Lotus Elise GT1
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|Lotus Elise GT1|
The lone Elise GT1 road car on display.
|Production||1 road car|
7 race cars
|Assembly||Hethel, Norfolk, England|
|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door coupe|
|Layout||Rear mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive|
|Wheelbase||2,300 mm (91 in)|
|Length||4,491 mm (177 in)|
|Width||2,070 mm (81 in)|
|Height||1,100 mm (43 in)|
|Kerb weight||1,050 kg (2,315 lb) (road car)|
950 kg (2,094 lb)
|Predecessor||Lotus Esprit GT1|
Lotus Cars had previously been using the Lotus Esprit GT1 –a racing version of their Lotus Esprit road car– in the BPR Global GT Series since its foundation in 1994, competing in the premiere GT1 class against the likes of the McLaren F1 GTR, Venturi 600LM, Ferrari F40 GTE and others. However, in 1997, the series came to be known as the FIA GT Championship and manufacturer involvement was increased with the new international exposure. Porsche was the first to start a new breed of racing cars in 1996, with their purpose-built homologation special known as the 911 GT1. This was quickly followed by the announcement that Mercedes-Benz planned to do the same with their CLK GTR for 1997.
Thus Lotus decided that in order to remain competitive in the GT1 class, let alone be victorious, it would be required to follow the route set forth by Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. However, aware that they lacked the resources available that Porsche and Mercedes had to create not only the race cars but also the street legal variants at a guaranteed loss of money for the company, Lotus decided to take an alternate route. Through interpretation of the rules for FIA GT, Lotus realised they would only need to build a single production car in order to meet homologation requirements. The car would not even need to be sold to a customer, it merely had to be built.
With this in mind, Lotus turned to designing their racing car. Lotus decided to abandon the aged Esprit chassis and instead turn to its new sportscar, the Elise. Mechanically, only the Elise's aluminum chassis was retained for the GT1, although it was heavily modified from its standard form. A new carbon fibre body that resembled the Elise was built, featuring a much longer length in order to increase the car's aerodynamic capabilities.
For an engine, Lotus knew that the Elise's inline-4 engine would not be able to compete and so it was initially decided that the car would use the 3.5 L V8 engine from the Esprit racing car, attached to a Hewland six-speed sequential gearbox. However, testing showed that this engine was not as reliable as hoped. After installation in the production road car, the Lotus teams were left to decide whether or not to use the Lotus V8 or opt for a Chevrolet LT5 5.7 L V8 engine from the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, a car which Lotus had originally helped to develop when they had been owned by General Motors. Lotus further developed the LT5 by fitting it with a flat-plane crankshaft, adding two turbochargers and increasing its displacement to 6.0 L for the Elise GT1 Race car. With this, seven Elise GT1 racing chassis were built, going to factory teams GT1 Lotus Racing (run by Fabien Giroix's First Racing) as well as privateers GBF UK and Martin Veyhle Racing. The factory GT1 Lotus Racing team would be the only ones to opt for the Chevrolet V8 instead of the Lotus twin-turbocharged unit.
The Elise GT1's 3.5 L Lotus Type 918 twin-turbocharged V8 engine has a power output of 550 PS (542 hp) at 6,500 rpm and the modified 6.0 L Chevrolet LT5 V8 engine has a power output of 615 PS (607 hp) at 7,200 rpm. Only the factory cars had the LT5 V8 engine and the customer cars had the Type 918 V8 with the former proving to be more problematic. Both of the engines helped propel the car from 0–97 km/h (60 mph) in 3.8 seconds and 3.2 seconds respectively and on to a top speed of approximately 320 km/h (199 mph). The car was initially fitted with a Hewland 6-speed sequential manual transmission, although multiple other transmissions were used during its life span. Even with such performance figures, the car wasn't able to match the performance of its competitors at LeMans and would see a dreadful fate.
Debuting at Hockenheim, on 13 April (first round of the 1997 FIA GT Championship season), the three factory Elise GT1s and the privateer GBF car took to the grid. Their debut was short lived, as all four cars failed to finish, all due to alternator problems in the engine. For race two (Silverstone, 11 May), privateer GBF UK received their second car (an untested chassis bearing number 06 driven by Andrea Boldrini and Mauro Martini). Again the three factory cars suffered, failing to finish because of gearbox difficulty. GBF's Elise GT1s fared slightly better, with one of their entries actually finishing, although classified last and 25 laps down from the winner.
The third race of the season in Helsinki was a shorter race, featuring a smaller field (23 cars). Only three Elise GT1s were entered, but GBF was able to succeed in taking 5th place, earning them points in the championship. The other two Elise GT1s also finished the race as well, an improvement for the company.
As the season progressed, the teams began to suffer. After Helsinki was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in which only a lone GT1 was entered due to concern over the car's ability to last 24 hours. The car had an oil pump failure after 121 laps. Returning to the FIA championship at the Nürburgring, the full complement of five cars managed a best result of only 11th, while at Spa they achieved 8th, but at Zeltweg all five cars failed to finish again. The teams did not attempt the Suzuka round and again could only earn 12th place at Donington and 11th at Mugello when the series returned to Europe. The final two races in the United States saw only the factory team bring two cars, in which they managed finishes of 13th and 9th-place. The factory squad ended the season without any points, while GBF's points finish at Helsinki earned them 8th place in the championship.
Following the 1997 season, Lotus and its parent company, Proton, decided that the GT1 was not only lacking in pace in comparison to Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and the older McLarens, but that it was also extremely expensive. The Chevrolet V8 was not a custom built race engine like its competitors, leaving it lacking in top speed while the Lotus twin-turbocharged V8 was faring even worse. The chassis was also too similar to a production car to compete with the exotic designs of other cars. The project was therefore cancelled and the factory team folded. The privateer teams also either folded or bought more capable cars.
Miraculously, in 2003 British squad Team Elite announced plans to purchase the Elise GT1 chassis #05 and to use in the 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2004 as a closed cockpit Le Mans prototype. This was similar to a plan by Panoz and French squad Larbre Compétition to use a Panoz Esperante GTR-1, a car which had originally competed with the Elise GT1 in FIA GT in 1997, as a closed cockpit prototype as well. The Elise would be modified to meet modern regulations as well as to attempt to bring the seven-year-old car up to speed. At Sebring, the car proved its age, lasting a mere seven laps before its transmission failed. The project was promptly cancelled.
Former factory driver Mike Hezemans of the Netherlands, feeling that the Elise GT1's main faults were in its power and aerodynamics, decided that the car should not be abandoned and convinced his father Toine Hezemans to provide financial help in his project. The pair bought two former Elise GT1 chassis abandoned by the factory along with their inventory of parts. Hezemans and his small team consisting of chief mechanic Hans Willemsen and two mechanics, Peter Classen and Mario van Beek, set out to eliminate the known faults in the car. They took the chassis to the Netherlands and in their small workshop, the car was extensively reworked. The front end was made longer and smoother in an attempt to increase front downforce. To replace the Elise GT1's Chevrolet V8, Hezemans turned to Chrysler, buying a pair of 356-T6 8.0L V10 engines having a power output of 626 PS (460 kW; 617 hp) and 800 N⋅m (590 lb⋅ft) of torque, which were being used in Chrysler's GT2 Vipers. The engine was fitted in the car by extending the chassis. The Hewland gearbox was retained as the team had a small budget. The new cars were promised to compete in the 1998 FIA GT Championship season. In order to make the cars compliant to the regulations of the FIA, Hezemans turned to his friend Erich Bitter who was an independent German car manufacturer. He agreed to give the cars his firm's name and the car were named Bitter GT1s.
The cars never matched even the lackluster performance of the original Elise GT1s. The only race in which they actually competed, Silverstone, saw both Bitters failing to finish, as the torque produced by the new V10 engine was too much for the gearbox. The original Hewland gearbox would be replaced with a unit from Gemini Transmission but after failing to even get past initial practice at the next race at Hockenheimring, the project was cancelled.