The story is always the same. To respond at the requests for approval dictated by the FIA and so taking part in the GT championship, Lotus has produced a handful of much more extreme Elise than those we know today, it all happened between 1996 and 1997. The Lotus Elise GT1, partly unknown to most people, remains one of the most impressive and rare cars of the new generation ever built in Hethel – obviously based on the little Lotus, but with a more massive body and an engine able to put into trouble, especially in the racing version, famous names such as the Porsche 911 GT1 and the Mercedes CLK GTR.
We can almost call it an ancestor of the modern Hennessey Venom, because if Lotus used its own twin- turbo engine already seen on the “old” Esprit race car to power some models, some teams chose to stick in the engine compartment a massive and more powerful naturally aspirated Chevrolet V8. Like in all the stories that smell of tarmac and curbs there is not always a happy ending, but there’s what connects such major projects with the innate ambition and dedication of those who see far and wants to leave their mark in the automotive world, at all costs.
It all begins at the dawn of the 1997 FIA GT- 1 Season, with Porsche and Mercedes that guaranteed a place on the grid with their new competition models and Lotus who abandons the Esprit GT1 and decided to focus on the new two-seater just put into production. The Elise GT1, also called Type-115 is a far cry from the small sports car from Hethel, since the step is hugely stretched and the body is much wider and lower, only recalling the salient features of the street legal Elise in order to give to potential customers and to the public a way to link the ambitious racing car to the current production model.
Its virtual performance were extremely close to the real ones, because with just under 1.000kg of weight it, had a 350hp V8 available shouting up to 6500 rpm and pushing up to 320 per hour, admitted that you had the courage to push yourself so far.
The car body is entirely made of carbon fiber and the engine that is connected to a sequential Hewland 6-speed box is just the 3.8 twin-turbo V8 of the obsolete Esprit GT1. Reliability problems led a difficult pre-season testing period to make upper floors think to opt for the Chevrolet V8 of the ZR-1, a naturally aspirated 5.7cc on which Lotus itself was able to work during the period when it was under ownership of General Motors and in which the Team GT1 Lotus Racing Team pour their hopes.
The Championships debut was not at all lucky, because the four Elise GT1 that left the grid did not finished the Hockenheim GP due to engine problems. The following race, another disappointment – only at the third Grand Prix, the only fielded car managed to snatch a fifth place at the checkered flag, in that of Helsinki. Unfortunately this was the best episode collected by the Elise GT1 in the racing world, and after other unsuccessful attempts the team was forced to withdraw for incessant reliability issues, with the consequential fact that private teams have been forced to opt for better cars mechanically much more up to the task.
So it might seem strange to define the Elise GT1 as a cult supercar, but racing is like that – you win and you lose, certainly there is no forgiveness for any mistake. But what has allowed this particular Lotus to carve out a place in the Olympus of the most loved supercars by fans, especially those purists who do not care about sports scores, it is the fact that it was almost a trampoline (albeit niche) launch to put a more generous engine than you would expect, in a pretty small and very light car. The Hennessey Venom of late 90s, right? Lotus with the latest Exige has once again fitted a 3.5 supercharged V6 thus combining the maneuverability of a rigid and lightweight chassis, with the power of an engine worthy of being called such.
The Elise, which this year celebrates an important anniversary (20 years) should be celebrated every day for the fact that offers fun in abundance and emotions and sensations that few other cars are able to offer. Imitated and copied by many, it is one of the few cars that can pull off a direct and intimate handling with the road surface, without the need for expensive engines to maintain or quench. And tell me if you do not remember the Elise GT1 in the “Need for Speed” video game?
Its virtual performance were extremely close to the real ones, because with just under 1.000kg of weight it, had a 350hp V8 available shouting up to 6500 rpm and pushing up to 320 per hour, admitted that you had the courage to push yourself so far. Who knows how many were left, who knows where and who knows what a pleasure for their greedy owners – because it is easier to see a UFO landing on the Colosseum – while opening the garage door and see their track beast that was unable to bite the curbs as it wanted and deserved. But it surely managed to leave an important mark, a legacy that Mr. Hennessey has succeeded in collecting, in his own way, in the right way, several years later.