New Hethel, new Lotus
Lotus handling guru Matt Becker on the 'new' Hethel test track and how it'll shape future Lotuses
subvert Hethelinto some sort of Maranello-lite, complete with its own ‘Fiorano’ test track, could be interpreted as yet another example of new Lotus abandoning the things that made old Lotus unique. Opened last year by Nigel Mansell leading a cavalcade of classic Lotus racing cars in his old 81B, Bahar has done little to calm these fears with soundbites like “mentally and psychologically seeing this project accomplished demonstrates that, step-by-step, our vision is becoming a reality.”
So who better to discuss new Hethel versus old Hethel than Matt Becker, second generation Lotus development guru and a man who, well, first bounced around the track’s bumpy old surface as a glint in his father’s eye and hasn’t stopped since.
With all the politics of late it’s nice to be back at Hethel to talk about and drive new products, and you’ll be reading and seeing more about these in the coming days. While there, we thought it a good opportunity to get to grips with the new Hethel track and explore the influence it’s had – and will have – on the new crop of Lotus products coming our way.
“Sh*tting yourself!” comes the shout from the other side of the room from Chris Harris, looking up from the press bumph on the Exige S he’s about to drive for a forthcoming video.
Sudden changes from fresh(ish) tarmac to original 1940s concrete were also handy, if unpredictable, and a great way of cutting journalistic egos down to size on the exit from the old steering circle – now renamed Andretti.
That circle has now been moved to the centre of the circuit which is, says Becker, “really good for driver training, but for the younger engineers who want to practise a bit like I did it’s a bit close to the factory and everyone can see when you spin now!”
So it’s now FIA-approved for testing, wider, smoother and with more run-off than before. Though not entirely sanitised, Windsock still “a focused corner” as Becker puts it and one that even road cars like the Evora and new Exige will pull 120mph around. And the run-off on the exit to the Rindt Hairpin is … well … there isn’t any.
Meanwhile, back at the Nordschleife...
Inevitably the Nurburgring figures in the road car development programme, the Nordschleife’s bumps and surface changes a well respected test of any chassis. But, like Jaguar, Lotus doesn’t set its cars up to chase lap times per se.
So a lot has changed from the days when Hethel was little more than an old runway that doubled up as a test track and somewhere for Colin Chapman to land his plane on his way back from races. The broken old concrete has gone but the knowledge gleaned from it lives on with Becker and his colleagues. And, as you’ll see shortly, when it comes to the product the Hethel influence is still at the core of every new Lotus.
A lap of Hethel with Matt Becker, with corner by corner commentary
Future Lotuses? You mean "historic trackdays"
Actually turned out he didn't, and although the new model plan isn't quite firing on all eight, Lotus' Geneva Show appearance scooped them a load of orders and it looks like DRB-Hicom is looking to sell a substantial stake in Lotus - we just hope it goes to someone like Toyota or Nissan, who will understand the benefits Lotus brings to their business and nurture it in the way Fiat looks after Ferrari, rather than some Chinese car and sewing machine concern, who think the badge will look nice on the back of the new 888 Super Happy Excellence Explosion CRSTDZTR-F7QBT2.