Given that I started my undistinguished motorsport career more than 30 years ago, there really wasn’t much cause to feel apprehensive when I turned up at Shelsley Walsh hillclimb a couple of weekends ago to run my Lotus Elan at an event called Classic Nostalgia.
Just the same, apprehensive is exactly how I did feel. It was a few years since I’d competed in anything requiring a helmet, race licence, numbers and driving suit, and this ramped up the significance of the occasion. So did the fact that 30-odd regular entrants in Paul Matty’s Lotus Hillclimb Championship were there, too. I’d never previously entered a competition in this car (a front-drive 1990s Lotus Elan; the cheapest of the breed money can buy), or even subjected it to a full-noise, wheel-spinning start, so there was much to learn.
Thankfully, the Lotus bunch are about the most welcoming there is. Many have kept right on competing for all the years since my son and I stopped being regulars seven or eight years ago. Our sub-plot on this occasion, as well as having fun, was to help our pal Paul celebrate the 30th anniversary of his much-loved championship, which for those decades has kept a cheerful light burning in the window of the oft-beleaguered Lotus marque. There was a Friday dinner, happy and well attended the way Matty events always are, then everyone headed to bed to prepare for the next day’s racing.
I knew I was going to be the slowest in the field. There are some beautiful, well-driven single-seaters in the Matty line-up, traditionally run as a handicap, plus some extremely well-developed Lotus road cars that also have expert drivers. My standard car, the only M100, was the biggest and heaviest in the field, although even by today’s standards its 0-60mph time of just below seven seconds isn’t exactly sluggardly.
Early practice runs were conducted early on, with the ambient temperature around 20deg C. On my sighting run, a shamefully slow ascent in 47sec area, I established that unless you departed the start line with plenty of revs and wheelspin, the engine would bog disastrously. The M100 engine is healthy, durable, smooth and refined but it’s also old-school in that it suffers lower-end turbo lag. Keep it percolating or you’re lost.
On the second run, I compensated for this, popping the clutch at around 5000rpm, wheel-spinning all the way to the 7000 redline before discovering the M100’s other big hillclimbing drawback – a canyon-like gap to second gear. It’s critical to grab second as quickly as you can (a smooth throw but very long) and still the best you can hope for is 3500rpm and a bit of a wait for honest-to-God urge to start beyond 4500. Even so, my reward for a better performance was a time in the 44sec bracket – still dog slow but not arthritic old mutt slow. Perhaps I might even do a bit better.