The Lotus Driving Academy very generously offers annual prizes for our popular Fantasy F1 prediction competition. Last years winner was forum administrator ‘Bibs’ who stepped down as he probably cheated* and let forum member ‘Gazm’ take top spot!
*You wouldn’t think so seeing how badly he’s doing this year!
Now that there is little chance of me winning this years competition I can relax from the intensive research and data gathering needed for predictions, in other words put down the pin, and share my experience of last years First Prize.
The prize consisted of a miniature helmet from the Lotus F1 Team and the Level 3 day at the Lotus Driving Academy (LDA). After buying our Elise two years ago I swore it would not go on a track. Having never been to a track day I presumed they were just for overpaid stock brokers in Ferraris and Porches and it would devalue the car. However, after test driving an Evora S at its local launch, the Lotus Factory Driver suggested that I attended the LDA Level 1. In fact, my wife and I both did the course and really enjoyed it. So much so that I returned to complete Level 2 a few weeks later.
That, I now realise, put my toe firmly on the slippery slope to track-day addiction. I now attend as many as my budget and free time will allow and the Elise does more miles on track than the road. I had resolved not to do the Level 3 as it was equivalent to two and a half days of one-to-one tuition with an instructor, in my car, at a track that I could drive on again. So winning the prize and being able to complete the Lotus License for free was a fantastic bonus.
By now a Solar Yellow Evora had joined our household. It had completed a hard-working 18 months as a servant of a Lotus manager. A manager with connections to France judging by the Paris address in the SatNav and the 23,000 miles on the clock. So we decided to make a weekend of it and take the Evora back to its home. My wife would spend the day in Norwich while I developed my dubious track-driving techniques in the LDA Evora S.
As the day starts early at LDA we booked a B&B close to the factory so we could get a breakfast before setting off. The Yew Tree House Bed & Breakfast is only a few minutes away from the gates and serves a fabulous breakfast. The rooms are behind the house in what looks like a converted tennis pavilion, given away by the grass tennis court, and have the usual TV and kettle. They are often full during the week with contract designers working freelance at the factory. We decided to have dinner at the Bird in Hand Pub which I had read about in another forum posting. It was close-by and apparently had a strong association with Lotus Cars. As it turned out the association was even stronger with the LDA. The meal and service was very good so we decided to move to the bar for a nightcap. The only other group there seemed to be having a drink with the Landlord, a man in a suit who had been behind the bar earlier. They were talking about the lotus track so I assumed they must be on the course too. As we paid the bill I mentioned to the barmaid that I was doing the course and she said that her brother was the sales manager at LDA and the pub is the family business. The man in the suit, and very pointy shoes, was in fact Alex Brake the LDA Sales Manager and the guests were visitors from America. So after a quick introduction we bid farewell and promised to be at the gate on time, refreshed from an early night….. of course we did take a bottle of wine back with us so it wasn’t too early a night, but it was certainly an early start.
The Early Bird…
So, two slightly groggy adults, each with watches managed to get ready and set off to the factory. It was disappointing to find that the early breakfast didn’t materialise. There were no sign of life at the house and I didn’t want to embarrass the owners by waking them up. So we set off , my wife would drop me off then return for her breakfast before checking out.
We checked-in at the factory gate and the guard said nobody from LDA was there yet but I was welcome to take a seat if I wished. So, a little disappointed that the staff were late I went back to the car to bid farewell to my wife and wish her a fulsome breakfast. Only when the guard came over with a puzzled expression to explain that I would have to wait for an hour did I realise that the disappointing breakfast service was due to us being an hour too early!
The prospect of actually getting my breakfast was only slightly tarnished by the look on my wife’s face when she realised I had robbed her of an hours sleep. So, back to the thankfully very close house for a fabulous fresh cooked Full English and then, take two….
If you manage to make the same mistake and your B&B is too far to return to, don’t worry, the LDA provide a lovely range of pastries and strong coffee to get the day started. Most of the guests were completing the Lotus License having started on the Friday with Level 1. This is a new idea for this year as previously the LDA only worked Saturday and Sunday, it also explained the strong overseas contingent. As well as America we had representatives from Japan, Canada, France and Yorkshire….. well, if a County wins more Olympic Gold medals than Australia it is worth a mention.
Alex introduced the instructors and the very patient waitress/child-minder, Suzanne. She would spend the day keeping us topped up with caffein and nibbles whilst supervising the trainee waiter, a delightfully attentive junior member of the American contingent. The instructor lineup was as diverse as the Evora MY12 improvements list. Tony, the senior member and compère, had been involved with Lotus since time began and had a delightful story telling manner, did you know that he won a prize at the Nurburgring? The lineup included a young racing driver with a mop of hair that only those with youthful commitment to fashion could maintain and a Factory Engineer Test Driver who drew the short straw to keep me off the grass. In support was professional racer Nigel Greensall. He was looking after the V-box system and debriefing the video after each session. Unfortunately, after the morning session of pirouetting, Tony was feeling a little seasick, too much water on the turning circle, and Nigel kindly stepped-in to cover for him. That prevented Nigel from giving video debriefs in the afternoon but did give Tony the chance to tell us he won a prize at the Nurburgring, did I mention that?
The morning consisted of exercises designed to practice skills needed for the track; slalom, trail braking and power-slides. The slalom for the effect of balance on steering. Trail braking for getting around an impossibly tight corner at high speed and the power slides because it’s not your car. The first two I had experienced before but I have never had the chance to power-slide like a Top Gear presenter, I couldn’t wait.
Clarkson makes it look so easy…
Now, the LDA instructors don’t rate Mr Clarkson’s driving skills as the best in the world but he makes power-slides look easy and as I found out they are not. In hindsight, I didn’t really grasp how to get the slide started, going faster around the turning circle just made more understeer and as my poor instructor noted “it can’t oversteer when it’s understeering.” So with a little help from the handbrake we finally got some oversteer practice and occasionally held it in for a few seconds. Not as stylish as I had hoped but still great fun! Remember, it is not your car.
We then had a delicious buffet lunch, supplied by caterers and presented by Suzanne and her ever-present junior helper. The break also gave the instructors chance to compare notes and decide how much valium to put in their coffee for the afternoon track session
The track session starts with a gentle demonstration lap from the instructor then you get your chance to show how little of it sank in. For each session you have a memory stick to plug into the V-box system ready for debrief afterwards. You keep the sick to take home to replay several hundred times for your friends and families amusement.
After three sessions you really feel you are improving and getting to grips with the track and the Evora S, in-spite of the stiff gear linkages which make swift changes very difficult (I know, “a poor workman”). The updated gear cables were in short supply and customer cars had priority but I am sure they will have been replaced by now. When you finally think you can drive it is time for the instructor’s demo lap, this time with no holds barred and all the clever electronics turned off. You then realise there is so much more to learn and practice.
The whole day was great fun both on and off the track. The staff are all friendly and helpful and the in-car video is a welcome addition to the format. No matter what your experience or driving ambitions the LDA provide an individually tailored product that makes sure you get the most from the day. Whoever wins the prize this year will have a great time, and remember, it is not your car!