Wednesday 3rd August 2011

Driven: Lotus Evora GT4

Note to Hethel: If you make the Evora into a track car, please do it like this...

There has been word on the web recently that Lotus is looking at a hardcore track-biased version of its Evora, but of course that car exists already. Sort of. It's called the Evora GT4 and it's currently doing sterling work in the Avon Tyres British GT championship.

So, when we got a phone call to have a go in the car (albeit for a scant few laps) at Snetterton, the answer was a fairly obvious 'er, yes please'. Just to test out the similarities between it and the roadgoing Evora, of course...

Okay, so it'll cost you a solid six-figure sum to buy (something in the region of £125k), and there are some significant changes to make it into a racer. Apart from the obvious aero addenda and the roll cage, the racing Evora has: much larger brakes with four-piston calipers front and rear with adjustable bias, an X-trac 6-speed sequential gearbox with a twin-plate sintered clutch, and a PI Research dash and telemetry system with Cosworth's own ECU.

Which is quite a lot of kit. On top of that, there's also the engine, which has been uprated to 4.0 litres and fettled by Cosworth (and fitted with a bespoke exhaust, intake, and dry sump system) to produce 355bhp at 6500rpm and 328lb ft of torque at 5500rpm.

But before you go thinking that this is barely any better than a silhouette racer, with little commonality between it and the road upon which it is supposedly based think on this: The Evora's forged double wishbone suspension and the bonded/extruded chassis are carried over virtually untouched...

So how does it drive? It's hard to say why, but for some reason it always used to seem to me that the beefier-looking a race car, the harder work it will be to drive fast. Having now had the opportunity for a (sadly all-too-brief) crack at Lotus's Evora GT4 endurance race car, I can safely say that this is an illusion that has been comprehensively shattered.

Alcantara makes Riggers nervous, apparently
Alcantara makes Riggers nervous, apparently
From the outside, and by my assumed 'the harder it looks, the harder you'll work' logic, the racing version of the Evora looks like it would require a full-on body builder to hustle around a race track. The same applies on the inside. The stripped-bare cabin is deeply intimidating; all harnesses, bucket seats, roll cage and racing instruments.

Once on the move, however, (and once the merciless racing clutch has been successfully overcome) the delicacy of the controls is immediately apparent, and it feels every inch a Lotus. Initially, the astonishingly light steering makes it hard to feel for front-end grip, but as you wind the pace up and you begin to get a bit of heat into the slick tyres (made by Avon, of course) it comes alive in your hands.

Although my time lapping Snetterton is limited to just a few minutes or so, I soon begin to feel the natural, light-on-its-toes balance of the car, the way it seems to pivot around its driver in just the way a good mid-engined Lotus should.

A racing Evora in the hands of a proper driver
A racing Evora in the hands of a proper driver
PHer Ollie Jackson, (aka The Wookie), who is lucky enough to race the thing, agrees. "It's just so delicate, so approachable - and much more agile than the Porsche I used to race. You used to really have to manhandle that around a lap - the Evora requires a much lighter touch."

The Evora GT4 is most definitely not a road car, however. You have to stamp hard on the brakes, but once you understand that, you can haul the 1200kg racer back from surprisingly high speeds with ease. And they will be surprisingly high speeds. A power output of 355bhp might not seem epic, put the Evora GT4 gathers pace hungrily.

I have no idea how fast I was going on the end of the long Bentley straight, but it was a relatively long way up fifth gear, and yet the Evora slowed itself up without a hint of drama. I have no doubt that a proper driver (and one with more time) could lean on the car with far more vigour than I did, and with total faith in its reactions.

Now I know a road car is never going to feel quite like a dedicated racing car, but if Lotus is going to make a track-focused Evora, and if they manage to give it even a quarter of the focus of the GT4 racer, it is going to be one heck of a capable car. And a hoot, to boot.

"Yes I'm excited, but getting in is not going to be an elegant process..."
"Yes I'm excited, but getting in is not going to be an elegant process..."
" can you switch the camera off please? Oh, never mind..."
" can you switch the camera off please? Oh, never mind..."
Author: Riggers

Get it off your chest...

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