MATTHEW BECKER and GAVAN KERSHAW
TEST DRIVERS FOR LOTUS
Top Gear (February 1999)
"Here at Lotus we operate on the 80/20 principle. The idea is that when you're test-driving a car only 20 per cent of your attention should be on your driving, and the rest should be free to think about how the car is behaving. That rule applies even when we're out on our test track in a twin-turbo Esprit, screaming around a corner in four-wheel drift at 120mph. When we're fine-tuning a suspension set-up we might take a damper apart, increase one of the perforations in one valve by 0.1mm, put it back on the car and go back on the track. And you'd better be able to tell the difference.
"We started at Lotus on the same day ten years ago. We were 16 and both had a background in motorsport. With their drivers, Lotus take the attitude that you can't buy talent in; you have to breed it and keep it. A lot of the people we work with have been here 30 years. So even after a decade we're still the new boys. Lotus have a graded system of driving permits, and we haven't been deemed worthy of a gold pass yet. But the training you get is second to none, with people like Alistair McQueen and the ex-Formula One racer John Miles. There can't be many places outside of F1 that have such a concentration of driving talent in such a small team.
"The work is varied, Lotus has a fantastic reputation for suspension and handling, and we'll put clients' cars through the same process as our own. So it's not all smoky doughnuts on the steering pad; we spend a lot of time on public roads in Corsas and Astras.
"Graham Chapman had this idea of the professional hooligan. People who can fully exploit our cars are few and far between, but you have to be able to take them right to the edge to see how they behave.
"A lot of the racing drivers we work with are quicker, but they have no mechanical sympathy at all. We have to be irresponsible in a controlled manner. And if we have a shunt in a sixty-grand sports car we have a lot of explaining to do. But we do take note of what other people have to say. We have non-expert sessions where we'll take the smallest Lotus secretary and put her in an Esprit V8. Steering and suspension settings that work for hairyarsed blokes might not work for other people. But if a secretary told us our spring rates are all wrong, we may not take her seriously.
"This job helps you cut through pub bullshit. You often hear guys debating the merits of one supercar versus another, when neither has ever been behind the wheel. We know all the major sports cars inside out. But our favourite is the Sport 190, the stripped-out track version of the Elise. The 80/20 rule goes out the window in this car. It demands all your attention."