Lotus Elise Sport 135: PH Fleet

There's only so much of Belgium anyone can take in a month. Actually, that's unfair. To be specific, there's only so much of the Belgian motorway network anyone can take in a month. So when I tell you April saw me exceed that safe quota by some margin, it will probably come as no surprise that there was a pretty hefty carrot involved. That particular root vegetable was not one, not two, but three track days at Spa Francorchamps.

Compulsory Eurotunnel shot, albeit in company
Compulsory Eurotunnel shot, albeit in company
April in the Ardennes kicked off with Gran Turismo's orgy of supercars, which was enjoyed from the plastic canteen chair of a current Elise S Club Racer. The following day we fought pitched battles with kamikaze Clio drivers at Renaultsport's Journees Passion in the PH Clio 200. And two weeks later I was back there again in my own S1 Elise at one of Lotus on Track's well-attended continental events.

It's fair to say I was experiencing a 50:50 split in emotions as I left a warm and sunny Surrey for, what was forecast to be, a cold and wet Spa. Levels of excitement normally reserved for five year-olds on Christmas Eve were tempered by massive anxiety. Would the fuel pump that's been humming loudly behind my right ear for the last three and a half years finally hand in its letter of resignation? Would the original radiator with its precision plastic end mouldings finally succumb to bladder failure? Would I lazily pirouette into the tyre wall after touching a wet kerb on the run through Pouhon? All these questions and more helped me pass the time during a three-hour delay at Eurotunnel.

The trip across Belgium followed a pattern probably familiar to anyone who has undertaken the journey: playing fuel gauge roulette to the first services; busting for a pee for 30 miles then forgetting it costs 50 cents to go to the toilet; encountering a massive traffic jam just outside Brussels; and getting hopelessly lost on the subsequent ring road.

Why replace one wheel when you can do the set?
Why replace one wheel when you can do the set?
Frustrating and tedious though it was, at least it wasn't uncomfortable. Since my last long distance drive in the Elise - to Scotland last year - I'd sourced some extra upholstery foam and inserted it beneath the fabric of the seats. It's not much - just an extra 20mm or so - but it's made a huge difference to the comfort of the standard equipment Corbeaus.

Pulling the curtains back the following morning revealed a beautiful day. The forecast had been upgraded to the chance of afternoon showers and there was a huge contingent of Lotus owners from across France and Benelux raring to go in the paddock. There were even a few interlopers with Caterhams and Porsches too. Indeed, among the group I'd travelled out with, there were two 968s to offset the Exige RGB260 and TT190 supercharged S1.

With the sun shining, the hardtop came off (probably the first and last time this year!), the rollbar cover was clamped in place and it was time to tick off a lap of Spa; something I've wanted to do in my Elise since I bought it. I wasn't disappointed. Of course, the quality of the track was never in doubt, but my Elise - despite packing a relatively meagre punch - felt so much more at home than I'd anticipated.

Since backing off the damping, there's so much more communication through the steering and the seat of my pants. It's the difference between hiring an interpreter and copying and pasting into Google translate. Now I know exactly what the chassis is telling me. I can't say that means it's now putty in my hands - I'm still pretty cautious - but I'm definitely much happier keeping it smooth and nibbling at the edges of grip in the safer corners.

Wind in hair at last ... oh, hang on
Wind in hair at last ... oh, hang on
The only disappointment was the brakes. Having fitted Ferodo DS2500 pads last summer, I thought I'd solved the poor braking performance experienced during my early ownership. But once again I was pushing the pedal as hard, but the car was just not slowing down as it had when the pads were new. There was no long pedal and no lack of meat on the pads, just a simple lack of friction. Perhaps, the performance of the Ferodo pads drops off substantially as the material wears away? Whatever the cause, it left me braking frustratingly early everywhere. Time to try Pagid's highly recommended RS12s methinks.

Spa was also the first real outing for my new wheels. Following my trip to Hethel, and Matt Becker's observation that one of my front wheels was out of balance, I found out that it was, in fact, buckled. At first I thought I'd just buy a single replacement, but I'd been toying with the idea of getting my wheels refurbed in a darker grey. So when an immaculate set, in just the right shade, turned up for sale on one of the forums I figured it would would kill two birds with one stone. They were also complete with tyres, Toyo's budget T1R, in the original 185/205 widths (my old wheels are fitted with the wider 195/225 Yokohamas).

Predictably they lacked the outright grip of the Yokos, and didn't particularly like getting hot, but they gave the car a nice balance and had plenty of progression at the limit. I'd quite like to give them a go somewhere with a bit more space and a bit less consequence and see if less grip equals more fun.

In the end, the rain stayed away, the long drive home was boring but uneventful, and yet again my lack of faith in this plastic sports car was proven totally unfounded. Another 800 miles under its belt, another notch on the bedpost and I'm loving it more than ever. It really is a brilliant little thing.

Track Photos: Yves Paquay

Fact sheet
 1998 Lotus Elise Sport 135
Run by: Danny Milner
Bought: October 2010
Purchase price: 9,500
This month at a glance: Spa reinforces bond between man and machine

Previous reports
For speed add lightness, to wallet in this case
Suspension fettling brings results, just in time for the alternator to go pop
Scottish road trip answers 'should I sell?' dilemma
Is it time for the Elise to go?
A cry of alarm from the Lotus - just drive me!
To Goodwood in the Elise
Why is the Elise slower on its new suspension then?
Nitron suspension upgrade for Danny's Elise
Elise shows its displeasure at winter weather
Pilgrimage to Hethel and a lap with handling guru Matt Becker



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Comments (16) Join the discussion on the forum

  • joe_90 22 May 2014



  • gofasterrosssco 22 May 2014

    joe_90 said:

    Good point.

  • Dave G fsi 22 May 2014

    gofasterrosssco said:
    joe_90 said:

    Good point.
    Was about to say the same....

  • itcaptainslow 22 May 2014

    Planning doing the 'Ring in mine next year-can't wait! In an age of increasingly "digital", distant and uncommunicative cars, an Elise is a complete revelation. Stepping into mine out of my daily driver is always a lesson in the nuances of steering feel, damping and body control.

    I love it.

  • Howrare 22 May 2014

    Belgium's road system sucks. It's a standing joke in my house. I can drive for 7 event free hours across europe, arrive at the Brussels ring road, and it grinds to a halt 90% of the time. I too have gotten hopelessly lost on the self same ring road.

    Nice write up, and great car.

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