Nigel Mansell officially opened Group Lotus' revised and restored Hethel test track with a roar from the Essex Lotus 81B in which he started his legendary Formula 1 career more than 30 years ago.
Mansell led a convoy of seven stunning racing cars from the Lotus stable, including the innovative 1981 Type 88 twin-chassis car which the rulemakers never allowed to race; the Lotus Type 125 Exos Experience car driven by fellow F1 legend Jean Alesi; and a brace of Lotus Renault GP cars piloted by current F1 stars Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna.
This was the first time that modern-era F1 cars had blasted around the historic Hethel pavement since the early 1990s. The layout of the 2.2-mile circuit had changed very little, with one extra corner added, but the new asphalt and larger run-off areas are better suited to modern racing and performance car testing. Its mixture of corners, straight and braking zones makes it ideal for testing and optimizing every performance aspect of the new era of Lotus products, and evaluating car control at the Lotus Driving Academy. In addition to a spacious new workshop, the test track will soon be accompanied by a new pit building and hospitality suite.
“A year ago we set out our plans to introduce a new model lineup, ambitious motorsport plans and a revitalization of the iconic Lotus brand," Dany Bahar, Group Lotus CEO said. "A year in, we are meeting all the targets and milestones we set ourselves. One of the milestones was the opening of our test track. You might say this is just a refurbishment of a track and not a major achievement in itself, and I agree. However, mentally and psychologically seeing this project accomplished, demonstrates that step by step our vision is becoming a reality. It shows our entire workforce and our partners that we are delivering on our promises.”
Mansell, Group Lotus ambassador and 1992 Formula 1 World Champion, added: “What a joy it was to be reunited with my old 81B after 30 years. This is a very special place, Hethel, and it was wonderful to open the circuit today by driving alongside my sons Leo and Greg.”
Lotus Motorsport factory driver James Rossiter was enthusiastic about the revised track.
“The circuit has been completely resurfaced and extended. Now there's a lot more track and you can push harder thanks to that," he said. "The thing that makes it so perfect for Lotus is that it has every aspect of corner you can imagine – high speed, medium speed; slow speed; changes of direction at a steady-state, decelerating and accelerating; you've got a massive braking area at the end of a long straight, with a tight chicane; there are two 190-degree corners, which are long, open and steady-state. So it has a little bit of everything, which is ideal for developing every aspect of a performance car.”