With the passing of my, ahem, 40th birthday, I figured the time was ripe for a self-indulgent splashing out. But, loath to fritter money away on a driving 'experience', I decided instead to book a Car Limits day. And so earlier this month, four years into Elise ownership, I finally pulled onto the patchwork of sodden tarmac at North Weald Airfield in Essex.
The first exercise is known as the high-speed left hand bend. The idea is to head into an imaginary bend (actually just a cone where a service road joins the runway apron), and turn left, avoiding an imaginary wall (a metal gutter running perpendicular to the service road). Begin slowly and keep upping the pace until you either spin, or hit the wall. It didn't take long before I was pirouetting like a Strictly contestant. The reason? I had too tight a grip on the reins, meaning that I was effectively fighting the car. Equally, I would back off the throttle when the car began to understeer, and get back on it too hard during the resulting oversteer.
Approaching the bend at 60mph, I placed one finger on top of the wheel and focused on the fast approaching cone. To quote that much underrated contemporary poet and bard, R Kelly, my mind was telling me no, but my body, my body was telling me, erm, yes. To my great surprise, the car twitched, the steering wheel writhed, but with just my finger guiding it, we negotiated the corner perfectly without spinning and with plenty of space to the wall.
As the morning progressed I took on increasingly mad drills. Easily the most freaky of these involved waiting for the oversteer, then completely releasing the steering wheel mid-corner and letting the car straighten itself out. I was starting to learn though! And so by lunch, although the heavens had well and truly opened, I was correcting some pretty big slides with just my left thumb at the 9 o'clock position on the wheel.
In the afternoon we moved on to understanding and experiencing the effects of slip angle and the traction circle. We looked at braking through the corner and adjusting corner radius using the throttle alone. We finished with the Car Limits circuit, a kind of figure-of-eight autotest, which was yet another revelation, even if only for the fact that I would never have believed negotiating four cones in an empty car park could be so much fun. Once again, progress was rapid, and by the sixth and final lap I was starting to feel more like an integrated component in the Elise than an unreliable spare part.
It had been a day of invaluable education and unexpected entertainment, with the result that I left that car park a far wiser Elise owner than I had arrived. Proof too that the best upgrades are always to the driver. And, just occasionally, it's actually worth listening to the advice posted on an Internet forum.
Car: 1998 Lotus Elise Sport 135
Run by: Danny Milner
Bought: October 2010
Purchase price: £9,500
This month at a glance: Danny learns the true meaning of fingertip control
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
New wheels on and roof off; to Spa!
Spending looms, but on what?