Back in November I had the unfortunate pleasure of becoming 33 years old (or half a Junks as we like to call it on SELOC). In order to balance this someone bought me a day at “Lotus”:http://www.grouplotus.com/cars/home.html on their “Driver Training Program.”:http://www.lotusdrivingacademy.com/ I booked immediately and waited eagerly for April…
As usual (in my life a least!) the best laid plans go awry and my plan to leave Thame at lunchtime, pop in to see a few friends for lunch then blat over to Norfolk soon were in tatters as I watched the clock tick past 5pm whilst sat in a customers office. Eventually I got to leave Thame at around 6:30pm which meant my ETA would be something like 9:30pm After a long drive across the country to Norfolk (and only spotting a single Lotus en-route about 5 minutes from the factory) I finally arrived in Wymondham. Having forgotten to book my hotel in advance it was a case of beggars and choosers and I ended up in the slightly expensive Best Western. If I’d waited til I got back from work on Friday I’d have seen that the “SELOC”:http://www.seloc.org massive had recommended I stay at the “Old Thorn Barn”:http://www.oldthornbarn.co.uk/ but hey ho these things happen.
Since I’d been held up late at work I didn’t get to Wymondham until 9:15pm which left my evening kind of limited, a good job too once I’d realized just how long the day was on Saturday!
So saturday morning and a wake up call and an alarm later I had a nice hearty breakfast of Scrambled eggs, bacon and toast then loaded the Exige up and headed in search of the Lotus factory. Unfortunately the young lady on reception hadn’t understood my request for directions to the Lotus factory so instead gave me directions to the ‘middle of nowhere’ so my early start was all in vain and I screeched to a halt outside the factory gates at 8:15am, 15 minutes late…
On arrival at the Lotus factory I had to surrender all photography equipment so this report will sadly be lacking in any photos although once you are through the gates and can see all the different mules (test cars) about you can understand why… Having arrived late and feeling guilty for holding everyone else up I was happy to learn that there was still one more to arrive which gave me time to get a glass of water and say hi to my fellow students for the day. Once our last colleague had arrived we embarked upon the standard briefings were introduced to Dan (my instructor for the day), Shawn and Dave (Minter!) and then watched a short video telling us about the format of the day. After that is was downstairs to grab a helmet (unless you are sad like me and bought your own…) and then into a Vauxhall Zephyr to head off for our first exercise.
Exercise 1 was an understeer/oversteer lesson. Using a car fitted with smaller rear tyres on a roundabout which was soaking wet we simply had to circle the track increasing speed til we felt understeer then correct it by lessening the lock and slightly reducing the power (not lifting off!). Once that was in hand we then moved on to oversteer. Oversteer is where the back wheels of the car attempt to overtake the front wheels and can look mighty impressive in the right hands but usually ends up as a tank slapper and a visit to the hedge, in this case we were concentrating on lift off oversteer which is exactly what it sounds like. You circle the wet roundabout and then when instructed to lift off the power and wait… a few moments later the car will start to oversteer and you correct with a bit of steering but not going back on the power (a little makes you slide and look like a track god, a little more and you end up racing to the middle of the roundabout…). For me this was a great chance to use skills I’d been taught elsewhere but never had the chance to try and Dan was full of tips to get me smoother and more in control.
Exercise 2 was the unequal slalom. Here you get to race down the main runway diving between gates and then ending up at a sharp u turn ready to head back through the gates again. Here I learnt a different technique from previous slaloms I’d done and was taught to aim at the widest cone rather than the space as I’d been taught before. Suddenly slaloms made sense to me and I really enjoyed giving Lotus’ 111R a good thrashing down the slalom to the point where I could feel my back muscles tensing to save my previously damaged spine!
Exercise 3 was a braking and steering exercise. With the ABS turned off you drove at 60 mph and attempted to stop in line with a cone. This seemed to always end up with me 4 foot early or 4 foot late and surrounded by tyre smoke… After that you then drove back down the straight at a set of cones arranged as an avoidance obstacle where you simply brake in a straight line until the line of cones then release the brake slightly turn hard right then left to finish you braking again. This produced amusing results from our group with the only person overshooting being Dan our instructor, although I think he was braking a tiny bit later than us 😉
After the morning’s activities we were all feeling peckish and headed back to the club house for lunch which was a fine array of sandwiches, crisps, sausage rolls etc and was ideal given that a heavy meal might make a return during the afternoons track sessions…
Being alphabetically first all the time has always caused me trouble in the past and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go out first in our group on the track but my concerns over the circuit having little run off were in vain. Dan took me on a lap to show me where to go then we went off for my first attempt at quite a technical circuit.
Hethel, you see, isn’t a race track. It doesn’t have smooth tarmac all round and has the occasional pothole in places. The road surface changes all over the shop and to add to the fun Lotus have added some tight chicanes to control the boy racer in us all. Add to this the random wildlife that occasionally runs across the track (I saw 3 pheasant/duck type things during my afternoon) and you get a circuit that is closer to a b-road than it is to say Brands Hatch. But what a brilliant circuit! Virtually all of it is 3rd and 4th gear with a quick foray into 5th on the back straight and lots of sequences of corners that relied upon getting the first one right to carry the speed which add up to make it a brilliantly fun circuit despite a few braking areas where the tyre wall just seems a little too close sometimes 😉
During the afternoon we got to do 2 fifteen minute sessions round the circuit which although it sounds short was actually a good amount of time, although I’d have loved to have got just one more session…
At the end of the day we all got a couple of flying laps with our instructors and then it was back to the club house to pick up our certificates and get the traditional debrief.
After the debrief 5 prizes were handed out, 1 for each of the disciplines and then a final one for ‘Best of the Day’ which I’m proud to say is now sitting on the mantle piece behind my desk!
It was a brilliant day and I’m so glad I went. Beforehand I thought £450 was too much for a days training but considering the fact you get to use their cars (and wear out their tyres 😉 ) and that the tuition is constant throughout the day I’d say it’s pretty good value especially compared to the £150 to do 10 laps of Silverstone that many people get.
I also need to say extra thanks to Dan for being a great instructor and Annette at Lotus who always looks after everyone so well! Oh and an extra thanks to the benefactor of this great gift!