• Niko French

For the love of the drive: the Lotus Elise

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

For me, road driving is about putting your abilities to the test. It’s about combining the mental and physical into one – making split-second measurements that weigh risk against reward – then doing it over and over again as you sew a string of corners together in your favourite car.

On the race track, you can just go for it in relative safety. There’s run-off space, and a margin for error. But on the road, driving fast is about analysis and planning. It’s about getting close to the limit while leaving enough in reserve to allow for the “what ifs”.

Personally, I find road driving – fast road driving – an incredible test of pinpoint accuracy, precision and control. It’s a challenge; and it’s what makes my role as a TRACK & TARMAC guide so rewarding.

It’s also what drove me to save and buy my Lotus Elise. It’s a raw and visceral driver’s car. There are no electronic chassis aids, no padding or noise insulation, and no unnecessary weight.

I can feel, hear and even smell what the car is doing every moment I’m behind the wheel; and while it might sound cliché, I think the Elise really does become an extension of myself when driven close to its limit.

I’ve experience a lot of cars in my job as an automotive photographer, but there are none that feel so razor-sharp as the Lotus Elise in fast-paced road driving. On tight, twisting mountain roads the Elise is exact. Look where you want to go, and the car follows, almost instinctively.

Now, I know not every TRACK & TARMAC guest drives a car like the Elise. We all have different tastes, different wants and needs – and that’s part of what makes our community so vibrant. I also reckon the challenge of driving, and the reward of a weekend on the right road with great company is part of what makes sharing this passion we have so much fun.

I regularly host the Melbourne Ranges Tarmac Tour. I know these roads intimately, and despite – or perhaps because of that – I can tell you that from the moment you leave the bakery car park there’s a sensation that takes you over.

Your body begins to tense up. Your heart rate quickens. The adrenalin starts pumping. Your mind sharpens. Even with the speed limit and white (or yellow above the snow line) diving lines dictating what we may and may not do on the drive ahead, there’s a sense that your entire being is ready for the drive ahead.

That serpentine ribbon of curvaceous tarmac greets us as we wind beneath the tall trees of the Black Spur. It’s an incredibly smooth country road made for driver’s cars. It inspires confidence and warms you into the adventure that lies ahead.

What I love most about this road is that each and every corner has its own personality – getting it right is its own reward. You find the right braking point, how quickly to release the pedal, when to trail brake, how to settle the car on its balance point as you hunt each apex (learn more about cornering here), and how to drive out of the corner and prepare for the next.

It’s an incredibly complex task we largely take for granted. It happens in fractions of a second, and while you’re focusing to get each corner right, there’s the need to keep perspective on the rules, and the margin of error we must leave on a public road.

Watching the road surface for cracks, potholes or dips where the edges have fallen away. Watching for other cars, for leaf litter, animals, anything that is gong to affect the balance of the car.

Maybe there’s a dash of oil spilled on the road, a fallen tree branch or some gravel washed across a bend on a stormy night, or even a four-wheel drive or motorcyclist cutting too close to the centre line.

You have to temper your enjoyment with the realities of sharing the road with others.

But for me this is part of what makes drives on roads like these so thrilling. Metering expectation with enthusiasm helps sharpen my focus. I’m concentrating on being in the right gear, the Elise still needs to be handled, its pedals finessed. It’s satisfying, and it’s highly addictive.

On certain bends the Elise wants to over-steer. It’s tail-end wiggles and I gently correct its path toward my planned trajectory. It’s a dance we revel in over 200 times in our path to the top of the ‘Spur’, and if the road is clear, that’s only the first 30 minutes of our tour!

The Black Spur and the Lotus Elise is a combination that’s about as good as it gets. Making all of those rapid-fire decisions means your vision narrows and your senses hone-in. You feel the balance Lotus engineers worked so hard to build into this car, the grip of the tyres on that glorious black-top, and that glorious howl of that twin cam engine winding up to 8500rpm.

This experience is why I love driving my Elise so much. It amplifies what it is to be a driver. It teaches you to be better, and as we reach our coffee stop in Marysville I’m warmed-up, ready for the thousands more corners that stretch-out before us.

That’s what it is to really drive. That’s what TRACK & TARMAC is all about. That’s why I love what I do. This is what brings us together as drivers, as petrol-heads. It’s understanding that you must know your abilities, that you must understand and work with your car; but that you must also measure the risk involved correctly and play within the rules.

Believe me when I say, it’s an experience that is truly rewarding – and one I can’t wait to share with you.


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