro, the Director of Motorsport for the company. Claudio is very pleased with the Evora’s performance as a racer and how it, almost straight out of the box, is very competitive seeing podium finishes at high level events still almost entirely a road car and is excited about the car entering the 24 Heures Du Mans and the other ILMS events. Motorsport factors very highly in current and future marketing plans for the company and this is clear by the high levels of time, effort, thought and finance that is going into motorsport all over the world at the very highest levels.
CEO Dany Bahar then spent some time with the group explaining his vision for Lotus. With an engineering team 3 times larger than Ferrari and 5 times that of Aston Martin these engineers, traditionally working on 3rd party projects will now be turning inwards and working more on Lotus product as well as the projects of other OEM car companies. He explained that following on from feedback after the New Era cars were revealed in Paris it was a common theme that nothing other than a Lotus engine would be acceptable in such high-end cars so development of an in-house V8 is already well under way. This engine may also be the basis of an in-house V6 and inline-4 for the Elise. The V8 is smaller than the original planned engine for the Esprit leading to a smaller overall car, the Esprit can shrink 6 cms in length already and it’s also around 100kgs lighter than the engine used in the Lexus IF S which was earmarked for the projects. Plans are to push out 570bhp on the base V8 engine and 600bhp on the ‘R’ version in naturally aspirated form. Bahar went on the explain that other feedback was that the Esprit and Elan were too similar in design so this is being addressed. He also believes every sportscar should have a cabriolet and that the current Evora is marked for this change very soon. There will also be an Elise/Exige type car in the current and future line up and perhaps early next year we’ll see a successor to the hugely capable 2Eleven track car. Watch this space! 75% of the company’s marketing budget is spent on motorsport, racing is what Lotus is about in Bahar’s mind and with the Le Mans GT2 cars he’s entered the cars to win, not just to take part.
With the biggest risk to Lotus’s success being quality, people like Michael Och (ex-Porsche) and Wolf Zimmermann (ex-AMG) are leading production and engineering and Lotus are outsourcing interiors to the companies who currently do the same job for Porsche, Audi, Lamborghini and Ferrari. No more rattles and misty windscreens we hope! With leading experts like Zimmermann on the board of Directors and Donato Coco heading up design, the 5 new cars will share up to 75% commonality of parts, this is how a small company in automotive terms like Lotus can afford to develop a range of cars with a relatively modest budget.
Bahar concluded by thanking everyone for travelling to Hethel and explaining that we, as owners and enthusiasts are the ambassadors and representatives of the brand and the Lotus see us as a very important factor in their future. Lotus acknowledge that perhaps they could have taken more time to tell the clubs of their plans and this event is to welcome clubs and open a two way dialogue which will benefit everyone in the future.
The group was then invited to spend some time on the new FIA standard test track in the Evora, Evora S and Elise Club Racer under the instruction of Lotus legends such as ex F1 driver Martin Donnelly, American Le Mans driver Ben Devlin and others. I’m pleased to report the new track is a challenging and technical drive and the Evora S is a hugely capable car, the only shame being that it can’t be driven at 10/10ths all the time! Classic Team Lotus were on hand to show their busy workshops filled with cars being prepped for a very busy summer and Sapphire Whitbread explained how CTL work with the owners of the historic Team Lotus F1 cars to allow them to drive the cars, keeping them in perfect condition and race ready for shows, events and indeed historic race series.
Russell Carr, the man behind the pen behind many iconic Lotus cars gave the group a presentation on the new era of cars, the design philosophies and processes and took everyone to the design studio where the Esprit (in black, amazing!), Elan, Elise, Eterne and Elite were waiting for a closer inspection. The other Esprit we saw in Paris was now in New York for the motorshow and as ever, cars with covers were a feature, confidentiality being a very important aspect of the work the team in the design studio carry out. Talk of the redesign of some of the cars was mentioned so we can only speculate for now as to what extent this is being undertaken now.
Following a brief lunch the group were shown around the production facilities to see the cars being built, from pre assembled chassis made by Lotus owned ‘Lotus Lightweight Structures Ltd.’ to the car being completed as it progressed along the hand-operated production lines. Along with the Evora, Elise, Exige and 2Eleven there are still Tesla roadsters being built at Hethel and the main production factory has recently been giving planning permission to almost double in size so expect changes here in the near future. By happy coincidence, Henri Claessens, Chairman of Club Lotus France spotted his Evora on the production line, 90% complete!
The following day the group were welcomed into the Lotus Renault GP factory at Enstone, nestled in the beautiful Cotswolds, the traditional home of F1 in the UK. James Gilbride and Luca Mazzocco split the group and offered a full tour of the facility beginning with the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) centre buried in the hills of Oxfordshire. Jared Murphy who heads up CFD at Lotus Renault GP explained that the F1 industry had more in common with aerospace than automotive and that they partner with aircraft manufacturing companies as well as the CFD software vendors as they are pushing the boundaries of what is currently possible. Their supercomputer (which has 10,000GB of RAM!) was close by and the groups visited it’s air-conditioned vault to view the processing enormity of the technology involved in getting 2 cars on a racetrack to go just that little bit faster than their competitors. Projects such as controlling the front tyre wake path to not interfere with the blown diffuser are all in a days work for his team and the results of their efforts can be verified in the 60% scale windtunnel on site, the most important tool in developing the aerodynamics of the car.
On to the manufacturing factory where an army of CNC machines construct the vast majority of metallic components for the car and true craftsmen hand manufacture and weld parts such as the Iconel superalloy exhaust manifolds which are replaced every race. Hand and machine fabrication can be a 24/7 operation at an F1 factory with the entire car (bar the Renault engine) being made in house, an amazing 3,200 separate components. The tour also included the car rig where suspension is finely tuned to each race, the composite manufacturing with its array of resin cutting and moulding machines and autoclaves and material research where failed components are checked and new materials assessed for suitability. The group were then taken to the wind tunnel however some things are still secret so we couldn’t see the actual scale models on test and finally to the race bays where the 2 cars were being prepared for this weekends Turkish GP.
On behalf of the clubs, we’d like to thank Group Lotus and Lotus Renault GP for their openness, candidness and hospitality and on behalf of Group Lotus and Lotus Renault GP we’d like to thank the representatives who travelled from all corners of the UK, USA, France, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and Germany for bringing their enthusiasm and helping to pass on their experience to their members.