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IN THEIR OWN WORDS

“My nights were continually filled with dreams of bringing Team Lotus another world championship”


At LOG 15 in 1995, many attendees had the once–in–a–lifetime opportunity for a high–speed ride around Pocono International Raceway in the passenger seat of a Lotus Sport Esprit X180R with Doc Bundy at the wheel. For most, perhaps, this was as close as they would ever care to get to actual race conditions. But there are those, however, who yearn for even greater excitement. I am one of those people, and this is my story.

It did not take long for me to realize after buying my M100 Elan that driving the car near its limits was inadvisable on public thoroughfares –– what with police around every corner, inattentive drivers infesting the roads, and children running into the street without warning. Having come to this realization, I soon acquired a Type 61 Formula Ford and thus completed my transmogrification from Lotus owner to Lotusphiliac.

Several vintage racing seasons later, I had learned enough racecraft to at least call myself a race driver. My nights were continually filled with dreams of bringing Team Lotus another world championship, or joining Doc Bundy on the Lotus Sport team, or –– more realistically –– having the opportunity to drive one of the Lotus Sport X180Rs. The nature of my Lotusphilia was so consuming that, in order to accomplish at least the latter, I devised a master plan.

In August 1994, while attending LOG 14 in Connecticut, I conspired with my Philadelphia Area Lotus Society cohorts –– my PALS –– to host LOG 15. Bob Collum, by virtue of his absence, was appointed the chairman, and I (proving that I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid) volunteered to serve on the committee. In my mind, at least, the plan was in motion. All that remained for me to do was to make sure that we had a track day, convince Lotus Cars USA to bring one of the Lotus Sport race cars, arrange for Doc Bundy and the X180R to be on the track, and somehow get myself into the driver's seat.

Thirteen months later, LOG 15 was upon us. And it included a track day. And Doc Bundy and the car were there. And, best of all, he was slated to take the car on the track for charity rides.

Immediately, my begging began. “Please, Doc! Oh, puh-leeeeze! Let me drive your car!”

”We’ll see,“ was the best response that I could get.

The Sunday track day arrived, and it was raining, as usual. (It always rains when I’m at the track.) Doc wasn’t sure if he should take the X180R onto the track. I decided that, even if I didn’t get the chance to drive the X180R, I would not give up the opportunity to take out the 61. Off I went into the wet, puddles everywhere, but at least it was a chance to practice car control.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, in the first short chute of the infield, a white blur rocketed past on the left. Doc Bundy was waving as the X180R disappeared in the spray. “Yes, yes,” I thought to myself. “The dream is still alive!”

As the day went on, the track surface dried. That improved my lap times, as well as my chances at getting a crack at the X180R. The 61 was handling well, with just enough understeer to keep it safe, and I was blowing by all of the Turbo Esprits on the track. It was like they were standing still. Even though the 61 is a 25–year–old car, its power–to–weight ratio (110 hp, 1,000 lb.), racing tires, and tunable suspension make it a match for even modern supercars. Except, of course, for Doc and the X180R, which repeatedly screamed past me at will.

Each time by, I saw Doc waving as his charity rider held on for dear life. I knew that he was not sandbagging, because once, after ripping past, he proceeded to spin the car into the grass and spew mud and mulch all over the track. It scared the hell out of me, so I'm sure his poor passenger regretted not wearing a pair of Depends. That time, I got to do the waving as I drove on by.

As the end of the day neared, most everyone had left. After putting the 61 back in its trailer, I hung out in the pit –– still in my Nomex and helmet, still hoping for my dream drive.

I was the last to get a charity ride. All the way around, I paid attention to the shift points, the braking zones and the turn– ins, just in case I got my chance. What a thrill! Doc did not hold back. The car drifted through the turns, snapping my head back with its acceleration. I held on –– and held on tight. After a few laps, Doc pulled in, and, as we both get out, he turned to me and said the magic words: “Your turn.”

It was with some trepidation that I entered the cockpit. After all, I had been bragging to my friends about what a great driver I was. Not only that, this was an expensive piece of machinery, and the last thing I needed to do was to go into the wall as if I were Kyle Petty, rather than Kyle Kaulback.

After the seat and restraints were properly fit, Doc told me some stuff about driving the car. Unfortunately, between my helmet, the engine noise and my overwhelming excitement, I didn’t hear a damn thing he said.

“Alright, time to go. Make sure you find first and, for God’s sake, don’t stall it,” I told myself. Three stalls later, I was heading onto the track. The X180R, you see, has a clutch, but it works more like an on–off switch; there's no slipping to be done.

Once I got moving, however, shifting was a breeze and my speed built with alacrity. Up through the gears I went, shifting at red line (at least, I think it was red line; there wasn’t one marked, so I just shifted at the same point that Doc did).

How fast? I don’t know. The speedo was disconnected, as it is in most racers with variable gear ratios. But I do know this: By the time I got the X180R to the back straight, I was in top gear, somewhere around 6,000 rpm. In the 61, I would still have been accelerating –– and I can assure you that the X180R is geared to go much faster than a Formula Ford.

Next, I explored the effectiveness of the X180R’s brakes as I headed for the infield’s first tight righthander. A Formula Ford is way overbraked, as the parts originally came from a car two to three times as heavy. Therefore, the stopping distances in the X180R came as no real surprise. But it was a good thing that I was paying attention when Doc was behind the wheel; otherwise, I would have been off into the grass. Even though the braking distance is much longer, the X180R stopped easily and without drama. (I was not tempted to find the threshold of the ABS.)

It then became apparent just how unprepared I was to drive this car. The X180R is very different than a Type 61 –– not necessarily better or worse, just different. In the 61, when it is time to turn, you just turn the wheel and stomp on the accelerater. It takes very little time for the chassis to set, because the car is light and the suspension is much more stiff. The X180R requires a more gentle appraoch. The steering wheel must be turned gradually, and the chassis must be given time to set –– otherwise, it’s high drama as you make your way though the turn.

It took me several tries to do it properly, but the X180R tracked straight and true. Being too unfamiliar with the car, I never tried to push the limits, and one lap just wasn’t enough time to learn.

As we came to the end of the infield, I slowed dramatically in order to turn into the pits. But, to my surprise and elation, Doc pointed me back out. We followed this procedure every time around, as I did not want to seem too rambunctious. I went faster each lap, but I was still nowhere near the limit; my lap times were at least 20 seconds slower than Doc’s. However, I still managed to get a little drift and needed to dial in a little opposite lock here and there.

Overall, I was impressed with the speed and handling of the X180R –– especially because its ride, as compared to my Formula Ford’s, was so supple.

All too soon, the end came, and I really was compelled to pull into the pits. My dream ride was over. I had to take some heat from my friends over stalling it so many times –– but, then again, they didn’t get a chance to drive it!

Now, what do I need to do to get one?

Kyle Kaulback

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