Thursday, May 24, 2012

Life - Dreaming

It's not bike racing, and Lotus isn't Lotus, but I grew up with some staring at pictures of the John Player Special F1 cars, literally hours of staring, trying to absorb all the details of the car. It's been a while and I realized much later that I didn't understand the significance of some of the car's features - aerodynamics hadn't really entered my world yet (except things that were low and pointy were fast), and, more specifically, I didn't understand that fast moving air had less pressure the slow moving air. My understanding of aerodynamics was limited to "if the wing points down, it tries to push down, and if it points up, it tries to go up".

With its massive rear wheels (at the time),  wings front and back, but otherwise a pretty standard body (the aero stuff was underneath), I didn't realize just how significant the JPS cars were - ground effects, carbon fiber, twin chassis.

Primitive compared to current cars.
From here.

When I was a bit older and looking around for my first real car, one that wasn't just "barely running", I took a serious look at the street Lotus that caught my eye since I was a kid, the Lotus Esprit. My dad let me watch "The Spy Who Loved Me" which featured the coolest white Esprit. I later read that the cars were so tough that it took several takes (and a lot of preparatory sawing) to make one break up appropriately when they tossed it off a cliff.

The "submarine" car from the Bond movie.
From here.

Yes, they had a JPS version of the Esprit. The bestest of the best, at least to me.
From here.

I used to point and shout whenever I saw one on the street. I remember one day on a group ride, rolling through Redding, feeling strong, and getting behind an Esprit. It was so low even I could look down at the roof.

Those of you that follow me on Strava know I tend to stick to the same routes when I train near my home. Well, when I was a Junior and training around town, I'd head over to a certain road (even though it had some really draggy hills) simply because one house had a separate barn-type garage that housed not one but two Lotus Esprits, one blue and one red. Like truck draft hunting, I'd usually miss out, but on lucky rides I'd see one car parked in the garage, and a few times I saw both cars in the driveway, the happy owner lavishing attention on them.

Tellingly my school notebooks (yes, I've saved some of them) have sketches of cyclists (in super aero positions no less) and Esprits. I think I have one of a rider trying to draft an Esprit.

I'd actually become somewhat familiar with the first version's quirks (when I say first version, I really mean the few versions using the original body configuration, the S1 through S3). Solid lifter 4 cylinder engines, requiring machining little spacer things every so many thousand miles. Most regular cars have automatically adjusting versions that use oil pressure to adjust all that stuff, so to literally dismantle the top of the engine every other oil change is a bit much to ask of a normal car driver. Fuel lines disintegrated, running in UV-exposed areas, leaving the cabin smelling like fuel. Poor fuel management, with carburetors initially, and poor rust management. The body was fiberglass but the chassis was steel - the cars looked great but you had to watch out underneath. The car had peaky performance from a surprisingly primitive looking engine, so you were either below the power band or, once you got the engine going, you found yourself suddenly propelled forward.

A good friend let me work on the lifters (I machined a few, measured many, and helped select the proper lifter cups for the various cylinders), and I went along on a test drive with him. There I learned that the driver's side mat can jam the throttle pedal, not a convenient thing when whipping along at high speeds.

The second version of the car was much better (eventually named the S4). It had I never got to drive in one, not that I remember, but I studied a few up close, talked to one owner at length, and seriously contemplated buying an S4s. It could hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and handled like a go-kart.

Virtually identical car to the one I saw at my friend's garage. I really wanted one.
From here.

I started thinking of budgets and such for a car like that. The Missus, when we first met, even got me a hand painted piggy bank that said "Lotus Esprit Fund" on it.

I couldn't justify buying a car whose engine I'd have to take apart every 8k-10k miles (well work on the head anyway). I ended up buying a more practical (and slower and heavier) Nissan 350Z, which, as you all know, I traded in once we learned that the Missus was pregnant.

The Lotus F1 team returned to the scene recently, but, oddly enough, it's no longer associated with anything Lotus (it's actually more a Renault). It retained its name though, and the cars are still black with gold in tribute to the JPS cars of past. This year Kimi Raikonnen, a driver I admire, returned to F1 to drive for this team, and in a very tight season, has managed to win a race already.

From here.

Now the Lotus F1 team has teamed up with Linkin Park (who I originally thought was "Lincoln Park", maybe from Chicagoland area where there's a park by that name) to release the following:

As it's not out yet at the time of me writing this I'm not sure what it is, but, okay, I like the combination of music and video, and if it's not going to be cycling, it's good that it's F1, and if it's F1, it's great that it's Lotus.

Even if it's only in name.


Anonymous said...

"This year Kimi Raikonnen, a driver I admire, returned to F1 to drive for this team, and in a very tight season, has managed to win a race already."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Lotus and/or Kimi has won a race this year.

Australia - Button
Malaysia - Alonso
China - Rosberg
Bahrain - Vettel
Spain - Maldonado
Monaco - Webber

Aki said...

Oops you're right. I was too psyched when he got second at Bahrain (and his teammate third). I basically wrote off the team but with the chaotic results this year it seems that anyone in the top half of the teams can race well (win) if they manage their tires.