Found myself tearing around the Lotus test track recently, for reasons that will become apparent in the New Year. But just to whet your appetite, it involved some black and gold livery and the inimitable scream of a Cosworth DFV.
I must have been here a dozen times or more over the years and have driven a vast array of Lotus product through its fiendish twists and turns. It was here I discovered just how good the original Elan was and how disappointing was the Europa by comparison. I’ve driven a couple of F1 cars here too, but the one I remember most fondly was Alex Zanardi’s GT2 Esprit. It might still be the sweetest-handling modern sports car that I’ve so far driven.
Anyway, the track is a rather different place these days. Regardless of what likelihood you place on the success or otherwise of Dani Bahar’s Lotus project, you cannot accuse him of being all mouth and no action. The test track, while following roughly its previous outline, has been turned into a brand new FIA-specification facility, with a surface you could roll pastry on. For those of us who remain convinced the only reason Lotuses have the world’s best blend of ride and handling is because they’ve been developed on the world’s most poorly surfaced test track, these are worrying times. But a chance encounter with chassis guru Matt Becker in the local boozer has disabused me of this notion. Apparently up to 80 per cent of the chassis work is done on the public roads. And if you’ve spent much time driving around Norfolk of late, you’ll know that Matt and his team still have all the awful surfaces they need right on their doorstep.
The circuit, by the way, is deliberately both technical and difficult. It has been designed with two main purposes in mind: to offer a real test to high-downforce racing cars and to throw road cars off balance. The theory is if its quick and easy to drive here, it should be quick and easy to drive anywhere. Having now driven around it in a road car with no power or downforce and a race car with lots of both, I’d say it works.