Auto blogSun, 25 May 2014 12:05:00 EST
Five years after it began, it appears the Dany Bahar tenure at Lotus is finally over. After former Lotus owner Proton brought in the ex-Ferrari and Red Bull marketing savant to run the company in 2009, everything had gone pear-shaped by 2012: Proton had been sold to Malaysian auto supplier DRB-Hicom, who suspended Bahar and then fired him for what it said were expense-account transgressions (although Bob Lutz reportedly said something different).
The separation led to the expected suit and countersuit, Lotus going after Bahar to get its money back, Bahar filing a $10.6-million suit againt Lotus for wrongful termination and potential bonus money. The case was set to go to trial next month but both parties have settled, the terms undisclosed, a DRB-Hicom statement saying only that "the parties involved in the legal suit have signed a Settlement Agreement and Release... and have agreed to withdraw their claims against each other."
Now that that bit of housecleaning is all cleared up, can new CEO Jean-Marc Gales please get our Esprit?
We can scratch off one more car from the list for the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Lotus T129 LMP1 car has been dropped from the entry list of the 82nd running of the historic race, with organizers citing "a lack of preparation" as the reason. On a more positive note, the list of 168 drivers in 56 vehicles has been officially published for the June 14 race.
Like the Lotus team currently in Formula One, the Lotus T129 uses the iconic British brand's name and colors but is actually built by a separate company. It previously ran a Lola chassis in the LMP2-class (pictured above). The Le Mans organizers claim the car will likely be on display during the 24-hour race, but it won't make it's competition debut until the World Endurance Championship round at the Circuit of the Americas in September. The T129 is being replaced by an Oreca 03 chassis with Nissan power in the LMP2 class, entered by Millennium Racing.
The Lotus' retirement came as the teams had to send in the names of the three drivers nominated to race each car. This year there are racers from 26 countries with the most coming from France (39), Britain (29), the US (17) and Italy (15). The latest tally of entries breaks down to 9 LMP1s, 19 LMP2s, 9 LM GTE Pros, 18 LM GTE Ams and the Nissan ZEOD RC as the experimental Garage 56 entry.
The Spanish Grand Prix's 2.892-mile Circuit de Catalunya is considered a preview for the rest of the season, since it's a combination of long front straight and twisting middle sectors mimic sections from every other Formula One track to follow. After the long break following the flyaway races to open the season, teams and fans have also been looking forward to this race to see if anyone had a realistic hope of catching Mercedes AMG Petronas; Infiniti Red Bull Racing honcho Christian Horner boiled his team's outlook for the season down to the line, "We've got to [beat them in Spain] if we're going to make a championship of it."
If we take that as our starting point then the weekend began as a bust. Lewis Hamilton only just beat Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg for pole, the Brit's final effort getting him 0.178 seconds clear of the German. Daniel Ricciardo, proving Red Bull is at least the best of the rest, took third but did so more than a second behind Hamilton. Valtteri Bottas of Williams lined up fourth, almost 1.5 second behind and Romain Grosjean delivered overdue good news for Lotus by taking fifth on the grid, more than 1.7 seconds behind pole. Kimi Räikkönen in sixth outqualified his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso in seventh, but he couldn't be happy about it because the Ferraris were nearly two seconds behind, and Jenson Button in eighth in the McLaren was more than two second behind. Felipe Massa put the second Williams in ninth, and Sebastian Vettel overcame a terrible start to the weekend to make it into Q3, then didn't set a time when his gearbox failed, then got dropped five places to 15th on the grid when the gearbox had to be changed.
When the lights went out, then came the boom...
It's been about two years since DRB-Hicom took over Proton, and through it Lotus. One of its first courses of action was to fire the existing CEO, Dany Bahar, and proceed to scrap most if not all of his (arguably over-) ambitious plans. In his place they put one of their own - Aslam Farikullah - as Chief Operation Officer, but now the Malaysian-owned British automaker has attracted an industry heavyweight to lead it into the future.
That heavyweight is Jean-Marc Gales. The British- and German-educated Luxembourgian has spent the past couple of years running the European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA), but may be better known for his previous posting as CEO of PSA Peugeot Citroën between 2009 and 2012, during which time he introduced the Citroën DS line, amongst others, and increased the French automaker's sales. Before PSA he worked for Daimler, General Motors and Volkswagen.
As the new Chief Executive Officer of Group Lotus, Gales will face the difficult task of growing a business based on three models - the Elise, Exige and Evora - that date back to 1996, 2000 and 2009, respectively. Whether he'll push for new models like his predecessor did remains to be seen, but he'd be wise to learn from Bahar's mistakes and avoid overextending what has always been a relatively small automaker.
On the latest episode of Jay Leno's Garage the guest's are both from inside the garage: the man they call Professor Jim Hall, Leno's master fabricator, and the 1966 Lotus 26R that he spent 18 months building. The Elan 26R was the racing version of the Elan that Lotus founder Colin Chapman began building after watching privateer teams prep their roadgoing Elans for competition duty all over Europe. Built by the factory from 1964-1966, drivers like Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart won silverware in the roadster called "the giant killer."
Hall, a veteran Lotus wrench, started with the 1966 Elan street car and turned it into a 26R that's arguably better than the factory original. Except for the engine block and head, original 26R body and Elan chassis, just about everything is custom built, highly modified or special order, from the fabricated oil pan, brake lines, safety wiring and oval exhaust tubing to the six-speed sequential transmission.
The episode is an unusually-long 21 minutes because, as an in-house build, Leno can go through the process of putting the whole roadster together. When he takes it for a drive and keeps going on about how it sings, you can hear it, too. It's worth the time to check out Mr. Hall's Opus in the video below.
When we first laid eyes on leaked images of the Lotus Motorcycles C-01, we wondered if its laid-back, sport cruiser shape was really appropriate for a motorcycle bearing any connection with Colin Chapman and the company's famous "add lightness" mantra. We've now seen official pictures of the bike in multiple color schemes, including classic black and gold, British racing green and even a variant that resembles Martini livery, and while we think it looks pretty cool, our opinion hasn't really changed.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the C-01 isn't an embodiment of the Lotus ethos, as the company that intends to build it isn't really Lotus at all, its builders - German racing firm Kodewa and tuner Holzer Group - merely having licensed the name of the British sportscar maker. It was designed by Daniel Simon, who once worked for Volkswagen and consulted for Bugatti and is the man credited with creating the reborn Tron Light Cycles. Still, looking past its questionable heritage, the C-01 looks pretty darn awesome, and there are some interesting bits that have us looking forward to the production version that's reportedly due within the next two months.
As expected, power comes in at 200 horsepower, courtesy of a modified version of KTM's 1,195-cc V-twin engine. The chassis is made up of steel, titanium and carbon fiber, with a seat height of about 28 inches. Its wheelbase, at about 65 inches, is a full 10 inches longer than a real street-legal superbike, and its front end is raked way out in front with a 19-inch wheel. Those dimensions mean we shouldn't expect much racetrack prowess, unless its rider is only planning on going in a straight line. Indeed, with a claimed dry weight of under 400 pounds, the Lotus Motorcycles C-01 ought to be mighty quick down the quarter mile.
Only a couple of years ago, it looked like the top tier of prototype endurance racing was in trouble. Peugeot shut down its program, leaving the LMP1 category all to Audi to dominate. Only six cars entered the Petit Le Mans in 2012, and the season was cut short. But the top class in the FIA World Endurance Championship has since blossomed. And it only looks poised to grow further.
Audi and Toyota will each be back on the grid this season, joined by Porsche. But the latest news has Lotus stepping up to the big leagues also. (Well, sorta: the German-run squad uses the Lotus name and colors, but has no more to do with the automaker than the Formula One team of the same name.)
The Lotus LMP1 will be based on the same Lola-based T129 chassis used until now in the LMP2 class, with former F1 driver Christijan Albers leading the driver lineup. In addition to Audi, Toyota and Porsche, the solitary Lotus entry will also compete against privateer Rebellion Racing in a nine-car LMP1 grid throughout the season.
The Lotus Formula One Team is apologizing after its official Twitter account posted this image of two men kissing in connection to the opening of the Winter Olympics on Friday, February 7. It claims that the original tweet was "unauthorized."
The tweet, which Lotus deleted later that day, can be viewed to the right and was promptly replaced an apology that said, "We would like to sincerely apologise for an unauthorized message posted on our Twitter account today & will ensure this cannot happen again." Responses to the kerfuffle on its Twitter page have mostly focused on confusion as to what the original tweet was and why it was removed.
While the Sochi Olympics have been controversial among LBGT groups because of Russia's laws banning so-called "gay propaganda," the country has a growing importance in F1. In fact, the first Russian Grand Prix is scheduled to run later this season on a circuit around the Sochi Olympic Park. Genii Capital, the team's owner, has business interests in Russia, and according to the BBC, the Lotus F1 team is working on a deal to with Russian mobile phone company Yotaphone to sell it 10 percent of the team.
If you're a serious fan of Formula One, you already know all about The Great Nosecone Conundrum of 2014. Those given to parsing each year's F1 regulations predicted the strong possibility of the so-called "anteater" noses as far back as early December 2013. Highly suggestive visual evidence first came after Caterham's crash test in early January, with further proof coming as soon as Williams showed a rendering of the FW36 challenger for this year's championship. That car earned a name that wasn't nearly so kind as "anteater."
Casual followers of the sport - or anyone who gets the feed from this site - probably don't know what's happening, except to wonder why the current year's F1 cars are led by appendages that would make Cyrano de Bergerac feel a whole lot better about himself.
The short answer to the question of ugsome F1 noses is "FIA regulations and safety." The reason there are various kinds of ugsome noses is simpler: engineers. The same boffins who have given us advances including carbon fiber monocoques, six-wheeled cars, double diffusers and Drag Reduction Systems are bred to do everything in their power to exploit every possible freedom in the regulations to make the cars they're building go faster - the caveat being that those advances have to work within the overall philosophy of the whole car.
Detractors will tell you that there's little to be applied from Formula One racing to the cars we drive, but what about the cars most of us could only dream of driving? We're talking about supercars from the likes of Ferrari and McLaren - two hugely successful F1 racing teams that have successfully made the transition into building exotic sports cars for the road. And soon there may be one more.
That would be the Lotus F1 Team, which is rumored to be working on a sports car project of its own. Now we know what you might be thinking: Lotus already makes sports cars. Indeed they do, only the F1 team has nothing more to do with the automaker behind the Exige and Evora than the name they share. Today the team (formerly known as Toleman, Benetton and Renault) is owned by Genii Capital, whose chairman Gerald Lopez recently confirmed the rumors to Auto Motor und Sport: "We are going to develop a carbon chassis for a sports car that can be built in large quantities.... But this has nothing to do with Formula 1."
With little to nothing in the way of details available, the circulating rumors had tied the venture to on-again, off-again Italian auto marque De Tomaso. But our source at ATS (which recently bought the rights to the De Tomaso name following Gian Mario Rossignolo's aborted attempt to revive it) firmly denied the prospect of any such collaboration. Spokesmen for the Lotus F1 Team would not divulge any information; neither would the press office for parent company Genii Capital, leaving the door wide open to speculation once again.