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Lotus Driver Training Experience

Sunday 27th of may

We set of to Lotus at around 07:45. Everything went pretty smooth (only missed one roundabout) so we arrived just after eight o'clock. After we signed in and got our badges, we could help ourselves to breakfast.

We immediatly recognized some of the faces from the Lotus Elise video (Project M1-11). Dave Minter was there (he did a lot of testing on the Elise) and Tony Shute (project manager). After some chatting it was time for a short video explaining a bit about the day. Afterwards we went downstairs for a presentation about the different events for the day and a more detailed view of the track:

We got a bit of instruction on how to get in and out of the car, driving position and how to wear your seatbelt. Demonstrated in an open version of the Elise chassis:

Everybody got to pick a helmet. As I suspected, largest size was XL, so I had to use my own helmet. Fortunatly Arno could find one that fit.
We went outside and were assigned to our instructors. People were divided in to groups of four, with every group having a car name. Arno and I were in the Eclat team and assinged to... Dave Minter!

All the Elise's that are used throughout the course are right hand drive. It took us a lot of getting used to. Especially the shifting is awkward, as you have to shift with your left hand, which doesn't give the same feel of control. It's just a thing you have got to get used to, but that takes probably longer than one day.

Our first training was the circle. On it you test understeer and oversteer. Dave demonstrated individually how it feels and what you have to do. Next he took the passenger seat so we could try ourselves.
The innerpart of the circle was made wet and the Elise had front tires on the rear to make it easier to get under and oversteer. The understeer was not very diffictult to get. You just go around faster and faster and you'll feel the car sliding over its front wheels. You have to turn in tighter to try and keep your line, but before the tires grip to much you have to steer back, other wise it will snap into oversteer.

To get oversteer you have to go round the circle quite fast and then lift of the gas. The rear will slide out, and you have to catch it by counter steering. Most dificult part for me was the steering. Getting it to steer quick enough without letting go of the wheel took some getting used to. Another guy in our group got back on the gas when the car was oversteering. Not the way to do it, but it resulted in a nice picture:

(Heath, if you want the big foto, just click it ;-)

After the circle we went to the next training which was the slalom. They set up cones to create gate which you have to drive through (ofcourse without hitting the cones ;-). The difficult part is that the gates are unevenly spaced. That way you have to think ahead about three gates to get the best (and fastest) line through the course. Balancing the car is very important in the slalom, cornering through the gates without changing the throttle position. That way the car remains stable.

Next up was the last training in the morning session: braking. This training consisted of two parts. At the far end was an evasise brake test. You have to break in a corridor made of cones (comming in at 50mph). At the end of the corridor is a barrier made of cones. You can't break hard enough to stop before the barrier, so you have to break, avoid the barrier and break again. As the Elise doesn't have ABS or servo assisted brakes you have to do it all by yourself ;-). Just get it to break at the edge of locking up. If you take a bit of force from the break pedal and apply it again you'll stand still very fast. Sounds easy enough...
The other test asks for a bit more judgement. You have to approach a cone at 50mph and stop next to it without wasting space. So break as late as possible but stop next to the cone. This test allows you to learn a bit about the stopping power of the Elise and how to judge your braking point.

Ofcourse getting the break point right proved to be quite difficult, resulting in some smoking tires ;-).

After the braking training it was time for lunch (round 13:00). They had setup the television set so we could watch the start of the Monaco grand prix and see how Coulthard missed his chance to leave from pole position.

After lunch it was time for the full track driving. During lunch the Elises were taken back to the workshop, refueled and given numbers. Each person would spend two sessions of 15 minutes with his (or her) instructor on the ciruit.

First we were taken out in the people carriers (ok, Vauxhall's ;-) on the circuit so Dave could show us what lines to follow and get a bit of a feel for the circuit.

After the first lap with the Vauxhall, the Elises are lined up and ready to go.

Keeping the car stable and following the right lines is very important. There are cones on the circuit indicating the steer in points and the apex. If you get it right you feel it right away. The car flows through the corners, without having to "force" it.

Both chicane's at the west side of the track proved to be "interesting". Getting the distance right (steering as little as possible) was pretty dificult as I was sitting at the wrong side of the car. I only hit the chicane once lightly, so no real damage done (only added some striping ;-)

After completing the 15 minute interval the red flag was waved and everybody returned. Instructors filled out the grade forms as the other got ready for their 15 minutes.

I found my first session pretty dificult. Getting used to the track and also shifting took some time. My seconds session was a lot better. I'll remember Dave shouting through the intercom for a while:

"Brake, down to second, balance the car, go, Go, GO!"

Pretty cool.

Fortunatly there was only one incident during the day. Somewhere near the Clark Corner I think someone lifted of the gas while cornering, resulting in a spin into the tire barrier. Luckily only the Elise had some minor damage. It shows you though how easily things can go wrong if you make a mistake at higher speeds.

After everybody finished the second 15 minutes it was time for the demonstration laps. Elises were refueled and the instructors got ready to take everybody round the circuit twice and show how fast the Elise can be.

I already asked if I could take my video camera with me on the demo lap, wasn't a problem. So I tried to hold on and keep the camera as steady as possible. Remember, it's going round pretty fast. I was doing over 100mhp on the main straight, so I think Dave went well past that. So pictures are a bit shakey, but it gives you an impression of what the car (and the Driver) is capable of.

This is a movie of the demorun.

After the demo laps had finished, all drivers got a certificate of attendance. There were also prizes for best team, moste improved student and for all of the different training excersizes.

Afterwards we went back to Norwich to have some dinner, watch a movie (Jackie Chan rulez!) and get some sleep.