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My Lotus Diary April 2003

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26th April 2003

Spend the day at Llandow race track with my brothers, hooning around in my elder brothers Sylva Striker. This is the first opportunity I've had to drive it and I was curious to see how it compared to a base Elise on the fun stakes. Today was mainly bike engined cars but there were some car engined strikers, pheonix's and some exotic custom single seaters.

My brother's Striker.

First of all, let's put things in perspective. Pete's Striker is a 6200 kit car with about 140bhp and weighs in at about 530kg. It has no screen or doors and for the vast majority of the population is a track day only car, though it is road registered.

First of all it is loud, bordering on the noise limits of most circuits at full chat. In normal driving is is not too bad though. It does sound good, the kind of noise a fair few Elise owners would die for. The second thing that hits you is the acceleration, it would leave a standard Elise easily, 0-60 coming up in the low 5 seconds. This is also helped by a faster and more direct gear change (the gear lever is about 10cm tall). Acceleration at higher speeds is where you actually notice the biggest difference though. This is all down to the light weight. Above 110mph it all gets intense and the wind on your helmet is very noticable.

Light weight is also the biggest single factor in it's handling. It has more balance than an Elise (literally, the weight distribution is nearer 50/50) and so much more chuckable into the corners. Even inexperienced drivers can throw this thing around as it is so forgiving and has loads of feedback. The feedback from the front is slightly down on an Elise due to the slightly heavier steering. I put this down to the much faster rack. The biggest difference is that you can really feel what the back end is doing though. The feedback is incredible, even in the pouring rain, you have the confidence to push it so hard. This is something any Elise owner needs to experience. This car is half way between an Elise and a Go-kart. To put this into context, Richard (my younger brother) took me round as a passenger and the the last time I felt g-forces like that, was in at Brandhatch in an Elise Sport 190, with Dave Minter at the wheel. He's a better driver than me but not in the same league as Dave Minter, which just goes to show that the car was a significant contributing factor.

The light weight also impacts on the braking. Even with drums on the back this car stops so quickly and you really can precisely control the braking right up to the wheels locking due to the amazing feedback. The brake pedal travel is too long on this car but the stopping power is there if you push the pedal far enough. Throughout the whole day, the brakes never even hinted at fade and the oil and water temperatures stayed well within limits.

The downside of the weight is the limited width of the cockpit. The seat was a squeeze for me and driving the car requires driving boots as the clearance on the pedals is not enough for any of my size 11's. The fuel tank is six gallons, so we needed a few cans of petrol to get through a full days driving. Tyre wear was negligible, again due to the light weight. Another downside is that we had to trailer the car from Birmingham to Llandow, though some people drove to the circuit. This is only the second track visit for this car, so a trailer was also a safe option in terms of possible shakedown problems.

As a third car, something like a Sylva Striker makes great sense. A superb driving experience, amazing value for money and astounding performance. The day has put the Elise into context for me. The Elise still represents one of the best road/track compromises there is, but Lotus need to address the track day market with something that weighs in at about 400kg. I span the Striker a few times and paid one visit to the in-field in the rain. Even in a spin it seems to stop so much quicker than the Elise (I've been there too!).

The quickest car on the day seemed to be a 1960's single seater, with a 1000cc Hillman Imp engine. Looked like an old Lotus 49. I also got a ride in a superbly finshed Pheonix with 208bhp, 1600cc supercharged Toyota 4-AGE engine. I think this may be my next car (minus the supercharger). Simply beautiful and with the same Striker chassis and handling.

A stunning Pheonix.

29th April 2003

Lotus launch yet another limited edition Elise. Even I'm losing track of them all now. The 28k Sport Elise 135R is aimed at track day enthusiasts. It features re-calibrated dampers to give stiffer bump and rebound settings. The dampers are also fitted with adjustable upper spring platforms allowing owners to adjust ride height. A stiffer 'Motorsport' adjustable anti-roll bar has also been fitted. It has the 135bhp version of the K Series, with head work to improve gas flow and the standard intake manifold has been replaced by a cast alloy version as used on the 111 range. A reprogrammed ECU improves the overall breathing and flexibility through the rev range. The 135R also has O.Z. Racing one piece, lightweight, cast 16-spoke alloys. The rear wheel size remains unchanged but the front wheel size is upped to 6.5 inches to give a more positive turn-in on track. The O.Z. wheels are fitted with Yokohama AO48. The 135R gets a three piece diffuser and new exhaust. Only two colours will be available; Silver Mica and Blue Mica. The official launch is 1st May 2003.

I'm going to upset a few people now and say what I believe. No existing owner is really going to be tempted as the loss on trade-in cannot be justified. Few real track day enthusiasts are going to buy it either, when the same money gets you some rather serious dedicated track day cars. There will be a limited market for those looking for a road going sports car for occasional track day use, but this is a fairly small market with plenty of competition at much lower prices. I'm sure it's a great car, just expensive for what it is.

What I want to see is Lotus produce a lower price and more radical track day vehicle, with a weight below 450kg. This is what people expect from Lotus and what a lot of fans of the marque are waiting for. Lotus are losing ground to the vast number of small companies that have stepped into this space. They need a strategy that expands their range up market and also down market, to address the growing track day phenomenen. If they were smart, they would look seriously at both ends of the Elise spectrum.

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