Saturday, June 25, 2011

From England to Iowa: It's Been a Great Week for Lotus

Nigel Mansell, Group Lotus ambassador and 1992 Formula One World Champion said: “What a joy it was to be reunited with my old 81B after 30 years. This is a very special place, Hethel, and it was wonderful to open the circuit today by driving alongside my sons Leo and Greg.” [ctrl-click photo to launch YouTube video taken at the event] Image Credit: Lotus Group (2011)

From England to Iowa: It's Been a Great Week for Lotus

Group Lotus has had a pretty great week for its brand and its addition to motor culture history.

Earlier this week, across the pond in England, Nigel Mansell officially opened Group Lotus’s revised and restored Hethel test track with a roar from the 1981 Essex-Lotus 81B in which he started his glorious Formula One career more than 30-years-ago.

Mansell led a convoy of seven stunning racing cars from the Lotus stable, including the innovative 1980 Type 88 twin-chassis car – which the rule makers never allowed to race; the Lotus Type 125 Exos Experience car driven by fellow F1 legend Jean Alesi; and a brace of Lotus Renault GP cars piloted by current F1 stars Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna.

This was the first time that modern-era F1 cars had blasted around the historic Hethel tarmac since the early 1990s. The layout of the 2.2 mile circuit had changed very little, with one extra corner added, but the new asphalt and larger run off areas are better suited to modern racing and performance car testing. Its mixture of corners, straight and braking zones makes it ideal for testing and optimizing every performance aspect of the new era of Lotus products, and evaluating car control at the Lotus Driving Academy.

"A year ago we set out our plans to introduce a new model line up, ambitious motorsport plans and a revitalization of the iconic Lotus brand," said Dany Bahar, Group Lotus CEO. "A year in, we are meeting all the targets and milestones we set ourselves. One of the milestones was the opening of our test track. You might say this is just a refurbishment of a track and not a major achievement in itself, and I agree. However, mentally and psychologically seeing this project accomplished demonstrates that step-by-step our vision is becoming a reality. It shows our entire workforce and our partners that we are delivering on our promises."

In addition to a spacious new workshop, the Hethel test track will soon be accompanied by a new pit building and hospitality suite.

On this side of the pond here in little ol' Iowa, the crucible of motor culture, where the IndyCar Series (ICS) will be holding its ninth race in a 18 race season, former F1 Japanese driver, Takuma Sato notched his first pole position in the ICS and in his career.

In qualifying for the Iowa Corn 250 held at the .875-mile oval at Iowa Speedway, the KV Racing Technology-Lotus team No. 5 Dallara beat out Danica Patrick, driving the No. 7 Team GoDaddy car for Andretti Autosport. In keeping P2, Danica earned her first front-row start since Nashville Superspeedway in 2008.

"I want to say a big thank you to the whole team, the fans, the sponsors and everyone who has supported me,"
said Sato, who is coming off an eighth-place finish in the Milwaukee 225 (starting fifth). "It is a fantastic achievement. I knew we were going to be competitive because of last year (started seventh), and this morning I was truly comfortable in the car. I could feel where we needed to be with the setup for qualifying. Working so closely today with the three KVRT-Lotus drivers, working so closely with my engineers, we had a great answer."

The joy was short lived, however, when three hours later in the final practice session, the first Japanese driver to earn a pole position in IndyCar made contact with the No. 77 car driven by Alex Tagliani and the two cars slid into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. No one was injured but this may alter the starting order when the checkered flag drops at 8:00pm ET Saturday, June 25, 2011.

Regardless, Dany Bahar has to be happy with the successes this week - the unexpected delivery of promises here and those expected over there.

... notes from The EDJE

UPDATE from the Iowa Corn 250:

Takuma Sato raced upfront very well against Dario Franchitti but crashed out during the last round of pitstops. Teammate, Tony Kanaan was able to race hard to the end with Marco Andretti, swapping places P1 and P2 until Marco got the better of him.

KVRT-Lotus brought home a P2 podium finish and Tony Kanaan moves up to 4th place in the IndyCar Series season points championship.

(Article first published as From England to Iowa: It's Been a Great Week for Lotus on Technorati)

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