Since my earliest days watching motor racing I’ve always had an over-arching fascination with two things: Oulton Park and ludicrously fast club-level racing cars. I had never really thought these two passions might combine into anything more meaningful than enthusiastic spectating and occasional reporting. Yesterday, though, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to experience Oulton from the passenger seat of one of club racing’s fastest machines.
Along with my love for club racing and Oulton Park, I’ve also developed something of a fascination for Lotus. Unfortunately my bank balance is frequently depleted by a troublesome little S1 Exige which provides equal parts bliss and despair. I rather get the impression that Jamie Willson shares this ‘special’ relationship with his Exige.
Jamie owns an S1 Exige too. The primary difference between us being that he got a little carried away with the modifications; so carried away, in fact, that his bewinged monster now generates 600kgs of well-balanced downforce. And it’s motivated by a 650bhp compound charged Honda K20a engine. That means a supercharger for instant torque and a massive great turbocharger to carry it on a boosted swell to 8,500rpm.
As I’d agreed to write an article on the car, Jamie thought it might be worth me experiencing its performance from the passenger seat; to offer a little anecdotal spice to proceedings. It’s fortunate that I’ve had 24 hours to recover a little objectivity otherwise my summation might’ve been a quivering mess of profanity.
My chauffeur for a few laps of Oulton Park’s International circuit is legendary independent Lotus engineer and driver Simon Scuffham. Bedecked in Jamie’s race clobber and with my spectacles awkwardly bent into his helmet my surroundings were familiar and intimidating in equal measure. With my movement severely limited by the presence (reassuringly) of a chunky roll-cage and carbon bucket seats, any degree of claustrophobia would need to be stifled instantly. The sight of Scuffers in his open-faced helmet with his aviators on added a level of surreality to the whole affair.
After a short wait in the garage in pretty serious heat we were chuntering along the pitlane and out onto the track for Time Attack’s Pro category morning warm-up. No time for messing around and it’s flat out in second, third, and what’s this…fourth through Dentons with the pedal mashed to the floor? But when are we going to brake for Cascades? Ye Gods, we’re through Cascades in a single violent arc before I even have time to curse my imminent demise.
Along Lakeside and we’re going through gears so fast via the paddleshift ‘box I barely have time to swear before we’re barrelling into Island bend. The speed Simon is able to carry through here is the most vivid demonstration of the car’s potential. Along Lakeside the acceleration is savage – changing up into (what I presume is) fifth only seems to bring an even harder kick. The braking events are so short that I barely have time to consider their severity before we’re back into corners again. The downforce and slick tyres are really working through Island and the time we’re making up on the other runners is comical.
There’s oil down on the run from Hilltop to Knickerbrook so Simon is necessarily cautious under braking. Brett Winstanley in his mighty TVR Sagaris sends up a huge plume of cement dust from the trail of oil. From the exit of Knickerbrook, though, everything is moving very quickly indeed. Clay Hill looks a relative innocuous crest from the spectator areas. Under full-bore acceleration in the Exige it feels akin to cresting Everest. While cornering hard. Have I mentioned how fast this thing is?
Turning into Druids is made all the more entertaining as I initially believe that Simon has entirely forgotten how his brakes operate. This fearsome double-apex right hander is approached at flat chat, with a moment of heavy braking, a downchange and then hard back on the power for the run to Lodge. If I had time to consciously do so, I’d have shaken my head at the lunacy of the whole affair.
Into Lodge, Winstanley’s TVR is finally dispensed with and we can really start getting a shuffle on. Oulton Park is rarely straight, and even less often flat. The Exige’s staggering composure in all circumstances allows Simon to work it hard everywhere. It’s stable under braking, the downforce tears your head from your shoulders and the traction is such that no amount of crests and cambers prevent Simon from using full throttle openings by the apex of any given corner.
After three bruising, pummelling, laps the car suddenly struggles to find a gear. We cruise into the pits where it seems miraculously to regain its mojo. With tyres pressures checked it’s back out on track. Here we go again – hammering down Dentons. Sadly this flyer only lasts until Lakeside when the turbo hose pops off. Simon manages to diagnose the problem from the cockpit and the car is soon back in the garage cooling down. No damage done and it’s ready for the next session.
Given traffic and oil on track, we never manage a clean lap. In addition, Simon isn’t running full boost and claims not to have been really leaning on the car. Bloody felt like it to me. Our session best is a 1:48 which isn’t bad given the circumstances. Next session out and Simon nails the monster Exige to the top of the timesheets with a 1:40. It’s staggering stuff, and to offer a little perspective, would’ve qualified him comfortably on pole for the GT Cup race at Oulton a week earlier, and well into the leading Radical runners the week before that.
So I’ve managed to avoid the profanity but I’m really struggling with the superlatives. Compared even to a conventional road-going Honda-engined Exige, this thing is…well, there’s no comparison. It’s ludicrous, ridiculous, staggering, and mind-bending. Even after just three quick laps I’m starting to feel the effect on my neck and I’ve dislodged the footrest from trying to brace against the multi-directional forces. It’s absolutely fantastic though and I’m itching for more laps. Before the run I was worried I would be revisiting my breakfast. Not a bit of it. My stomach is settled but I’m riddled with adrenaline and my hands are quivering as I emerge.
The car is, as you’ll have gathered, stupendous. Equally impressive, though, is Simon. He is utterly composed and fearsomely committed. While my poor brain struggled to compute the speeds we were going he was nailing every apex. There was no showboating and no ragged moments, just searing progress.
I find out afterwards that Jamie himself hasn’t been out in his car this season adding to the immense privilege of the experience. Even better, he is terribly apologetic to me for having the session interrupted by mechanical malaise and implores me to come back for another go; this time running full boost. Well Jamie, in the interests of journalistic research, it’d be rude not to, wouldn’t it?
SELOC would like to thank Andrew for allowing us to share his article. You can find more of his work on his website, Motor Car Diaries and in his look under the skin of the EP Tuning Exige on RaceTech Magazine.