Lotus has, to put it mildly, plenty of motorsport pedigree. It’s a vital part of the core Lotus brand values. As well as the headline involvement with the Enstone-based Lotus F1 team, there is much more going on that is aimed at racing enthusiasts and engaging with Lotus car buyers on the track. Dave Leggett found out more from Rupert Manwaring, Head of Motorsport at Lotus Racing.
Can you describe the main activities of Lotus Motorsport and your role?
We produce a range of track cars and pure motorsport cars, five or six models, starting with the Elise through the Exige and up to the Evora. We design, build, sell and service customers from here, professional racing teams and private individuals. We supply cars to our dealers and distributors around the world.
All of the race cars now are based on our road car products, with the exception of the Type 125.
My job as head of motorsport means that I am very commercially focused and my job is to run a good department that works commercially.
And you are steeped in motorsport yourself?
I started my career with Formula 1 in 1977 and stayed with it until 2002. I started as a draughtsman for Surtees and then got the chance to travel as a spares coordinator, organising bits and pieces for the team and eventually I became assistant team manager at Surtees, before moving to Brabham where I was assistant team manager when we won the World Championship twice. I eventually became a team manager at Team Lotus in the late 1980s, where I worked for four years.
Then I went to Tyrrell, where I was also team manager. In 1995 I decided to become commercial director at Tyrrell, looking at how we could raise funds. From then until 2002 I was heavily involved in finding money for F1 teams.
After that I spent 7 years as MD of Lola Cars then a 3 year stint at Ray Mallock, before joining Lotus Motorsport in 2011.
While we are on Formula 1, can you describe the benefits to Lotus of the current licensing set up with the team based at Enstone?
Yes. We licence the Lotus name to the team and we are a commercial partner. We use Formula 1 for global brand recognition and that’s working very well. So Formula 1 works on that level and then we have the racing cars from Hethel that bear a strong resemblance to the road cars. It’s a nice mix.
And the motorsport arm gets those Lotus race cars out there…
Yes, we have hundreds of cars racing every weekend all over the world and they give people the opportunity to see that Lotus cars excel at speed and in a race environment and so on. It’s a strong message being delivered by example and association, with the track cars clearly sharing much DNA with Lotus road cars.
How is Lotus Motorsport organised and run?
Lotus Motorsport is a separate department within Group Lotus. Everything is funded by the Group, but the drive is to make it self-sufficient. This year we have made very good progress towards that. We have very supportive shareholders and the clear focus is to produce racing cars that can be sold to people and return a profit.
We are quite a small department, with around thirty people directly, but we have access to many more in Lotus, including Lotus Engineering and we have a great resource base here.
What are those thirty people in your department actually doing? How is the workload split?
My right-hand man is a guy called Gavan Kershaw who heads up the technical side of things, and was part of the Lotus Cars product development team, he is also a successful and competitive racing driver – he won a race a few weekends ago in an Evora GT4 at Snetterton. Gavan looks after a small engineering group but there’s a large fully equipped workshop with a team of technicians who build and prepare the race cars.
There is a small sales department and there is a service and spare parts department for customers to bring their own race cars and road cars for the Hethel treatment. We have pretty much everything we need to look after ourselves, sell cars and support our customers.
We like to think of ourselves as proactive, nimble and able to react quickly if we need to.
How do the Lotus Cup events work?
They are a fantastic opportunity and resource for us, both getting the cars into new markets and making the Lotus name very visible for market penetration. The Lotus Cup is open to all Lotus race car owners with their Elises, Exiges, Evoras and 2-Elevens. Each Cup Series is tailored for local needs and the region, so they are slightly different. The UK Cup Series is long established, has huge grids, is very successful and has scope for racers to modify the cars, that sort of thing. The Lotus Cup Europe is also very successful and customers in that series prefer to buy standard Lotus motorsport product and race them.
We have a new Lotus Cup in Thailand which has been going for about 18 months. They started with Elises but are now moving on to the Exige V6.
Motorsport is fairly new in Thailand, so there isn’t really the infrastructure is developing and the Elise is perfect there. We are also looking to add a race in China. We hope that the ‘Greater China Race’, planned for Macau, and being supported by our Lotus distributor in Hong Kong, will pave the way for a Cup series for China.
The Lotus Cups are all thriving, bringing Lotus enthusiasts together, reinforcing Lotus values and promoting the brand in places where the opportunities and potential are very sizeable.
Any other places where Lotus Cup could eventually go?
We have had interest in India and also the Middle East. It could be a little early for India. Over the next 2-3 years there could be another 4-5 new regions for the Cup.
Are the racing models you produce expensive to engineer and develop?
We are lucky that with a Lotus we are starting with a car that inherently comes with a lot of racing DNA in it. With the Cup cars, it is relatively straightforward to develop a Cup car from a road car. It starts getting more serious with the GT4 Evora; that was quite a major investment. Relatively speaking though, it’s not too difficult to develop a racing car from a Lotus Car, and certainly less so than some of our competitors.
The Type 125 with its F1-inspired appearance and performance (640 bhp in a car that weighs 600 kg) looks like it’s getting towards the rarefied end of racing spectrum. How many customers would you get for a high-end package like that? Is there a typical buyer?
So far we have sold four. Our customers are all businessmen, but they range in age from 35 to 60 years old. They are people who have spent a sizeable chunk of their lives immersed in the world of business, but who also have a huge passion for motorsport.
They want to drive the ultimate customer track car. The customers tend to find us. We are building two more cars at the moment for future customers.
We have a close relationship with T125 customers and so far it has been a pretty good experience.
And the cost of the Type 125, to the customer?
GBP 550,000 for the car. And then there might be GBP 100,000 for a spares package. Circumstances vary. One owner already owns a race team, so he’s pretty self-sufficient.
We have another guy in Bahrain who has no support at all and we fly out our mechanics and equipment when he wants to run the car, which is probably five times a year.
How successful has the Evora GX – aimed at the US market and the Grand Am series – been in the US?
It’s still early days with a new car, but we are very confident that we will be competitive in our class. We have had a third in class result already. Watch this space.
How do you see endurance racing for Lotus?
For us it means the Lotus Evora; the GT4 and GTC have been used very successfully in endurance racing. The Evora is very easy on the tyres, it’s very easy on fuel. We have had some fantastic results in longer races with class wins and podiums in Dubai, Budapest, Barcelona and Silverstone.
How does the Lotus Driving Academy work?
We are very lucky here at Hethel to have a very nice test track. Lotus Motorsport runs the academy with eight cars. It gives us the opportunity to put on corporate events, but more importantly there are academy activities that can be simple ‘fun days’ or drivers coming here for one to one tuition. Lotus customers can improve their driving skills and also become more familiar with Lotus product.
The cars we use in the academy are all road cars, not race cars. It gives people the opportunity to experience the handling of the road cars on a track.
How do you see the future of Lotus Motorsport?
The focus is to build good commercially based race cars. We are lucky because we have cars that are suitable for the emerging markets, cars that are easy to operate. There are several new regions around the world that are getting turned on to motorsport and we have the right products to penetrate those markets. And we also have cars that they can step-up into when they are ready.
We have made a really good start this year and we intend to continue that good work with further expansion globally. The focus is very much to build on what’s working well, keep competitive and keep expanding around the world where we can see good growth opportunities.