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Sunday, 24 July 2011

Could The Lotus T125 Save The Supercar?

Also available in green with a yellow stripe, red and white with a gold stripe, black with gold highlights and yellow.
Just now I watched TopGear. I actually thought it was actually a pretty good episode, after last week had its ups and downs (while I loved the GT-R's astonishing lap time and Rowan Atkinson's, er, astonishing lap time, I thought the train bit wasn't what it could've been and essentially acted as episode padding). The Jensen Interceptor bit was awesome and very funny, the demolition bit at the end was awesome and very funny, and the guest was, well, pretty good. It's difficult to top Rowan Atkinson though...

One bit of the episode, however, made me think. It involves the car you see here, the Lotus Exos T125, essentially a lightly watered-down Formula 1 car. A few stats first: The Exos produces 650bhp from a Cosworth V8 revving to around 10,500rpm and weighs just 600kg, giving it 1083bhp/tonne, compared to a ~700bhp, ~450kg F1 car. It costs about £600,000 and comes with some amazing features as standard, including a hand-operated clutch, a personal trainer and cook, adjustable front and rear wings, a team of mechanics, an inbuilt starter motor (unlike a real F1 car), Jean Alesi, slick tyres, a massage therapist and a truck full of... Racy Things. I can safely say that none of these things are available either standard or as an option on the Lotus Evora S. Well, apart from the starter motor perhaps. For more info on the car, see the video just below this text.

Stephen Wright from Lotus Motorsports explains the philosophy behind the Lotus Exos T125

The idea is that you buy into the "Exos Club" and can hold onto your own car if you want to just use it like any other track car, or alternatively you can ring Lotus up and tell them you'd like to go to a race circuit for a driving lesson or track session with full support, in which case they arrange a date and send over all the stuff I mentioned above (i.e. your own racing team for the day). I think the Lotus T125 is actually a brilliant idea, not just because those with sufficient funds can get a genuine feel for what it's like to be a Formula 1 racing driver, but also because, potentially, it could save the modern supercar from looking foolish, something I have expressed distaste for in the past.

You see, in an ideal world, morons who somehow have huge amounts of money that they spend on supercars will have also watched TopGear just now. These people will be excited at the idea of Jean Alesi cupping them to fit the seat foam in under their bottom, as well as the idea that they could, in a way, outrun The Stig, and will thus decide that they would be prepared to spend that £600,000 or so on admission to the Exos Club, in order to officially be one-up on the guy down the street who owns two Veyrons and a Koenigsegg.

Why is that a good thing? Because then they won't all go out and buy matte-pink Lamborghini Murciélago SVs and murdered-out Ferrari 599s vomited-on carelessly by Mansory and then street race them through London in the middle of the night thinking that even though they are tasteless and talentless buffoons, they can get away with it somehow because their daddies (some of whom are oil sheiks) could pull together and just buy the whole country to get them out of trouble. Instead, they would be buying into the greatest driving school you could possibly imagine, with full tutelage from Monsieur Alesi or a different retired F1 driver to help you overcome your fear of crashing and becoming a genuinely skilled track driver.

This would not only mean that there would be fewer high-speed accidents in exotic cars, because they're actually talented drivers now, but as they're spending time and money at race tracks, they'll also have less to spend on customising their supercars, and maybe even less money to spend buying supercars in the first place, so The Sanctity Of The Ferrari would potentially be saved from the evil, oily clutches of tuning companies, and we can finally stop associating Ferrari and Lamborghini and Bugatti with idiotic playboys who've had them painted matte black and Arab poseurs with less taste than someone who's burnt their tongue numb or lost it altogether in a tragic throwing knife accident, and just appreciate them for what they are: technological showcases, mobile works of art, instruments of speed, a cylinder symphony that is to car fans what Mozart is to pianists. Jewels in the golden crown of motoring.

But wait, there's more: maybe, just maybe, they'll feel the same effect that some F1 drivers get after a while, in that they get the lust for speed out of their system by hurling a race car around Silverstone/Laguna Seca/Nürburgring GP track/Wherever and don't feel the need to drive like cock-ends on the road in their supercars (1996 World Champion Damon Hill drives an Audi A3, for instance, and Lewis Hamilton said in 2007 that he had a Mercedes GL420, which a diesel SUV). Again, this means that supercars won't be associated so much with idiocy, and that examples of these brilliant cars last longer, because fewer people will do a Ryan Dunn (or something similar yet somewhat less severe). It'll instead be down to the makers of these cars to preserve them by making sure they don't set fire at some point, which unfortunately still happens...

If there are limited numbers at Lotus's Exos Club, and there probably are to assure exclusivity, fear not. The surge in popularity would convince the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and others to start their own, similar programs with watered-down F1 cars 
(the million-euro FXX Program is a very similar idea). Hey, it's happening at the moment with "prestige SUVs" and "luxury crossovers", so why not with stuff like this? We're already riding a wave of track-day specials. Maybe Porsche could do a similar thing with a full-blooded GT3-RSR, and purveyors of Indycars could offer one based in Americaland. The likes of Caterham and Radical could also offer a more budget option for those of us that don't have half a million quid to burn, or already spent it on a lifetime's supply of penny sweets and a private dentist.

The side affect of this is that yes, supercars might become a little rarer. But the ones from about Lamborghini level downwards wouldn't be ruined, and seeing one will feel all the more special for it. Besides, there's no reason why these people can't still have an AMG Black Series or a Ferrari 458 Italia. They just won't be so careless with them if they do. I should be clear at this point that I'm not saying I want people who have supercars to hide them away or treat them like some kind of priceless time bomb. Quite the opposite, in fact. What I don't like is when they show off in an irresponsible or immature manner that disturbs people in the night and endangers people on public streets, like these idiots, or poseurs who don't actually care what car they drive as long as it costs a hell of a lot and has a flashy badge on it (these people can instead boast about having the next best thing to an F1 car all to themselves).

If these people were drawn away from supercars and made into serious and talented drivers, the motoring world would become a better place. Hopefully the trackday world wouldn't be ruined in the process...

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