Archives for posts with tag: Motorsport

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I no longer recall where I met Beck. Or how long it took me to find out it was actually not his first name, and it was actually spelled Boeck. His first name is actually Ulrich. But he looks like a Beck.

Beck s the kind of guy that will drop whatever he is doing to help friends. Literally. There was a time that I needed to bleed the cooling system on my long lamented 98 Esprit and Beck abandoned a wedding to help me attend my car. There was another time I gave him a box of unmarked parts that, we hoped, when assembled a Renault UN-1 gearbox suitable for that same Esprit. When he was done with it, it sure as hell did…

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It’s not just cars. Beck is the guy you want in a room when the scotch is flowing. If it isn’t, and he has some, he’ll share the last bit with you. Easy friend to have, him…

Anyway, I was set to perform some mischief in my Esprit on Sunday, and the damn thing wouldn’t fire. I thought the starter had seized, but wanted to confirm this by testing the starter relay. Beck was the man for the job, and we agreed to visit the issue today.

You can never say you know an Esprit until you have begin reducing it to its elemental parts. Thank god a new owner never has to wait long to have that feeling, and I had mine tonight.

As it turns out it wasn’t the starter at all. Who knew that a tatty little battery warning lamp could complete the circuit to the alternator…(well, thank god Beck did…) and that if it was burnt out that the battery would fail. We also found 2 blown fuses. All in, it was a bloodless adventure. We were done in a couple of hours, and no band aids needed. In fact, we got away with a single can of Fosters Lager (speaking of economy…)

I plan to drive it tomorrow…

This is going to sound odd to people that require automobiles to transport them somewhere, and it’s true that I bitch like Elizabeth Taylor with a toothache while I am looking at a broken car, but a part of me loves the quirks. I don’t know why. Because they need attention, a good owner ends up feeling closer to his car than say, a BMW driver who never does anything but drive it..

I am hopeless convinced that Lotus cars are the soul of Motorsport. Why else would otherwise rational people carry on like this?

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My exhaust cracked. Looks to me metal fatigue. Loathsome part and it won’t be missed. Upon examination, I do not believe it was a stock piece.

I’m electing to have a local fabricator tack on some straight pipe from the cats. The ramp to the lift has sadly claimed my chin spoiler. That was aggravating, and will probably end up being costly…

There are folks out there that believe the muffler was an aerodynamic piece. Maybe it is, but my 175 mile an hour days are pretty much over. I’ll take the loss of weight and heat soak with joy. It was always my intention to abandon the muffler and its kind of nice to have the excuse.

Oddly, it won’t end up much louder. The folks at Lotus have, (and bless them for this) always treated exhausts with measurable contempt, and most of the owners (well, the ones i care to be around, anyway) really enjoy hearing them scream.

Additionally, somehow over the course of the winter, the radio elected to stop working. This, is an issue as my wife refuses to ride in a car without her tunes. I cannot blame her although it would have likely been several years before I noticed the failure myself. I’ve spent some time looking at fuses and found nothing, so we will dig a little deeper.

It’s going to spend some more time on lifts this year. We have a lot of issues to deal with mostly from “lack of use” abuse, and it’s always better to sort little issues before they are big ones.

I have resigned myself to paying up for tooling. Evidently there is nothing out there to be had, and that bothers me. C’est la vie.

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I got to drive an Esprit today. How cool is that?

Given that they only made about 1500 of these cars (V-8’s) I am well aware how lucky I happen to be.

I couldn’t take it any more. The weather is just good enough to require this sort of action, so I made the call. My State Farm agent agreed with the decision. It was sudden, random, and kind of exciting.

We drove it to a local steakhouse, and the valet left it in front of the restaurant. That was pretty cool. It was a short trip, and I don’t think the engine ever made boost, but that will come.

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Bringing a car to life for the season is something I have been doing almost as long as I have been driving. It started with a Mustang GT (there’s still a soft spot for those), progressed to a Corvette (ditto) and then came Lotuses. The tires always start off some that square, and the brakes are grabby. This goes away. I was encouraged that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time remembering functionally how to drive the Esprit, but I can pretty much say with certainty I have no idea how to drive it well, after years in the sublime Exige I used to own. I’m going with smooth at the moment. Spirited will come later.

It’s a bit leaky. I suppose it ought to be. Very little has been done to it as its not been driven much. I will change both of those things. It astonishes me to consider a car of its capabilities earning only about 1000 miles of use per year in its life.

We also went to get some fuel.

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You do that a lot…

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It won’t be long now..

To an Esprit guy living in the snow belt, the decision to recommission our beloved cars is serious business, because, we actually drive them, and as logic follows, we require clean, and above freezing conditions in order for that to be a safe and enjoyable experience.

Actually, the engine loves colder weather. The turbochargers most Esprits have take advantage of the denser air and make very good power compared to the warm days, and there is less stress on the cooling system.

The issue seems to be finding grip.

I actually spun my ’98 while traveling in a straight line several years ago. I found nothing but vacant real estate at the end of that little jaunt, but, lesson learned just the same.

I am kind of thinking that if it is warm enough to hand wash, it’s got to be warm enough to drive, and that is where the games begin.

My other pastime is endurance sports. By design, they require a certain amount of suffering. As in running in -10 to +100 degree conditions, so the question is, when do I embrace the suck long enough to get a hose on this thing…

We are peering at a calendar filled with 50 degree days, so, box checked there, but there still seems to be salt on the roads. Generally speaking, a glass fiber car doesn’t care about salt, it CAN’T rust, however, clamps, and connections sure can, and those are the kind of things that can usher you right into disasterville if you aren’t sensible.

My Esprit has had very little maintenance performed on it during its life and will need hoses, belts, wires, and the like before I can drive it with complete comfort. None of these things are horrible to attend to, but an Esprit is the kind of mistress that likes attention before its demanded.

Sourcing the bits required is an exercise worthy of some attention on its own…

I am very much looking forward to some seat time. I believe you can learn to accept what a Lotus chassis does for you, but if you have any sensitivity as a pilot you can never really get used to the level of communication they provide, or how magically that they cope with difficult surfaces. I am aware that the smaller type cars will run rings around an Esprit on a track, but when I get out of mine after a long trip, neither my suit or my back need pressed back into functionality.

It’s all quite exciting.

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I’d like to talk about what it is actually like DRIVING an Esprit. The experience itself, to my reckoning has had 4 primary evolutions, the first being the addition of turbocharging, second, the Stephens revision, third, the addition of power steering, and lastly the extra cylinders. That’s not much for a car that from concept to last model enjoyed a 32 year life span. The funny thing, and I have driven several of each, is that provided the chassis is unmolested by an ambitious owner (I don’t think a Lotus suspension can be improved unless someone named Becker is involved…) they all feel remarkably the same.

The most honest reaction I have ever heard to a first drive came from my good friend Gatsby. (Gatsby isn’t his real name, but he is the kind of guy that can get away with saddle shoes and a bow tie, and anyway, if you are cool, one of your friends should have that nickname …)

Anyway, when you give Gatsby seat time in a car he has never driven, the test drive usually lasts half an hour or so. He’s pretty quiet while he is driving, save random observations about the experience. When he is done, you give him 2 fingers of good whiskey on some ice, and wait for the considered opinion.

The first time he drove a V-8 Esprit, after a spell, his summary was “that is a Sweet car”. With “sweet” being used in the literal sense of the word.

I think he is right.

So here we go. You push a button on the key fob. It enables the ignition. You get in, no, you plop onto the car (it’s low…) and are kind of surprised by how comfortable it is when you settle in. You can’t see much out of the rear window, and in the drivers seat, you will never actually see the hood line of the car due to its downward slope. Your feet cant toward the center line slightly because the wheel well intrudes. The shifter is a little forward of where it typically sits in a car, and you give it a little wiggle to make sure a gear isn’t engaged. The key goes into the ignition and forward one click. There is a whirring sound as the fuel system pressurizes. Then one more turn and the starter kicks on for a second or two.

The writers that wax endlessly about how English cars purr has never heard a 918, because…

BOOM!

The engine fires. It is an angry bark, which settles into an odd percolating sound, with the occasional pop from the exhaust. When the idle sets in, and the engine is finally at operating temperature, you can hear the valves over the other noises. It reminds me of the soft jingle of Christmas bells. Esprits, more than most cars, enjoy being woke up before you drive off.

You push the clutch in, (actually quite an easy effort unless its worn) slide the shifter into the first gear slot, and off you go. I always surprises me how much throttle you need to use to move away smoothly. First time drivers are always caught out by that.

The gear change is unfairly maligned in my opinion. Once you get to know it, it’s fine. It just doesn’t like to be hurried, but then again, neither does the transmission, and since you can break pretty much every speed limit in the world in second gear, it’s a moot point…

I should mention, again the noise the car makes when it is actually on the road. It is a deeper, bellow. The exhaust pops between shifts. It sounds angrier than you imagine a car of this elegance should, and louder. I really like that. The funny thing is that if you take the muffler off, it doesn’t get any louder, just “Fartier”.

The brake effort is firm, and the harder you push, the harder you stop. That can catch you out in traffic, as the people that follow you don’t have near the stopping power.

Speaking of other people, they generally don’t see you because of how low the car is, and when they do, invariably, they kind of drift into you because they are staring at you rather than what is ahead of you… …And everyone wants to have a go. Grannies in mini vans included. You learn to tune that out, and anyway, Esprits are best driven on quiet roads anyway.

The only way to truly get how fantastic an Esprit is, if you are lucky enough to pull it off, would be to drive one for a while. Long enough to let the quirks become unnoticeable, and then drive another manufacturers sports car. Over the same road it is astounding how the Esprit manages being both supple and responsive. Bumps and bruises on a road surface that would unsettle a normal car are mentioned by the Esprit, and then forgotten. When you lean on it into a corner you can feel the outside wheel slowly load up and the back of the car warns you that the limit is approaching. They are honest, direct, and confidence inspiring.

You can do all of the low speed throttle hopping gymnastics you would expect from a mid engined car, and because there is some wheel base here, the car is fairly easy to catch. But my favorite way to drive it is smoothly, listening to the tires through the seat and the steering wheel (I’m older now…)

It’s hard to say which passes more quickly, your fuel, or the time. The Esprit has a tendency to want to consume them both. In fact, when I first became an owner, it wasn’t uncommon for me to travel to a different state… …for eggs…

I always used to roll my eyes when car magazines compared the Esprit to other cars. This is a car you nit pick only of you haven’t a clue about driving. Most of the long time owners I know don’t really pay much attention to other cars, and neither do I.

So there it is, drive over. You coast to a stop, idle it for a few seconds to let the turbos slow done, and turn it off. The hard part is waiting for the excuse to have another go.

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(You have to be pretty cool to have a Lotus edition named after you…)

Becker (bek-eer)- transitive verb

Definition of Becker- to make an automobile handle massively better than anything else on the planet.

I know that Colin Chapman is the greatest automobile engineer that has ever lived. Nothing you can ever possibly say is a valid argument against that statement, and I think it is really cool that I own the last road going car he had input in designing. Is one of the things I love about it.

Having said that, there is a fellow named Roger Becker who has had a hand in making every road car, starting with the Elan, to leave Norfolk enjoy what we now know as “Lotus handling”.

“Lotus handling”. It’s an idea I am quite certain to devote several gigabytes to, but for the moment let me rest on the fact that if a car has it, anyone lucky enough to be driving it will go to fantastic lengths to find a corner and fly through it. It is shockingly supple, direct, and communicative.

Anyway, Roger is the man responsible for connecting the cars Lotus has produced throughout the years to that idea.

I spent some time with Roger at a National Lotus Owners Club (Lotus Ltd meeting a few years back. Www.lotuscarclub.org completely worth joining btw…) and it would be completely easy to mistake him for a professor at a small school somewhere. That’s cool, and kind of British. If Roger were American, given he drove in Bond movies, Basic instinct, and helped make most of the great sporting cars of the last 50 years, he would be covered in gold chains and have an entourage bigger than Brittney, but for all his accomplishments in engineering Roger is actually quite humble. When I sat next to him at dinner, he spent the night assuring me that my Exige could do things that, well, I couldn’t. I’m sure he was right.

The next morning, after the requisite group photo at the Indianapolis motor Speedway (LOG was at Indy that year) I asked him if we wanted a lift back to the hotel. He demurred with a slight smile. A few minutes later en route he flew by my Exige in a type 211(not the slightest bit road legal) that sounded like the devil was unsuccessfully chasing it. If that isn’t badass, nothing is.

Well, because of this guy, you can sit an experienced Lotus driver in any Lotus, and blindfolded, they can tell you if it is one. My Esprit is bigger and softer than my Exige was, but it gives you the same story though the steering wheel. My Exige was Bigger than several Elans I have driven, but the steering feel was related. In fact, when you spend time in a Lotus, it takes some getting used to. At first you constantly worry that you are flatting tires, such is the change in steering feel over different pavement types. Other cars seek to insulate you from that. Roger’s cars embrace it.

His cars change direction very well. They inspire convince. They are poised, and for sports cars, ride with a supple quality that other manufacturers can only dream of. I think that last bit might only be partially due to the condition of Potash lane…

About the only thing Roger and I disagree on is that he is unabashedly a “small engine” guy, and I, true to my Midwestern American roots, seem helplessly disposed to the biggest, hoariest V-8’s I can get my hands on. Roger believes that a Lotus should be driven “on throttle” and that the 918 was “an engine too far”, where for the most part, corners are, to me, the unfortunate connection between my ham-footed gas pedal mashing. (Chacun à son goûts, right?) He should try living in a corn field…

If he had gotten his way, I believe he would have preferred a turbocharged V-6 as a successor engine to the wonderful and bulletproof 2.2, but they listened to people like me…. (I would have bought a V-6 Esprit with no hesitation, such is the disorder for these machines and its hold on me…)

Roger recently retired from Lotus cars, and spends his time on a boat somewhere warm. His son Matt, who I don’t know much about, but is extremely well regarded by people I respect has taken over, and near as I can figure, will continue the family tradition of excellence in vehicle dynamics in keeping with the expectations of the Lotus community. I like knowing that.

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That’s me in my old Esprit at Autobahn Country Club

I get no kick out of modern supercars. Sure… …I get it. A zillion horsepower. Performance numbers quite beyond my comprehension. Post space age materials. It’s all super impressive. But not for me…

I think it’s the gadgets.

Traction control. Stability control. Semi auto gearboxes. Computer controlled torque. Active handling. Adjustable differentials. Launch control. My god, modern cars do everything but drive themselves, and if the news is to be believed, that’s next.

I blame the magnificent Porsche type 959 for all of this.

I think the electronic nannies are fine in a daily driver. Basic transportation ought to be safe, reliable, and as fool proof as technology can make it. Most of the time as we transit from point to point we are elsewhere in our minds so we need the help. Another consideration is that the vast majority of us don’t really care about being good drivers. Mini vans should be lousy with electronics.

Not so when we are driving for sporting purposes.

Apparently I am in the minority here, but I believe when driving is to be considered a sport, the control relationship between man and machine is elemental. This is simple, really. You have throttle, brake, gear change, and steering input. That’s pretty much everything you can do to manipulate an auto. The art of Motorsport is doing it well. So, I ask, how does the driver of an all wheel drive semi auto clutch less car loaded with more nannies than the Broadhurst School and Nursery in Hampstead know if he’s good or not?

*spoiler alert*

He doesn’t.

Modern supercars are appliances for speed. They are fast IN SPITE of their drivers, and I find that loathsome on a molecular level. What’s more depressing is that people are so lazy they don’t seem to realize it.

This is actually reinforced by car magazines, another thing I detest. In fact, in December there were several car mags that did “best sports car” articles, and not a one of the cars previewed was under 3500 pounds, and more disturbing to me, not a one of them actually allowed you to drive it. The track day reviews are almost as pointless as roller coaster races for all the autonomy a driver has on a fast lap.

The pleasure of driving an Esprit, an older Ferrari, or a proper type 911 Porsche (before they became denatured) is in managing a beast at its limits. If you get it wrong (extremely hard to do in one of my beloved Lotuses, but quite possible) you go for the bushes. That’s an incentive to learn how to drive within the cars, but more importantly, your limits. It can get hairy, but you learn what makes one of those cars special. There is, nothing, between you and your mistakes.

My local Lotus club is to the rafters with hippies, nerds, engineers, odd balls, and the like, and every one of them will remorselessly punish a lesser driver in a better car without so much as a frowning moment, because they can drive . It’s a skill you pick up in a car you can get snakebit in. I have many laps of tuition with them attempting to pass this on to me as well. It’s what they do in Lotus Clubs. They drive hard, and well. Motorsport is the foundation of the culture.

Lotus seems wonderfully reluctant to march toward the nanny state of things. The V-6 Exige is the first one thats actually made it to production offering stability control, and it desperately needs it because it develops almost a hundred horsepower more the frame was designed to accept (that is mind blowing to me. I couldn’t handle 189 bhp on the track in my Exige and they are up to 350…). I should also mention that it took something like 60 years for Lotus to offer a clutch-less transmission, and they are still a minority offering (cue deserved snickers from my Esprit brethren).

The Elise and Exige were wonderfully unique cars in the modern world. As close to elemental as allowed by regulation. I don’t believe you can call yourself a car guy until you have enjoyed one of those. I owned an Exige for almost seven years, and there are things about it I shall always miss. Mostly, how honest it was on a race track.

Speaking of honesty, I believe, In fact, that the reason a cup holder in an Exige looks like a jock strap is reflective of the factory’s opinion of the type of driver who demanded it. I, for one, agree with the lads from Norfolk.

I don’t really care what the performance numbers are, or how the computers can trick you into thinking that a modern car is agile and nimble. I just can’t be bothered with a 4000 pound sports car. The physics actually offend me. So does a safety net designed to both extract performance I don’t deserve from a car, and then protect me from it.

I mean, really… …400 horsepower in a sedan? 900 horsepower in a supercar? The difference for most drivers between 300 and 400 horsepower is how long the traction control light blinks. It’s such a waste.

I get it. There will be times when someone goes flying past me in a 599 Ferrari or some otherAutobot and they won’t actually be driving, but if I am in a my Lotus, I will be, and, in my book, that counts.

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I have always kind of favored Finnish racing drivers. Not in the “lost weekend in the Reeperbahn” sense of the word, but rather in the “its a contest and you have to root for someone” sense. As a species they are fearless, unbelievably quick, and extremely funny. Kimi Raikkonen is the current ace in my beloved Grand Prix racing (there is a also Finnish rookie, but on one race not worth mentioning) and he happens to be piloting for Team Lotus this year. Unsurprisingly, this suits me.

Kimmi is the most perfect Lotus driver for the modern era. The team itself is one of those only favored by real car guys, (Williams being the other). He seems to have tremendous results on a small budget, he is quirky, and if he has an opinion on something, he delivers it as bluntly as only a Finn can. Kimi makes few mistakes, never publicly criticizes the team, and has never caused drama like, say, a Lewis Hamilton. He is laid back, loves a cocktail (they were flowing in the Lotus garage exactly 11 minutes after the flag today), and seems to prefer the company of his team and his friends to the public.

He is also, shatteringly quick.

As quick as he can be, he will mostly (unfairly?) be remembered for a series of extremely funny one-liners. For example, on his way to his first victory of the year in 2012, he interrupted a well meaning engineer mid-race by telling him “leave me alone-I know what I’m doing”. And he did.

At the end of the year last year he bemoaned a third place finish in the championship standings because he only cared about winning, and if he was third, he still had to go to the awards banquet (something every other driver on the grid would kill for). Or this year where EVERY other driver in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix was grateful for the postponement of qualifying due to monsoon conditions, Kimi was irritated. It meant he couldn’t sleep in on race day (astonishing in a driver)…

Team Lotus Renault should hope for such conditions more often…

Well, old Kimi positively left them for dead today, and after the usual blather from the engineer, Kimi’s latest: “…see? I told you it was a good car…”

Here’s hoping.