There’s a tyre wall on the Lotus test track. It borders the edge of ‘the circle’, a section of the track that (as the name suggests) is a roundabout that can either be used for drifting practice, or becomes a tricky part of the overall track.
For those few metres of tarmac before you enter the circle, there is little or no room for error. Or rather there is plenty of room for error, most of it involving fibreglass splinters and a hospital stay.
At 5pm on Saturday, I was approaching the circle in a Lotus Elise S at about 60mph in third, with Dave the chassis engineer sat next to me trying not to look nervous.
Brake hard, shift down to second with some liberal heeling and toeing to keep the car balanced, swing it round the circle and take a wide line out to use the whole of the track and ensure you’re well into third by the time you hit the next complex of winding corners. And take a deep breath before you get to the mixed delights of the chicane.
Lotus is a great institute for more than the obvious reasons.
Lotus is a place where you can revel in the delights of a company that has achieved international success, makes some of the best drivers cars in the world, but that serves up tea and cake in a slightly rickety building in the middle of nowhere, and that relies on the bountiful talents of ordinary blokes named Dave and Al to teach you the finer points of yaw rate and oversteer.
Try rolling up at Stuttgart for a tour around the factory and a lesson on the test track in a Porsche, and unless you’re name is Martin Winterkorn you will probably be arrested and given into the care of a man named Hanz and his box of latex gloves.
You can do exactly this at Lotus (the driving and factory tour, not the Latex gloves). As a result of all the work they’ve done training industry types over the years, they’ve decided to put the skills of Dave and co. to use teaching the public.
The Lotus Driving Academy works in four tiers. Bronze will cost £299 and get you a look at the production line and historic car restorations, teach you the basics of car control in an Elise, plus some laps of the track with one-on-one tuition.
The £499 Silver package progresses to a bit more technical on-track stuff, including some very extreme braking tests, and eventually the chance to drive the test track under one-on-one tuition.
Gold takes it even further for £799 and for £1299 you can do the Platinum course, which is pretty much whatever you want it to be from high-speed track driving, the effects of different suspension set-ups, and even Police tuition in road driving.
It’s a simple, effective series of driving courses that are flexible enough to benefit any individual. More than that, it’s an opportunity to get to know a company and the cars it produces which together sit right at the top of my things to be patriotic about, alongside Stephen Fry, Goodwood, David Attenborough and the Great British Roast Dinner. Rule Britannia.