F1 Driver Heikki Kovalainen tests his first Lotus

It has become something of a tradition these past few months, for F1 drivers past and present to line up at Lotus’ Hethel HQ and be photographed next to their award-winning Evora. First we had Jaques Villeneuve’s visit, prompting rumours of a return to the F1-grid for the ex-world champion, then Martin Brundle popped by, followed by newly signed Lotus F1 driver Jarno Trulli.

This time it’s the turn of Lewis Hamilton’s ex-teammate Heikki Kovalainen as he was given a personal tour of the production facilities yesterday. Local residents will soon start complaining about all these Formula 1 drivers clogging up their favourite watering holes..

A few Lotus employees were even more thrilled when they got a rare chance to be driven by the F1 star as he tested the Lotus Evora on Lotus’ own test track for the first time.

During his day with Lotus Cars Heikki was given a special tour of the Classic Team Lotus workshops by Clive Chapman, son of Lotus founder Colin Chapman during which he chatted to Clive and Engineer Bob Dance about their first hand experience of some of the most successful and iconic F1 racing cars of all time. The tour was steeped in Lotus history and included some of the F1 cars that helped Lotus to achieve 79 GP wins, seven constructor’s titles and 6 drivers’ championships, including Emerson Fittipaldi’s Type 72.

Dany Bahar, CEO of Group Lotus plc said, “Group Lotus is very proud of its racing pedigree and we are all very excited to share our story with Heikki. It was our honour to welcome Heikki to Group Lotus and we wish him and the Lotus F1 Racing team every success for the 2010 F1 season.”

Dany Bahar continued, “We take great pride in the sports cars that we produce at Hethel and Heikki’s visit provided a great opportunity to show off the multi-award winning cars that we produce and the advanced niche production facilities at Hethel.”

Heikki was not on Lotus soil long before he was behind the wheel of the Lotus Evora trying it on for size on Lotus’ own test track and commented “The Evora was everything I expected, Lotus is famous for fantastic sports cars and the Evora did not disappoint. The power to weight ratio gives the car a real racecar feel and allowed me to really push the car round the track. I enjoyed every lap and had fun sliding it sideways!”

He went on to say, “The day has been great, I was really excited to see so many happy, motivated people and the support of the Lotus workforce is very much appreciated, I really got a sense of the passion the people have for the Lotus brand.”

Heikki concluded, “I’d really like to thank everyone at Lotus for a great day, it was an honour to meet Clive Chapman and learn more about his legendary father and to see Lotus’ classic F1 cars. I’m really keen to drive one of the JPS cars and maybe will be at Lotus again sometime soon to drive the Type 72!”

You’ve got to admire Dany Bahar and his team at Lotus Cars for making such good use of the marque’s return to F1 in 2010 – let’s hope the season ahead brings as much good cheer as these early