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Le Mans Elise confirmed for Snetterton Lotus Festival

Thursday, June 09 2011

Lotus heads to Le Mans this weekend with the Jetalliance team running a pair of Evora GTEs in the 24-hour classic. Despite Colin Chapman vowing never to return after falling foul of the regulators in the 1960s, the company he founded had a major presence in the race in the late 1990s with a very special Elise, which will be running at the Lotus Festival on 26 June.

With the emphasis in sportscar racing moving away from prototypes to GTs in the 1990s, Lotus recorded some highly respectable performances with the V8 Esprit, even attracting F1 refugee Alex Zanardi before he found success in America. When the FIA set up a GT1 Championship for 1997, extraordinary homologation specials were built by Porsche and Mercedes, and an approach from GTI Racing led to a project to build a car based on the revolutionary new Elise model.

With key members of the Elise design team seconded to Ketteringham Hall, the former location of Team Lotus, parallel projects were run to build two versions, as regulations at the time demanded at least one road-going variant to allow the car to race. This was completed with moments to spare - the homologation papers were flown out to the circuit on the morning of the first race of the series!

With the additional demands of road car regulations, there were particular challenges to be met, including an increased ride height to enable the headlights to be legal. These meant that the car was not fully developed for road use, a fact made worse by running the same gearbox as the race car - a straight-cut sequential unit which generated a lot of noise.

Whilst the road car ran a turbocharged V8 from the Esprit, last minute regulation changes meant that the race team were forced to switch to a Lotus-developed Corvette unit and this, plus a lack of development and funding, stymied their efforts. The car raced at Le Mans with Jan Lammers, Mike Hezemans and Alexander Grau at the wheel, but failed to finish and with the engine regulations changing once more, the project was finally canned.

Meanwhile the road car lives on in the hands of enthusiast Graham Morris, who has restored it to the highest possible standard and finish. This included a respray of the carbon fibre bodywork from blue to charcoal grey and a refitting of the original V8 engine, which had been replaced with the Corvette unit to satisfy the rulemakers. Windtunnel work was also undertaken to improve road performance in addition to new components and the car has been taken on various road trips, proving the soundness of the original concept.

Tickets for the Lotus Festival at Snetterton are available in advance from £10 for adults, with free entry for children aged 12 and under. For more information call 0843 453 9000 or click the link below.