The magic – what you can only see if you are really looking at it, the one that wakes you up with a thrill that runs through your back and that, even after a few days, keeps that flavor in your mouth almost as if wanting to cling to the last shreds of a feeling that increasingly takes on the remembrances of a memory. Every human being lives with magic, chemistry, those unexplainable attractions to someone or something, and so our whole life is transformed and the path that we are going to follow makes us unique in the midst of over seven billion of other human beings.
Every day, getting up in the morning, we are going to face what will be a different day from the other, without having an instruction booklet, without knowing what it would be best to do and those turns we should avoid – then there are those days we fill with that very strong emotion called adrenaline, a bit like when it comes to picking up the keys of the right car and bringing it there, where only the eagles dare.
The Col de Turini has now become a kind of second home for Auto Class, so much so that it is not only the stage of one of the main events we hold annually and which brings dozens of super cars and sports cars to share with us the drama it creates, but has imposed itself as the best test bench for those cars that promise to have something extra. A switchback after the other you can immerse yourself and feel those emotions that made this road just above Menton, one of the most iconic playground in motorsport history – the Rally MonteCarlo has given its verdict, catapulting drivers into the Olympus of legends and putting to the ultimate test the skills of each one of them, increasing the difficulty of the stages with snow, ice and the darkness of the night.
For this second episode of the Performance Tour, we brought one of Gino Luxury & Motorsports Lotus Exiges right here to find out if one of Hethels most performing cars was able to pass the exam, made of mechanical strength and of a fundamental adaptation ability in a road in a continuous transformation – first large and slid, then narrow and winding, for ending in a series of bends and straps that are squeezed between a perfectly vertical rock wall and a precipice that does not leave space for doubts, or mistakes.
The Exige Sport 350 takes all the good represented by the Exige S, and therefore a wider and more massive body, able to accommodate two occupants and a big (especially for Lotus standards up to a few years ago) V6 engine, equipped with 345 horses and a Harrop supercharger – this has been taken one step further. How? Through a diet that stops the weighing needle at 1.125kg and some of the features that make it not only the most aggressive and dynamic looking, but also through the same feedback as the most direct and precise steering wheel. It’s easy to distinguish it thanks to the front splitter, the new spoiler at the rear and above all the cover of the engine compartment with horizontal plastic profiles, in this case there is a manual gearbox with 6 gears, which is just what we wanted. Being a Lotus, you are sure you will spend most of your time sitting at the wheel, taking advantage of every single piece of energy it can transmit to you. In fact, coming out of the motorway, I do not waste any time and I start to drive the first miles for Sospel, savoring what would have made this day at the office more special than so many others.
The first time you fall into the cabin, after cursing all the excuses you’ve always found to avoid coming back to the gym, you feel a little confused: the seat is straining to the ground and the small steering wheel with the disassembled pedals seem wanting to confuse even more. But then, when you start the V6 behind your shoulders, you realize that there’s actually everything you would need: seat, three pedals, a shift lever and a steering wheel that only hosts the two small commands of the horn. Here’s how a sports car should be and here’s where the exhaust valves open, as a baritone roar enters the cockpit in an even more insistent manner. The windows are already lowered and the sun’s rays seem to be in agreement with the hot flashes coming from behind; in these cases the best solution is to go hard on the throttle and focus the attention on the road.
After the first few kilometers I feel confident with the Sport 350 and so I decide that it is time to delay my braking points, noting how the AP racing brakes probably had a pact with the devil – precise, powerful and without any kind of fading, despite a pretty intense use. Roadside houses become less and like a secret passage, the landscape opens, and the majestic rocky walls seem to embrace an asphalt serpent that sinuously moves upward, occasionally disappearing behind a curve, then it chases its tail with crazy hairpins and corners of every possible radius. It seems incredible that the human mind has been able to draw a masterpiece like this, but all I want to do at this time is to ride the perfect wave, with the Sport 350 that has taken a hellish rhythm and throw’s it through the bends like a bullet bouncing on the walls of an armored room.
The small steering wheel is my link to the road below me, every single movement translates itself into an immediate reaction of the chassis and every order that I impart returns to my brain with the indications to better set the following curve. Seems like being in the middle of a pinball machine, driving a white ball thrown at noxious speed, which, without the slightest effort, left behind two motorcyclists who thought they could eat a random sports car. No, not today. The Exige Sport 350 does not go unnoticed -the engine bark is a clue that warns you that it’s not a feminine thing, but the contained size (4 meters in length and 1.80 in width) and that friendly look outlined by the front headlights, deceive those who have no idea of what they are facing. In fact, despite its “cheerful” look, sharpened by those small aerodynamic details that characterize the Sport 350, this Exige is amazing as to find something exciting in the Easter egg.
And while around me everything moves frantically, I keep myself focused and with hands firmly on the wheel, without suffering for the lack of power steering, nor on the more sustained surfaces, nor when it slows and I have to put into first to deal with the slower bends. At that moment, throwing down the gas is a must, the tail extends outward but with an impressive naturalness you can point the front wheels towards the opposite direction, just half a turn and without lightening the right foot from the throttle, the Exiges nose is perfectly straight, a couple of inches from the wall that runs to the next hairpin. I do it once, two, three times – then I begin to think that it is the car that is playing with me and wants to make me believe I have become a Turini Texas Ranger.
In doubt I ask it more and, impassive, it answers with always foreseeable reactions, an almost infinite grip and a disarming energy. Fun keeps growing too, that carefree sensation that has moved our personal performance far beyond what we would have expected. Obviously, slowing down the pace and enjoying the landscape, the working day would still be of a high standard, but would you really do that? I mean – with such a car, on one of the most magical roads in the world – would you really think to turn the radio on?
Everything is reduced to the essentials, the seats are also comfortable, and despite being adjustable only in depth, finding the ideal driving position is an instant game. Understanding how to get in and especially to get off was a bit more complicated until I heard the photographer s advice, beginning to put both feet to the ground first, avoiding to squeeze my back in an unmanageable way. Behind the wheel, a very simple display with a digital indicator for the petrol left in the tank, speedometer and analog tachometer. Then, next to the right leg, exactly where you wanted it, there is the shift lever with optional exposed mechanism. The clutch is precise, handling is fantastic and the steering invites you to use gloves, but touching the cold knob at each gear change increases the feeling of being one with this mechanical object that can meet our driving desires more indecent than ever.
And just as you think you have already asked enough to yourself and the Lotus, I reach the top of the Col de Turini, and without stopping, I slump down towards La Bollene-Vesubie, for the hottest 12 km you can spend at the wheel of a car. Here, there’s even less time for jokes, the descent unintentionally increases the pace and urges you more brakes and reflexes, other switchbacks put you to the test, and faster stretch seems wanting to catapult you into the throat of an infernal creature. Without realizing it, you have exceeded your limit and despite you realize that you have to give up the gas, you feel like possessed and go to the bottom, taking every inch of the incoming and outgoing corners, crushing the eardrums the moment we’ve eaten into a dark rock tunnel and breathing a sigh of relief when this descent into the abyss ends without harm.