EVO Magazine - Track Shootout- September 2000 issue

Test of  ten cars and one superbike carried out at Croft circuit.

words by Richard Meaden


Lap time 1.35.78   Fun factor 8/10

 I drove the 340R twice during our stay at Croft.  The first stint was on a very damp track and all the reasons why I'm a 340R sceptic were underlined, not to mention written in bold and highlighted by a chunky fluorescent pen.  Reluctant to turn in, then only too happy to kick its tail out, fast lapping in the Lotus was a simple exercise in not crashing.  Fun didn't enter the equation.

 And then the sun came out and all my dislikes evaporated.  To drive a 340R as fast as you can on a dry circuit is one of the most absorbing things you can ever do.  Suddenly all the feel and bite that you craved in the damp are there.  Those showy Yokohama tyres start to generate grip, and you can attack corners in a precise, economical, ultra-committed, race-car style, getting on the power earlier and earlier until finally the transition from hard braking, turning in and then hard acceleration becomes seamless.   

What really sets the Lotus apart on track is the lack of fuss.  Sure, you make corrections, but they're minute and well-measured.  It's more of a cerebral exercise that a physical one, mainly because there's more room to work than in a Caterham so you take less of a pummelling in the process, but also because the steering, gearshift and handling balance are more delicate.  A hooligan's car it isn't.

 With the optional super close Quaife gearing and hard-edged 190bhp engine, the 340R is the angry, steely track weapon Lotus promised, but It also feels refined and honed in a way that sets It apart from other lightweights. 

You don't seem vulnerable either,' which makes a difference when you feel the tremor of a hard-charging Stealth thundering towards the braking area.  The fact that the 340R is just a fag-paper behind the 650bhp road-racer on a hot lap (Not to mention quicker than the Skyline and Caterham Blackbird) proves that Lotus can still achieve something exceptional.

 Given the right conditions, it's a sensational car, but given our increasingly crap weather in the UK, I can't help thinking those tyres are an uncomfortable halfway house.  If you're serious about your track-days, I'm sure you'd be better off having a set of slicks for the dry and set of less compromised road tyres for the wet and the journey home.


Car beats bike - Caterham Superlight R500 beats Yamaha Rl.  Our rider, Ronnie, can bemoan the fact that the Rl's front tyre was shot, but we feel that our drivers' lack of experience of Croft balances against this, so the car wins fair and square.  Even Ronnie admitted that he was impressed by the time the R500 posted, though he muttered that if he'd been riding a Ducati 996SPS it might have been different...

There's a sizeable time-gap back to the chasing pack.  Second fastest car is - as it ought to be - the Stealth B6, the GT racer with numberplates and road tyres.  Experience and a set of sticky tyres would make it go quicker, as would getting your head around the aerodynamic downforce, but if you realty want to enjoy its massive V8 power you have to master the Hewland  box.  The B6 delivers an experience like no other road car passengers are utterly gob-smacked - but you've got to ask if it's worth twice as much as an Ultima

 If you just want to turn up, go out and have fun, a Lotus 340R or Blackbird Seven will  take you within about half a second a lap of the Stealth.  That the Lotus is marginally quicker than the Honda-engined Caterham is a little surprising.  It seems to rest with tyres - you won't find the Blackbird's Avons down at Kwik-Fit, but the 340R's Yokohamas are even more dubiously road legal.  They have no more tread than the Rl's rubber and they're awesome once they're throroughly warmed-up, helping make the Lotus great fun to drive hard.  It's' a bit trickier at the limit than the Blackbird but some drivers will be happier to go there because they won't feet so exposed.  Surrounded by the 340Rs high sides and broader, less cramped cabin, you can't help thinking that the consequences of  a big mistake would be less severe.


 However, if kicking ass at track days is your bag, then a potent lightweight with sticky tyres is what you need, no question.  Right now, the new bike-engined featherweights give best to car-engined versions - and also your off-the-shelf Superbike, too.  Pray for sunshine, though, because if its wet you'll be in one of the pit garages, looking up at the sky or wishing you'd brought along a powerful heavyweight with a roof and, preferably, anti-lock brakes.



Definitive Lap Times                   

R500                          1.31.53

Rl                               1.32.96

Stealth                        1.35.37

340R                          1.35.78

Blackbird                    1.35.98

Skyline                        1.36.55

Evo VI                        1.40.55

911 Turbo                   1.40.95

Cerbera                       1.41.22

Atom                           1.44.80

Copyright EVO magazine September  2000


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