Login | Register
SearchMy Stuff
My ProfileMy PreferencesMy Mates RSS Feed
Tuesday 24th April 2012

New Hethel, new Lotus

Lotus handling guru Matt Becker on the 'new' Hethel test track and how it'll shape future Lotuses



Of all the controversial developments at Bahar-era Lotus, the redevelopment of the Hethel test track seems small beer. But the symbolism of slapping down a load of fresh tarmac on Hethel and, apparently, literally trampling over the past hasn’t been lost on those suspicious of ‘new’ Lotus and all it represents.

Airfield origins obvious from this shot
Airfield origins obvious from this shot
Engagingly shabby, bumpy and not far removed from its roots as a base for USAAF B24 Liberators in the second world war, for those passionate about Lotus and its roots the original Hethel test track was an important part of the brand identity. Already wary of the sudden influx of ex-Ferrari personnel recruited by Bahar, the apparent intention to 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.”

Mansell led the cavalcade in his 81B
Mansell led the cavalcade in his 81B
Born and bred
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.

Track accommodates driver training too
Track accommodates driver training too
So, will polishing up Hethel’s rough edges hamper Lotus’s legendary ability to engineer a compliant, composed chassis that can handle broken UK B-road like no other? “I don’t think it’ll change the approach we had with the previous track,” says Becker. “If you look at the basic layout, old versus new, it’s actually quite similar to when Alistair Macqueen redesigned it back in 1999. He put a lot of effort into designing a track that would work out any issues with the car and if you look at the previous layout it was really good for everything from transient behaviour to high speed stability – especially here at Windsock which was always good for-”

“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.

Matt Becker literally grew up driving Hethel
Matt Becker literally grew up driving Hethel
“Yes,” laughs Becker. “It was pretty mad in places. We used to talk about the potholes around the track but they had got pretty bad. There used to be a bump on the entry to Windsock and another surface change halfway round. For us it was really quite useful because you can think about more than just the yaw stability of the car, as you’re getting a vertical movement as well as a lateral one.”

Authentic
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!”

Track layout similar to 1999 update
Track layout similar to 1999 update
So if the old track’s quirks and bumps were so good for chassis development why change it? Simply – motorsport. “We wanted to grow the motorsport side of the business,” says Becker, “and if you’re running race cars and single seaters you need something smooth for the aero. Some people were concerned about us smoothing the circuit but it’s kind of a dual-purpose track now. And the great thing is the roads we’ve got around here are really crap, which is great for things like steering feel.”

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.

Potholes notable by their absence now
Potholes notable by their absence now
The fast complex at the start of the lap is a perfect example of how the new layout tests a car too. “The car is loaded up for a long time and you can really see if the balance is correct,” says Becker.  “You’re asking is there too much understeer, is there too much oversteer, does the yaw behaviour feel correct – you can actually pretty much hold one input all the way around and the idea is to keep it stable, keep it linear and make sure that any input gives the expected output.” One car that doesn’t in this situation is, interestingly, Becker’s own 997 Carrera which, he says, has “quite nice” steering but a habit of, as he puts it, “gaining on you” as you try and hold a constant line around the same complex.

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.

It's a far cry from the bumpy concrete of old
It's a far cry from the bumpy concrete of old
“We don’t go there to set the dynamics of the car, we go there to check stability,” says Becker. “I can’t think of anywhere else where the speeds are so high and the car needs to feel stable. Customers will take their cars there too so we need to be sure it works.”

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

 

Dan Trent
2 3 4
Reply to Topic
Author Discussion

Kamox

Original Poster:

113 posts

58 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
"on the 'new' Hethel test track and how it'll shape future Lotuses"

Future Lotuses? You mean "historic trackdays" frown

Stew2000

2,770 posts

64 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
I love those new run-offs biggrin

Dave Hedgehog

7,300 posts

90 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
Kamox said:
"on the 'new' Hethel test track and how it'll shape future Lotuses"

Future Lotuses? You mean "historic trackdays" frown
i fear this might come true frown

paulrussell

1,242 posts

47 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
I think it's a good idea. It's something that Lotus could make money from, which will help keep Lotus existing as a car manufacturer.

GFWilliams

4,507 posts

93 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
I think it's the smoothest track I've ever been on. Looked fantastic fun when I was there, although I didn't get a drive as I was hanging out the boot of a car!
Advertisement

suffolk009

1,354 posts

51 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
That's the nicest thing I've read about Lotus in weeks! Fantastic.

(...just a shame about that drivel-ish quote from Bahar.)

But, what a lovely story, can't wait to drive it.

Daniel1

2,633 posts

84 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
Is that an Exige? Looks lovely.

Frimley111R

5,759 posts

120 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
Dave Hedgehog said:
Kamox said:
"on the 'new' Hethel test track and how it'll shape future Lotuses"

Future Lotuses? You mean "historic trackdays" frown
i fear this might come true frown
Jeez! Put another record on you pair! Great news about a thoroughly modernised facitlity and what do we get first? Moaning whingers!!! FFS!

Frimley111R

5,759 posts

120 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
Daniel1 said:
Is that an Exige? Looks lovely.
Yes, its one of the new V6 models. Quite fast too!!!

Twincam16

27,646 posts

144 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
Frimley111R said:
Yes, its one of the new V6 models. Quite fast too!!!
Do we have performance stats for the Exige V6 yet? I notice the Roadster is on the website's price lists, which is encouraging.

MagicalTrevor

5,388 posts

115 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
Pic of the week please

cloud9

chris watton

15,915 posts

146 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
I read last week that Lotus was finished! what the hell is happening - has it still got a future then? (I damn well hope so...)

The Wookie

10,031 posts

114 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
Matt Becker said:
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!”
Can't help but think that my excuse of 'the tyres were already knackered on that Elise when I got in it' has been rumbled...

Thorburn

1,387 posts

79 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
Twincam16 said:
Do we have performance stats for the Exige V6 yet? I notice the Roadster is on the website's price lists, which is encouraging.
Been available for a while: http://www.lotuscars.com/gb/our-cars/current-range...

Junglehop

349 posts

74 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
That new Exige looks fantastic.... great looking thing. I was on the sceptic side before seiing that...


CampDavid

8,679 posts

84 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
The Wookie said:
Matt Becker said:
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!”
Can't help but think that my excuse of 'the tyres were already knackered on that Elise when I got in it' has been rumbled...
laugh

clanger

1,083 posts

144 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
Looks great smile

Always amused me when the instructor took you around the previous Hethel track and explained that 'the surface was designed to simulate a number of different road surface conditions'!

The Crack Fox

9,976 posts

78 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
I drove it a few months ago in an Evora, very nice it was too (both the car and the track), although I would have liked some elevation changes ideally.

Good luck Lotus smile

Twincam16

27,646 posts

144 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
chris watton said:
I read last week that Lotus was finished! what the hell is happening - has it still got a future then? (I damn well hope so...)
You read wrong. Bahar made a rather ill-judged attack on a Sniff Petrol parody (which itself was admittedly exaggerated, albeit for comic effect), and it had the overall effect of making a lot of people think he had something to hide.

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.

cirvy

2,242 posts

149 months

[news] 
Tuesday 24th April 2012 quote quote all
MagicalTrevor said:
Pic of the week please

cloud9
Oooooh, yes please bounce
2 3 4
Reply to Topic