“It feels a bit like we’ve gone back seven years and started all over again” says Lotus racing boss, Gav Kershaw, when I ask him what things are like up at company HQ nowadays.
“But that’s OK because all the stuff in the middle you can mostly keep,” he goes on to explain, with a mixture of cheekiness and complete bewilderment at what went on during the interim at Lotus, quite clearly evident in his tone.
I was up at Hethel – for the first time in a long time – to have a go in Kershaw’s new breed of racing Lotuses: an Evora GT4 – which was lovely but maybe a touch too easy to drive for an old school like me – plus a pair of Exige V6 Cup cars, both of which were stonking good fun, not to mention eyeball-wideningly quick, especially the V6 Cup R.
But the best part of all about my day up at Hethel, howling around in the company’s new club racers, had nothing to do with the cars themselves.
Instead it was the sense of relief evident in the people who still work there. Relief that the madness has at long last ended; that the virus has been identified and neutralised, and that – finally – things are returning back to normal again at Lotus.
To a point, in fact, where eventually they now feel the company may even begin to make money again in the nearish future, perhaps even as soon as next year. But whenever it happens, indeed even if they just break even next year (which seems more likely) it will be a very different situation – both financially and culturally – from the one in which the company found itself not so long ago.
Back then, during the Bahar SNAFU era, the creditors and suppliers simply closed their book on Lotus, having lost faith in the company to produce anything meaningful with the millions that it was spending on… not a great deal to be honest.
Post Bahar, Lotus has ended up with a nice new test track and some shiny new brochures for a range of cars that will mostly now never see the light of day, but that’s about it.
But, as they say, that was then and this is now. And right now, the good times aren’t so much rolling in at Lotus again as reappearing gently, just beyond the far horizon, albeit quite dimly lit.
Kershaw says, “There are five people from our Malaysian parent company (DRB Hicom) who work on the premises full time at the moment, and to begin with we thought we were being micro-managed by them, day in, day out. They wanted to know everything we were spending on, and why. And to begin with it p**sed us all off a bit.
“But then we realised that we weren’t being micro-manged, we were just being managed, like all departments at all the other car companies are. And at that point it all made a bit more sense. Since then, they’ve been great. And since then we’ve started to make a bit of headway.”
And what of the new Esprit, the car that was once destined to spearhead the dramatic new range of seemingly too-good-to-be-true new Lotuses? Will that car now ever get built?
Once the company starts making money again, yes, it seems, the Esprit WILL finally see the light of day. Perhaps in 2015, maybe a year after that, who knows exactly when?
Whatever the date, they are way too realistic at Lotus nowadays to make claims that can’t be substantiated eventually – by high quality, real world products, of which the new Esprit will be but one. The new owners simply aren’t interested in PR guff anymore.