And every lap, I take a mental photograph at the same point: heading for the apex, with that big, very yellow, plastic cone slap-bang on the inside of the track. The human viewfinder framed by the sun-strip on my visor at the top; the transparent wind deflector at the bottom; the rushing green of the scenery on the left and the triangulation of the roll-over protection bordering the right side.
You’d enjoy the Lotus Sport workshops. They’re clean, tidy and professional, but filled with a variety of machinery and intimacy of cars, tools and goings-on that differentiates a traditional British Sports car firm like Lotus from a faceless multinational manufacturing operation. That’s meant as a complement, because amongst the Exiges and Elises in for either service or something rather more secret lie a world-weary Excel in for a routine service, last season’s GT3 race cars and a near-completed restoration job on a gorgeous pearl white Esprit S4. Dotted around the shop reside a small number of early 2-Elevens in various states of build, ideal for taking a closer look under the skin.
The 2-Eleven is one of those cars that as a motoring anorak, you’d park in your sitting room without its bodywork on just to appreciate the artistry of its construction and mechanics. Apart from the bonded aluminium tub itself, there’s the unique steering arms and bespoke front upper wishbones to cope with the lowered suspension set up; the lovely Ohlins adjustable suspension; the Accusump oil accumulator to maintain oil pressure under high cornering loads; the black lightweight forged wheels and the FIA compliant roll bar structure. You can stare at it for hours.
The bodywork itself utilises the minimum of fixings and is made with a new-to-Lotus core-mat technology that cuts the overall weight of the panels to 40kg. It’s bolted on in sections, with sacrificial elements, so any on-track misdemeanours don’t necessarily equal huge bills to replace the entire structure.
You can order your 2-Eleven in two forms: A ‘Track pack’ version or in ‘UK SVA’ spec. The former is for those owners who’ll only be using the car on track and gets the fitment (for the driver only) of a FIA Recaro race seat with six point harness along with a fire extinguisher in the cockpit. Outside, there’re rear indicators/brake lights/a rain lamp fitted at the rear and a bigger aero package: a larger front splitter and a genuine Lotus Sport carbon fibre rear wing that is simply gorgeous. The engine gets a de-cat pipe and a track ecu to make sense of it all.
There’s no easy way of climbing onboard a 2-Eleven. The high sill means a ‘hop and hope for the best’ approach is the only way. Once inside, it’s all very familiar and yet very exciting at the same time. The knowledge that you’re wedged into a fully type approved ‘tub’ with crash structures, the harness, the meaty roll bars and padding all combine to promote a feeling of security alien to many lightweight sportscars, but the view out is pure sports prototype, and all the more exciting for it.
It kicks out of tighter corners with ease and then races to the red line with enthusiasm, all the while emitting a biting scream from the supercharger and a proper bark from the exhaust – especially on this ‘Track Pack’ version.
Look down to your right, and on a small panel inside the car there’s a traction control system. It’s a surprise at first to see it on the spec sheet, but this is a variable set up developed from the British GT3 Exige race cars, and allows either a completely on/off mode, or an intervention setting between 7 – 100%. Apparently, after initial grumbles, even the Lotus test drivers use it, and actually alter the settings between corners. That may just be the company line, but it’s interesting to play around with the system and highly effective too.
Any open car without a windscreen is going to feel pretty exciting on the road – for good or for worse. But when it comes to ability, the 2-Eleven is actually more surprising in a road environment than out on the track.
It’s all too easy to ‘overdrive’ the 2-Eleven on the road. So light and quick is the steering at speed that a heavy turn of the wheel unsettles the car - and the driver. You need to relax and consider your choice of cornering line before turning the steering wheel with light and measured inputs - revelling in the immediacy of the car’s feedback and reactions. The 2 Eleven is a firm riding car, naturally, but not a wooden one. It almost floats over a road, parrying bumps and dancing from corner to corner with a classic Lotus-feel. It’s an experience that requires concentration rather than effort, and one which can easily drop you into a kind of trance: the blur of the hedge rows; the ability to overtake just about anything anywhere; the isolation within your crash helmet. It’s just you, the car, and the road, and I guess in that particular respect it’s more like riding a high performance motorbike than driving a normal car.
It might not be cheap, or quite as brutal as some of the other trackday offerings on the market, but it’s a truly compelling blend of pace, driveability, durability, design and brand. Once you’ve seen, sat in and driven a 2-Eleven, it’s hard not to want one - badly.