Among the many interesting cars at the Spa track day, there was a white, UK registered Exige pounding around all day, keeping some serious company honest. It looked properly fast and was being worked hard. Exiges look good doing this. From the pit lane at Spa you can watch cars hurtle straight towards you, down the hill from La Source, before you feel them blast past from literally inches away. To be honest an MX5 looks pretty impressive from the pit wall at Spa, so an Exige S at full-chat leaves quite an impression. It flashed past with that distinctive Tie Fighter-like scoring, whooshing sound as the Harrop supercharger greedily hoovered-up the fresh Ardennes air. Given the immense track ability of the Exige S, I assumed the car was stock. During the break for lunch, I got a chance to speak to the owner while he was having some fresh Avon ZZRs fitted. While it looked like any other Exige S outside, he opened the engine cover to reveal the entire Komo-tec parts catalogue nestling underneath. A very nice carbon replacement for the stock RAV4 airbox (yes really) looked to be saving both weight and time getting air into the engine. This car had the works – exhaust, manifold, pulley and carbon air box, said to be worth the full 430PS. We agreed to go out after lunch and see how our cars compared. Mike if you’re reading this, thanks again, it was a blast. This video was the result.
I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions this time. All I’ll say is that the Komo-tec car is very fast. You should also know that I think Pirelli Trofeos are ultimately grippier than Avon ZZRs, Cup cars are nearly 70kg lighter and the ‘tow’ at Spa is worth an easy 20bhp on the uphill, 1km long Kemmel straight. If I could gain through Eau Rouge and get into his tow, I’d be able to borrow some of his extra horsepower for the long drag to Les Combes. But if he broke the tow he’d pull a few car lengths by the end of the straight. It’s definitely faster in a straight line. How much is open for debate. What is certain is how much fun it was to drive around Spa with another Exige in a hurry. At times it felt like our own private round of the Lotus Cup Europe series. Let’s call it an honourable draw in the hope that Komo-tec will agree to a rematch next year.
Onwards and downwards (in size and weight) to the 211. For some strange reason I hadn’t driven one before, so I jumped at the chance to put this right. Besides, there’s no other way of getting in a 211. It’s a fair leap over the bodywork before you can wriggle down into the familiar Elise seat, click the harnesses into place, fiddle with the mirrors and fire her up. The supercharged Toyota 2ZZ-GE lump starts with a gritty, buzzy, four-cylinder blare that sends vibrations fizzing right through the hollow ally tub and into the small of your back. So far, so familiar to anyone with a Toyota Exige. What followed next was not so familiar. Having gotten used to much heavier steering at parking speeds, the 211 felt fingertip light from the first touch. Even rolling down the pit lane it feels pin-sharp and laser precise. Fully exposed to the elements, this is part car, part rollercoaster. Especially when you extend your right foot forward for the first time. There’s no need to scream, the supercharger does that for you. It’s just the most appropriate sound you can imagine as the car charges forward, feeling fantastically airy and inertia-free. I know this engine well but I’ve never been in an S2 Exige that ripped through the gears like this. Nor one that felt so torquey. It’s said to be around 200kg lighter than an S2 but it feels like more. With so little mass to tax the brakes stopping power is immense. You feel like you can brake 50 metres later than you can in the V6 Cup. When you do finally hit the brakes, the car squats down on all four wheels, compressing the tyres into the tarmac – it brakes down on its springs, not forward into the nose. However, despite having the time of my life, it soon becomes clear that Spa is not the best track for the 211. It hits a bit of an aerodynamic wall after 120mph. I don’t think I saw much over 130mph down the Kemmel straight whereas the Exige V6 pulled nearly 150mph. Any advantages found around here over an Exige would be amplified several times over around somewhere like the Brands Hatch Indy circuit.
Getting into a rhythm around Spa’s wide, smooth curves, enjoying the delicacy, accuracy and agility of the 211, I realised what I’ve been missing all these years. The 211 is an absolute gem. I always considered it a happy accident, a bit of a ‘what if’ experiment and a late attempt to jump on the track day bandwagon. I was wrong. It’s a seminal Lotus. A defining car. An essential part of the canon. This won’t seem like an exaggeration to anyone that has driven one. Of all the recent cars from Lotus, this is the one I hope Jean-Marc Gales and the new team have been spending plenty of time with. We can only hope that, one day, Lotus do a V6 version.
Of particular interest to me was how the 211 compared to my own Caterham Superlight – a car I know better than any other. With a 250bhp R500 motor and only 450kg to push around it’s now a very quick race car, currently competing in the CSCC Mag 7’s series. In a nutshell, I was expecting the 211 to feel slower, heavier and less forgiving at the limit. But it felt no heavier, was no less responsive and not much slower either. The acceleration is venomous. It feels stiffer, stronger and enormously safer than the Caterham too. If they did a one-make series with 211s I’d switch to that in a heartbeat. Caterhams are utterly brilliant, and let’s not forget a Lotus design too, but they’re a bit wild and ragged, they move around a lot more at speed. The 211 just grips, goes and stops with greater efficiency. It looks and sounds raw and uncivilized but it’s not. It’s delicate, dextrous, nimble and neat on the track. Understeer at Rivages? None. You move your hands. The car turns-in. There is no negotiation. You hit the apex. Turn-in is electric.
The icing on the 211 cake was the ‘taxi’ lap from Ron Simons. With a clear view of Ron’s heel and toe cha-cha-cha on the pedals, I’m not at all surprised that it’s one of his favourite cars. It’s just so invigorating. You feel so alive after a lap of Spa. He still braked (if only just) through Eau Rouge but took the fearsome Blanchimont corner completely flat. I’ve never done that in anything before. It may sound dramatic but it felt serene. Flat, sharp, composed, locked on line and just breathtakingly fast.
The V6 Cup has done such an immense job up until now but it’s come unstuck right at the final hurdle. What the 211 lacks in six-cylinder sound effects it makes up for with manic, banshee supercharger scream. It is pure, four-wheeled adrenalin. Neat and uncut. As a pure track experience (on a bright, dry day at least) the 211 is right up there with the very best a man can get. But then, of course, you do have to get back home again. As a compromise the Exige works really well for me for me but the 211 is the daddy on the track. If all of RSR’s cars were lined-up, ready and waiting for another few laps, I’d pick the 211 in a heartbeat. I wasn’t sorry to be driving back home in an Exige though. To be fair, the 211 could do it if you were feeling sufficiently hardy. I drove to Le Mans and back with a friend in my Caterham once. It was mostly hilarious. But I only did it once.
I dropped into TLF HQ on the way home and there was one final surprise in store – a quick drive in the Daytona Blue Evora Sports Racer IPS. Bibs, who knows these roads like the back of his hand, took the wheel first. A few things struck me from the passenger seat. First – if you see a blue Evora SR anywhere near Maidstone, don’t try and keep up. In his own back yard, Bibs could give Romain Grosjean run for his money! Second – an Evora SR is a really nice place to spend time. The fit and finish of everything is outstanding. No squeaks, no rattles. It all feels and smells reassuringly expensive, just as it should.
It was great to get behind the wheel of an Evora again and this was my first go in an IPS car. The Evora has a smoother, more cultured, more exotic snarl than the Exige. You can also hear more whine from the supercharger inside which is welcome too. For all-but-identical powertrains, it’s amazing how different they sound. As for IPS, I wouldn’t swap it for a manual but I could see why someone might. It doesn’t shift as fast as PDK but it’s smoother at full chat. With crisp, clean blips on the downshift it’s no ordinary slush-o-matic either. Being able to keep both hands on the wheel at all times is a definite plus. For one thing it means keeping more nerve endings in contact with that exquisite steering. And there it is again, that sense of ‘completeness’ that Porsche does so well. I know how Porsche does it. I have no idea how Lotus does it with the resources available to them. It’s a proper, no-excuses-needed car now the Evora. It has most of the pace and feel of the Exige, it’s far more special and memorable than a Cayman S to drive, much cheaper than a GT3 and I know first hand how capable they are on the track. As I head off for the final leg of the journey, I’m left wondering how on earth I’ve managed to avoid owning one.
The Exige felt a bit crude, noisy and cramped straight after the Evora. But there, over the last 2000 revs or so, was that feral sharpness, that quite uncivilized rip to the 7200 redline that neither the Evora, nor the Cayman S are able to match. I’m left humbled by what the car has done over the past few days. It has been an incredible trip, close to the perfect itinerary for a V6 Cup owner. The Exige has delivered faultless, uninterrupted brilliance from start to finish. Not even a blown tyre could take the shine off the experience. I’ve been very fortunate to have owned some interesting cars and each, in their own way, had their moments. With this Exige, great moments seem to be in constant supply. Back at home, once I’d got all the black rubber streaks off the Motorsport Green paint, I gave it that extra coat of Swissvax ‘Best in show’ as promised. It costs over £200 a pot which is quite ridiculous. But I can’t think of a car I’ve owned that deserved it more. Boy, am I ever glad that they had some spare Trofeos in stock.
Thanks again to RSR for the drive in the 211. If you’d like to experience the 211 at Spa for yourself (and you really should) click here for more information.