A day out on the Autocross Circuit
Updated: Feb 11, 2018
Of the many activities that we Lotus owners love to participate in, from cross-country drives to trackdays, autocross has to be one of the most peculiar events. It’s simple enough to an outsider – little more than an empty plot of tarmac with a couple of cones arranged seemingly haphazardly, but autocross is far more difficult and complex than that.
Toycarz started out the year strong with an event held in conjunction with GAS Autocross, with our own separate category for Lotus owners. With more and more cars coming without a physical handbrake these days, the organizers of the course made it specifically handbrake-free, which in turn made it less brutal on tyres and drivetrains. It also made it a little easier for newcomers to approach the event as they didn’t need to learn how to do handbrake turns or tighter donuts.
Still though, the course was far from simple. Held at the car parks just within the border of the MAEPS campus, there was plenty of gravel and sand strewn around to spice things up. There were also two course layouts to run instead of a singular layout to add to the confusion, but what’s life without a little challenge?
While having a lighter car provides an advantage in many forms of racing, in autocross the difference is made even clearer. Sylvain Auvray walked away from most of the competition with ease in his Caterham, flitting it about the course with hardly any worry. In contrast, the Evoras were struggling to put power down and dealing with the extra (though not excessive) weight.
MP having a go at the track
Perhaps the only two participants who could give him a run for his money were MP and Joshua Bansh, each trying their best to top each other’s time. They ended up taking second and third place respectively; MP and Auvray swapped cars for one final run, just to get an understanding of the differences in performance and handling ability.
Having a large amount of power on a loose surface also made progress difficult. On a normal patch of tarmac it wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but gravel and dirt meant drivers needed more precise throttle control and reflexes to catch minor oversteer events. It was a good learning experience for those who weren’t used to sudden loss of traction, and far more applicable to real life than regular track work where the surface is consistent and the runoffs are wide.
Even before getting to the part of a corner that requires precise modulation, drivers had to figure out how to get the cars turned in. Lotus models have excellent balance but their mid-engine layout requires weight transfer techniques to keep the nose pinned down on entry to a curve or bend, and this is exaggerated by tighter course layouts. It isn’t immediately apparent on a course like Sepang or a blitz down a back road on a Sunday morning, but it can be frustrating when the car has a tendency to understeer on initial throttle.
Another major lesson was that traction control becomes a bit of a problem when getting off the line. While the systems are both smooth and effective on operation on a track, they limit the speed at which you can get off the line – and this becomes a bigger problem when you have more power and a low friction surface. Only in the last few runs did a few of the participants get a quicker start off the line with the systems off.
Chris & Jon preparing breakfast for the participants
Even though this was an ad hoc event held in the middle of a car park on a blazing hot Sunday afternoon, there was no reason a certain level of class couldn’t be maintained. Chris and Jon of Toycarz arranged a proper lunch – which is especially unique when it comes to motorsport events or track outings. Instead of a plastic packet lunch that’s par for the course, Lotus owners got scrambled eggs on toast, coming back for seconds as well. Perhaps this is something they can expand on in the future given the great reception.
Loads of fun for all who came!
All in, the event was a success and the competition was fierce, even with Auvray setting times that nobody could come close to. It was proof that power wasn’t a defining factor, and that a mid-engine layout has its drawbacks on an especially tight circuit without some serious setup adjustments. And for those who were still getting to grips with their cars, there’s no better place to make mistakes than an empty car park, and no better way to develop smooth steering work and precise throttle control than the pressure of competition.