If you’ve ever been to the Lotus test track at Hethel you’ll remember it as a challenging track – bumpy, off camber in places with minimal run-off. Lotus chassis engineers can describe every undulation and surface change, and have clocked up thousands of miles developing the class-leading handling traits of cars such as the Exige, 2 Eleven and Evora.
So you might consider it sacrilege to find out that the track has been completely redeveloped, along with a new baby-smooth surface that wouldn’t look out-of-place on a state-of-the-art Tilke circuit.
But progress is inevitable, especially when you’ve got an F1 team to run. The layout of the 2.2 mile circuit has changed very little since it was built by Colin Chapman back in the 1960’s, and modernisation changes include an extra corner, new asphalt and larger run off areas which are better suited to modern racing and performance car testing.
Its mixture of corners, straight and braking zones makes it ideal for testing and optimizing every performance aspect of the latest Lotus models, and evaluating car control at the Lotus Driving Academy. In addition to a spacious new workshop, the test track will soon be accompanied by a brand new pit building and hospitality suite.
Formula One legends open the new circuit
Nigel Mansell officially opened Group Lotus’s revised and restored Hethel test track with a roar from the 1981 Essex-Lotus 81B in which he started his glorious Formula One career more than 30-years-ago.
Mansell led a convoy of seven stunning racing cars from the Lotus stable, including the innovative 1980 Type 88 twin-chassis car – which the rule makers never allowed to race; the Lotus Type 125 Exos Experience car driven by fellow F1 legend Jean Alesi; and a brace of Lotus Renault GP cars piloted by current F1 stars Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna.
This was the first time that modern-era F1 cars had blasted around the historic Hethel tarmac since the early 1990s.
Nigel Mansell, Group Lotus ambassador and 1992 Formula One World Champion said: “What a joy it was to be reunited with my old 81B after 30 years. This is a very special place, Hethel, and it was wonderful to open the circuit today by driving alongside my sons Leo and Greg.”
Clive Chapman, Managing Director of Classic Team Lotus said: “I remember my father testing the Lotus 49 on this circuit. He didn’t wear a helmet and you could see him grinning from ear to ear because he knew he had another winner. The circuit’s longest straight doubled as a runway, and we would land here in my father’s plane after adventurous and race tracks around the world. The revised circuit has managed to keep a lot of the character of the original, and seeing those seven cars lapping today is something I shall never forget. Lotus is enjoying exciting times once again, and it fills me with pride when I see brand new Lotus’s around the world still bearing my father’s initials.”
Jean Alesi, Group Lotus ambassador and F1 legend said: “It’s extremely fast. The first time I went out I was surprised about the length of the straights, but then of course it’s not only for motor sport but for testing road cars. The layout is perfect for that. It’s a proper test track. Today I drove Lotus’ customer F1-experience car, the T125. The development of this car is ongoing, and very very promising. James Rossiter is doing a great job helping to develop the car, and will make this new track his home. I shall be validating these tests.”
Dany Bahar, Group Lotus CEO said: “A year ago we set out our plans to introduce a new model line up, ambitious motorsport plans and a revitalization of the iconic Lotus brand. A year in, we are meeting all the targets and milestones we set ourselves. One of the milestones was the opening of our test track. You might say this is just a refurbishment of a track and not a major achievement in itself, and I agree. However, mentally and psychologically seeing this project accomplished demonstrates that step-by-step our vision is becoming a reality. It shows our entire workforce and our partners that we are delivering on our promises.”