Lotus returns to racing: 'Anything is possible!'

Sports Car News

Lotus's new Emira GT4 is the firm's first racing car for more than a decade. And it's just the start says race programme manager Richard Selwin, who's looking to return to Le Mans — and hasn't ruled out Formula 1

Lotus Emira GT4 on the crest of a hill

30 Lotus Emira GT4s should be racing next year

Lotus

Behold, a new Lotus racing car! That’s heartening to write, and surely to read, because it doesn’t happen too often these days. Last week at the company’s Hethel base the wraps came off the Emira GT4, successor to the Evora that scored notable results in British GT, Europe and beyond more than a decade ago – so it’s way beyond time. But what’s especially pleasing is it genuinely appears to represent the dawn of a new era for Lotus in motor sport, after so many false starts and broken promises for a car maker terribly ill-served by its previous custodians and dreamers in the recent past decades.

Under the ownership of the Chinese Geely group and Malaysian conglomerate Etika Automotive since 2017, Lotus is undergoing a high-profile and much-publicised makeover (yes, another one) as it eyes an all-electric future for its road cars. The Evija hypercar, launched in 2019, represented a potent prelude, and in March this year the Eletre, an all-electric ‘hyper-SUV’, showed its face to the world. In between, last summer the pretty Emira took its bow, proclaimed as the last all-new petrol-powered Lotus – a statement that will stick in the throats of anyone in thrall to Colin Chapman’s creations of the distant past.

But the Emira GT4 and Lotus’s official return to racing has to be taken as good news, especially as it appears the marque’s future plans for competition are wide open. The motor sport world is hedging its bets on future propulsion, much more at least than OEMs diving all-in to the electric revolution – and although Lotus is one of them, its future racing plans won’t necessarily be limited to EV-only codes and series. Simon Lane, director of the new Lotus Advanced Performance department that will spearhead the return to competition, said rather cryptically last week: “We have exciting plans – there is much more to come.”

Lotus Emira GT4

Emira GT4 follows the Evora GT4, which was launched back in 2010

Lotus

Motor Sport caught up with a familiar and friendly old face from Formula 3000 and GP2 paddocks of past decades to find out more. Richard Selwin was a key cog at the Williams-affiliated Petrobras Junior team with which Bruno Junqueira romped to the International F3000 crown way back in 2000, then stuck with boss Paul Jackson as he formed iSport International for GP2 and won another major single-seater title with Timo Glock in 2007. Now Selwin has reinvented himself for the world of GT racing, and after consultancy years for the German Project 1 Porsche squad that culminated in scooping a GTE-Am win at Le Mans in 2019, plus the World Endurance Championship 2018/19 ‘superseason’ title, he’s now race programme manager at Lotus.

“You do get a buzz when you think Chapman himself was wandering around here all those years ago,” he says. “There’s elements of the old Lotus still here, in terms of buildings. You wonder what would he be thinking now?”

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Chapman would surely approve of the Emira GT4 – even if at 1300kg he’d argue it’s way too heavy. Then again, he’d say the same of just about any modern car, for road or race. The Emira keeps to a familiar theme established by the Evora and is powered by Toyota’s 400bhp 3.5-litre V6 2GR-FE dry sump engine with Harrop supercharger. There’s an Xtrac six-speed sequential paddle-shift gearbox, double wishbone suspension front and rear, adjustable Ohlins dampers, front and rear anti-roll bars and Bosch ABS brakes, on an aluminium chassis with composite panels. All available for the discerning GT racer for £165,000, excluding taxes and delivery.

The car is a collaboration with respected, tried and trusted competitions powerhouse RML, which is likely to handle production. “The long-term gain will be to bring it in-house, but we are going through a transformation in terms of stepping up production for Emira, going from 1700 to 6000 road cars a year,” says Selwin. “The first wave will be 30 race cars for next year. That’s a lot in the current state of the world. We’re aiming to start delivering cars in Q4 this year and we should be starting to build mid to the end of June. There are difficulties in the supply chain, so we shall have to see how it goes.”

Choosing GT4 as a racing canvas made sense. “The rationale is it’s something we have been in before, something we have knowledge of and it’s viewed as a bottom-rung starting point,” says Selwin. “It also seems to be what people want from Lotus, there’s a history with people like Gavan Kershaw racing the cars before.” Kershaw is now a director at Lotus and was on hand last week to give the car its first public runs at Hethel’s 2.2-mile test track. “It was a natural fit for the new Emira which is not quite big enough for GT3, without spending a severe amount of money on development,” Selwin continues. “It’s a toe in the water.”

Lotus Evora GT4 ahead of Audi R18 in 2011 Petit Le Mans

Lotus went endurance racing with the Evora GTE, here at Petit Le Mans, Road Atlanta in 2011

DPPI

But for what exactly? That’s the big question and one that Selwin, with his vast experience across different motor sport codes, is relishing the challenge of helping Lotus to answer.

“We always get to Formula 1 fairly quickly in conversations,” he openly admits. “But I think we are a long way off that. We have a desire to go GT racing. Obviously Lotus is going all-electric in the very near future, so there could be an element of that. But let’s prove we can run in GT4. We’ve got confidence from the management, then we can look at what else we can do. Anything is possible.”

Everyone in Hethel will be painfully aware that over-promising and under-delivering is a recent Lotus sin (yes, we’re talking about you, Dany Bahar). “I said that from day one,” acknowledges Selwin. “I’d love to do F1. Yes, I’d love to do LMDh or LMH, love to go to Le Mans. But the reality is I know how hard those arenas are. For me, F1 is some way off being realistic. They’ve stuck a plaster over it with the current regs and price cap, but we all know there are games behind it. Personally I don’t see the sense – although I’ll probably get shot for saying that! I see us better suited to Le Mans-type racing, but it has to be with the right product. Having done WEC and managed a class win at Le Mans I know how hard it is, how many times you can go there and come away with nothing.”

Lotus Emira GT4 kicks up dust at Hethel test track

Emira GT4 will be going to customers around the world

Lotus

For now, he has enough on his plate finalising the Emira GT4, getting the cars built, working out how best to support customers and seeing them head out on to race tracks in 2023. “So far the response has been pretty amazing,” he reports. “I wouldn’t say we’ve sold the whole 30, but we’re not far away. We’ve got interest from Europe, the UK, Australia, America and China – it’s pretty global.”

GT4 is, of course, a super-competitive arena already populated by major players. As you’ll have gathered, Selwin is a typical motor racing pragmatist and isn’t one for bold statements. “We’ve got a good starting point, but we have to get racing to see where we stack up,” he says. “It’s Balance of Performance racing, so there’s a game just in that. I think we will start bang in the middle. If you look at the results in GT4 it’s hard to pick a winner: one week it’s a BMW, another it’s a Ford Mustang. What would you buy to get a competitive edge? Cars are probably bought more because of a passion for brands rather than anything, and we win a little bit there. It’s always a surprise how people are champing at the bit for a Lotus.”

But not much of a surprise. It’ll be good and heartening to see Britain’s favourite sports car maker back where it belongs, on the race tracks of the world.