Thursday, May 28, 2009

lotus exige S track test

An Exige S and three Sevens at Kyalami.
by Pierre Martins

DSC08997 One of my pet hates about sitting in traffic is when it’s backed up for miles and when you finally reach the point where the problem that caused the backup was supposed to be, you find out there was no problem at all.

People just slowed down, rubbernecking at an incident on the other side of the highway. Grrrr

Believe you me - you wanna scream in frustration if that caused you to be forty five minutes late for a test at Kyalami involving a supercharged Lotus Exige and three Lotus Seven race cars.

Being late meant there was no time for me to check out the cars beforehand. The moment I pitched up in the Kyalami pit Vaughn ushered me into the little Exige with the words - “You gonna like this…” - and I was strapped in and heading for turn one before I knew it…

Right, let’s see how long it’s gonna take me to figure this strange little car out. It’s small inside. You can just about touch the door panel on the passenger side without leaning out of your seat. Hmmm, the seating position is perfect for my 1.75m frame.

DSC08991 You sit nice and low in the car, the gear stick is short, but mounted nice and high on the centre console so you don’t have to reach for it. It’s like they put the gear stick exactly where I wanted it. There’s no “throw” of the gear stick, it’s more like short flick of the wrist action and it’s sweet and slick, not notchy like you’d expect from a track-orientated car.

By the time I reached Sunset I was thinking ‘Crikey! What a sweet little car!’ Somebody put a lot of thought into designing this car. Light, nimble and capable, just like Colin Chapman would have wanted. The whine from the supercharger just behind your head is just-just audible and gives a reassuring torquey push from the 1800cc four pod through the entire rev range. It revs nice, clean and crisp all the way up to 7800rpm when the shift light comes on.

By the time I flicked it through the Esses I was thinking ‘Nah, this is too good to be true…’ Vaughn had told me that this was Lotus SA’s demo car, straight off the showroom floor with no aftermarket stuff on it except for the semi slicks it had on. I had my doubts. The overall package was just too perfect and quite frankly, I was convinced they spannered this thing big time and spent hours and hours on setup to a level where it would impress old track dogs like me.

By the time I zipped through the Bowl and wiggled the car’s cheeky little ass as I hoofed it a moment too soon I had a huge smile on my dial. I had forgotten that this was just the warm-up lap. This was just way too much fun. It’s like the gods of sports-car heaven answered my prayers and built a track toy just for me.

In the Bus Stop the car showed that it didn’t mind being grabbed by the scruff of the neck and manhandled around either. In fact, it felt like I could have gone faster so I made a mental note to carry more speed through there next time round.

Onto the pit straight, time to string a hot lap together…

DSC08934Shift light, hook third, shift light, hook fourth and keep your right foot planted. Bring it all the way over to the left and use some of the pit lane entry, wait for the two bumps and peel into turn one flat out, no lifting off. Stay over on the right, feather it a little, get back on the power and pitch it in for a late apex into turn two and let the car coast wide for the run up to Nashua.

Hmmm, the Lotus gives relatively good drive here, but boost from a big turbo would’ve been much nicer...

Nashua. I’ve always found the quickest way through this corner is to carry high entry and mid corner speed, not braking and powering through the corner. A little ‘confidence’ brake, down to third gear and balancing the car on the throttle through Nashua is easy meat for the Exige. You can carry good speed here and the suspension settles quickly as you crest the table top, so you can hoof it early and use the curb on the exit.

For Sunset I just kept it in fourth, dabbed the brakes just a tad, pitched the sucker and started feeding the power back on and allowed it to run wide on the exit. You kinda get the feeling it’s got just enough power to be fast through Sunset without any surprises. It won’t bite your head off.

Back to third for Clubhouse. This is the first corner at Kyalami where you depend heavily on the clamps, and they’re more than adequate. This is also where the track plays tricks on your mind because you come from such high speed into a relatively tight corner. I always try to go faster into Clubhouse than I think I can and the Exige coped very well here. It hardly under-steers, even when you push the front end hard on turn in.

Third gear is just long enough for the short straight leading up to the esses and then it’s just a quick dab on the brakes, pitch it in, point it straight and squirt it through that little off-camber bit. That was sweet, but I was longing for more power to shove me up the hill to Wesbank. And I’m not asking for too much, just an extra 150 ponies on top of the 218hp it’s already making, pretty please? He-he-he. Mind you, the Joubert bros and Wayne Waldeck campaign some big horse power turbo Exiges in Porsche Challenge Unlimited, and lemme tell ya, these boys are super quick. At Killarney earlier this year Charl Joubert in his lightweight carbon fibre Exige even gave Toby Venter in his monster Porsche a run for his money…

Anyway, I was heading for Wesbank corner before I got distracted by the lust for more horse power. What I usually do there is go in deep and do most of my turning on the outside of that patch of tar and try to get the car straightened out early to get on the throttle early and hard. I know when I get it right is when I change up a gear when I clip the second apex, and once again, the Lotus didn’t disappoint.

Hee-haw!!! Hello Mine Shaft! This part of the track is always a blast, no matter what you’re driving / riding. I’d like to try it on a skateboard one day, he-he-he. Anyway, the high-speed sweeper in the Mine Shaft is a piece of cake for the Exige and you can keep it tight as you slingshot out there, thanks to the well-thought-through aerodynamic package.

Straighten out and hit the clamps for the Bowl. You can actually hear the brakes go zzzzzzz and the car feels like it’s sucking the track surface with stopping power. The exit of the Bowl was particularly enjoyable with a massive throttle happy predictable tail out slide. Man that felt good!

For the Bus Stop I carried more speed at higher revs and just yanked the thing through there, short-shifted for the short run to the final corner to start another lap with a huge grin on my face. I stayed out for as long as I could and when they finally waved me in I stole another lap for good measure. He-he.

We were running out of track time…

My mouth was watering for Klippies Krige’s super-fast class ‘A’ Lotus Challenge car on full slicks, but this was a week day and the car was ruled out because it was too loud.

DSC08946 The next best thing was Stan Alford’s class ‘B’ car, but I only managed to get three laps in before our track time was up, so unfortunately, the Seven test will have to wait for another time...

Coming back to the Exige S, I really couldn’t believe how good it was straight out of the box. I had a chat to Bradley at Lotus SA and he assured me it’s the real deal. No aftermarket parts were fitted to this car and it received no special treatment with regard to setup and whatnot.

The package is really that good and this particular demo car is a fat bargain waiting for someone. Lotus SA is putting this car up for sale soon at a reduced price of more than R200k under book. Time to sweet talk your bank manager!

On a final note, let me just say this -

I don’t write to please car makers and/or race tuners to butter them up for future test drives. If I think a car is crap I will say so. The opposite is also true, as is the case with the Exige S. So yes, I really found it to be a delightful track car.

Oh, and they tell me the turbo Exige is even quicker. Hmmmm…


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