Trackday enthusiasts may well have found their nirvana with the Lotus 2-Eleven. Jonathan Crouch reports
The 1963 Formula 1 season was good to Jim Clark and his Lotus 25. Powered by a 195bhp Coventry Climax V8, the 25 carried the wee man from Fife to seven wins out of ten races and the Driver's World Championship, helping Lotus to the Constructors title in the process. Zandvoort, Rheims, Watkins Glen and the N??rburgring Nordschleife were fierce test of both car and driver. It's taken a while to arrive but you or I can now buy a Lotus car that's got an even better power to weight ratio than the car that carried Jimmy Clark to the F1 title. It's called the 2-Eleven. Background: (150 words)
Ten Second Review
If you're after the ultimate trackday car, then Lotus' 2-Eleven is probably it. Drive one on a circuit and you might find it hard to believe that this car can also be ordered in road-legal form - the experience on offer is that intense. The introduction of a 190PS engine at a far more affordable price to sit alongside the manic 255PS unit will make the car more accessible to a wider audience - but no less fun.
The 2-Eleven project had been muttered about by insiders at Lotus for a very long time. Originally just titled the Lotus Circuit Car, details of the car leaked out gradually but, as is the Lotus way of doing things, no sooner had we fixated upon one detail than it appeared that a management U-turn had changed everything we thought we knew. There were only a few ingredients that seemed set in stone. It would use a variant of the aluminium bonded chassis used by the Elise, would have no roof, a Toyota-sourced powerplant and would be designed strictly for use on the race track. Turns out we were right on most of those scores. The big surprise when Lotus unveiled the production ready (such as it is) car was that two versions were available to customers. The Track Only Version was the car that Lotus had its heart set on, but there was also a Road Going Version that passed the UK Single Vehicle Approval process.
Quite why you'd want to drive a 2-Eleven on the road is, frankly, beyond me. With minimal ground clearance and unyielding suspension, you'll be turned around by a vertiginous sleeping policeman. Save your money, buy a trailer and ditch the additional weight of the road pack. It's on track that you'll see the 2-Eleven at its best. There's a choice of motive power, with either 190PS normally aspirated or 255PS supercharged versions of the same 1,796cc four-cylinder Toyota engine found in Lotus' Elise and Exige models. This powerplant might not sound a particularly fearsome basis to build the 2-Eleven around but when it's packing a supercharger, intelligent valve timing and lift, and its 255PS is asked to shift just 670kg off the line, you know it's going to be quick. By contrast, the lightweight track-oriented version of the Lamborghini Gallardo, the Superleggera, weighs almost exactly twice as much and doesn't pack double the power. You can see the inevitable result should the two cars go tete--tete. In the 255PS 'Launch Edition' version, Lotus claims a sprint to 60mph in 3.8 seconds with 100mph detaining you for a mere 9.1 seconds. Any car that can get to 100mph in less than ten seconds deserves serious respect. A Ferrari F430 F1 is going to be left behind by the Lotus in a straight line. Even the 190PS version gets to sixty in 4.3s, When it comes to the corners, the Lotus' lack of mass is going to allow the trick suspension and sticky Yokohama tyres to do their magic. Only a very well sorted Radical, Caterham Superlight or supercharged Ariel Atom is going to be able to live with the 2-Eleven.
Design and Build
Everything about the 2-Eleven is dripping with purpose. It's been shorn of all fripperies. If you're interested in the Road Going Version, you get lights, exhaust catalyst and a single plane rear wing in order to comply with legal requirements but not a lot else. Don't go looking for cupholders. The Track Only Version gets a high downforce carbon fibre rear wing, a high downforce front splitter and there's also an FIA approved driver's race seat. You'll be pinned into this by a six-point driver's harness while your passenger is pinioned by four-point belts. Engineering fetishists will drool over some of the 2-Eleven's detailing. The beautifully finished lightweight rear subframe with the fully adjustable suspension assembly looks good enough to be mounted on your wall, the Ohlins adjustable dampers and coilovers augmented by a double shear track control arm. Styling is all very form following function, the 40kg composite body really only serving to prevent the electronics getting wet. All the external body panels are easy bolt on and off items that are replaceable in case of a prang with a tyre wall or Armco barrier. One interesting aspect of the 2-Eleven is that it's offered in both right and left hand drive, lending it broader appeal than many more parochial rival products.
Market and Model
Equipment in the traditional sense of air conditioning, electric windows and a CD autochanger we can forget about. The 2-Eleven's kit list includes rather more purposeful items like 288mm cross-drilled and ventilated front discs grabbed by AP Racing front callipers. The anti-lock braking system has been tuned for track use and there are numerous other safety features such as a composite front crush structure, a six-point FIA compliant rollover bar. A traction control system does feature but for those of you envisioning yourself heroically drifting the 2-Eleven around the West Circuit at Bedford, it's worth knowing that Lotus hasn't seen fit to include a limited slip differential. Neat and tidy, please, ladies and gents, not loose and lairy.
Cost of Ownership
Cost of Ownership is a tricky one to nail down with the 2-Eleven. Yes, the asking prices seem rather steep but demand looks set to be high. Go for a Westfield or a Radical and you might well be able to go faster for less, but none has quite the desirability or quality of finish of the Lotus. The Norfolk company also has a good deal of experience with many of the structures and systems fitted to the 2-Eleven so it's not as if you'll be chancing your arm on v1.0 technology here. Given its light weight, the 2-Eleven isn't going to cremate its rear tyres over the course of a warm day in the same manner a heavier coupe or powerful sports saloon would. It's also going to be relatively economical. Any of you who have ever had a serious session of lapping interrupted by the need to head out for some 98RON will appreciate this fact.
The feeling of satisfaction when blowing owners of supercars into the weeds on a circuit never really gets old. It's a little indulgent and almost certainly a little childish to draw satisfaction from stuffing one up the inside of a Ferrari or outdragging a Lamborghini away from a hairpin, but the Lotus 2-Eleven will paint that big grin inside your full-face time after time. Less in this case really does mean more. Less weight means more performance, more agility, more fun and more feedback, the 2-Eleven not burdened by the power steering, flabby damping and corrupting unsprung masses that afflict normal road cars. Even for the sort of money being asked for the 190PS version, this is undoubtedly a niche and rather expensive plaything but you know what all work and no play equals. Most of us will never get the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car but in the 2-Eleven, we can at least pretend.