By Paul Torrisi, pics by Paul Torrisi and Paul D’Ambra (SSC)
I, like most red-blooded Aussies, grew up watching the best of the best battle it out on TV on the second Sunday in October every year. I’m talking about the Bathurst 1000 Mt Panorama, that hallowed ground, motoring Mecca. It’s only open as a race track three or four times a year so not many get to drive it at speed.
When Simply Sports Cars announced they were doing a Lotus Only Track Day (LOTD) at the most sacred of sites I thought to myself that this would be my chance to finally get to drive this track, at pace, in my own car.
I couldn’t believe they had managed to get this famous track, although it is the 70th Anniversary of Lotus this year. What a way to celebrate. (PS. they announced they are going to Phillip Island in November for a two-day LOTD as part of the Australian Production Car Championship, we’ll be a support category, a race driver for a weekend!)
Even though I’m based in Queensland, I thought about it for a little, procrastinated even, then thought “what the hell” and jumped onto the Simply Sports Cars website to register. Sold out is what I saw. I was crushed, sad, and kicking myself for being indecisive. I moped for a while and then dusted myself off.
A few weeks later my phone rings and it’s Scott Robinson from Lotus Cars QLD. He was ringing to see if I was interested in going to the LOTD at Bathurst. “But it’s sold out” I said to him. He responded that he had secured four spots in the ‘drive’ category, had a transporter lined up, and all I had to do was say yes. My mouth spoke before my brain even registered, “Yes, yes, yes!”
Scott had a four-car transporter and had arranged for our cars to be transported down, allowing us to fly down the day before and then back the day after. Ralph with his Exige 350 Sport, John with an Evora 400 and Evan and I with our Exige S’s were the lucky crew. Other Queenslanders on the mission were Garry, Greg and Giles with Daryl, Mal, and my father Con spectating also.
Without fuss I dropped my car off at Lotus Cars Qld and into Scott’s capable hands, knowing that the next time I would see it would be in on Mount Panorama, the track you normally just watch on TV. Evan, dad, and I flew down on the Tuesday before and picked up a hire car to drive out to Bathurst. We took the opportunity to stop at the Three Sisters for a quick peek and then hit the road again. We arrived Tuesday afternoon and picked up our cars, refuelled and parked them in the pit bay which would be our home base for the big day.
SSC had arranged for a dinner to celebrate the milestone event at the Rydges, overlooking Conrod Straight. We heard from Lotus Cars Australia and the International Sales Manager, Mark Fullalove, from Lotus Cars Limited in the UK had even flown out, so big was this event.
Wednesday the 7th of February 2018 – the big day had arrived. Over 70 Lotus had descended on the mountain and were lining the pits. We started with a drivers’ briefing from Mark O’Connor and the helpful officials from CAMS. The group were divided into two; those in the Sprint (timed) group, and those in the Drive (untimed) group. With each getting four sessions of 20 minutes.
Simply Sports Cars had their crew of technicians on standby for any assistance and we had Paul Stokell with us to show us the lines, and how to get the best out of the cars, safely. Paul from Lotus Cars Australia took great pride in letting us know how much media would be along for the day, with people from Car Advice, Boss Hunting & RPM on Channel 10. I was even interviewed by Kate Peck from RPM. I’ll be famous!
The weather was perfect, the sessions were run mostly to schedule and we were all enjoying the track. There were beginners and experienced racers on the track together in a mix of road and racing cars, so the SSC crew made sure there were gaps in the groups, that people were put into smaller groups, to ensure everyone had a safe and enjoyable day.
They say you can’t appreciate the incline and decline of the mountain watching it on TV, and they aren’t wrong. It’s steep, real steep. The professional race drivers, and Geoff Noble, are clearly nuts or incredibly brave, perhaps a combination of both.
I loved every minute of it.
The car felt amazing and right at home on the track. Though I have to pay full respect to the V6 Exiges, they would go roaring past me and disappear, and my supercharged four is no slouch.
The camaraderie between owners of these unique cars is unlike any other marque, and the relationship between the distributors and owners is too.
Garry had a little ‘mishap’ with his brakes at the end of Conrod Straight. Thankfully his reflexes were sharp and he was able to use the runoff area well and keep it off the walls. Straight into the pits where the SSC crew were ready with jacks and had the wheels off and brakes bled within 30 minutes. I don’t know about Garry’s nerves though!
Just as the day was ending and people were packing up to head home, Giles ran out of brakes. On closer inspection the pads had no meat left, none. He caught the SSC guys just as they were heading home and explained the situation. They unpacked their van and to Giles’ luck, had a set of brake pads to suit! They then completed a pad replacement on the side of the road, no questions asked, and Giles began the long drive home.
The crew were roaming through the pits ready to talk tech or lend a hand wherever required, even torqueing up nuts and checking tyre pressures on all vehicles. We are blessed as a community to have such support.
A massive thanks to all who put the day on – this was a bucket-list experience for me and one I will never forget.
I went in to collect my Exige from Lotus Cars Qld on the Saturday, still buzzing from the experience. To my delight Scott had a beautiful white Exige 350 Sport sitting on the showroom floor just like the ones that had roared past me… I couldn’t help myself – I bought it.