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.
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.
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
Car: 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
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