Sliding the Lotus Exige Sport Cup at Road Atlanta

Sam Smith
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Randy G

Ahh, yes. The hill. The Big Hill. Crest it, turn in before you can see anything--anything!--and plunge down into this endless valley, ride this giant asphalt waterfall. Keep your foot in it. Do not look up the other side of the valley you are diving down into. Do not stare at the unmoving pit wall twenty feet from the edge of the pavement; do not look up the other side of the hill, at the trees and buildings and outcroppings; most especially, do not--not, not, not--lose the peripheral. Stare at nothing (and everything) all at once.

Above all, keep your foot in it. You must not lift. You must not lift, for this is a car tuned to do bad things if you lift when it's cranked into a corner. This is a moot point, for Real Racing Drivers do not lift mid-corner; if you are not a Real Racing Driver, you must pretend. Or maybe Pretend. Maybe big-time caps are necessary. Above all, keep your foot in it.

It is vitally important, this foot-keeping-in business. It is vitally important, because the track falls off to your left--right where you have to put the car to turn it in! right where you have to grab fourth! this is great!--and lifting would make things rotate.

So. What do we do?

We come in a shade too early, turn in a little too soon, and . . . sliding . . . we ease out of the already-floored throttle. (Just a bit.) It's barely a lift and more of a breathe, meant only to tighten the line a little. An adjustment. A fourth-gear, mid-engine, slick-shod, adjustment.

Mistake.

The offending track: Road Atlanta

The car comes around.

Things happen in slow-motion in this sort of situation. The back end breaks. You get back on the throttle--I lifted! what was I thinking!--and are a shade too much behind the car, following it through with more opposite lock. The view out the windshield is suddenly wall. You keep your foot in it; the car snaps back in the other direction. Suddenly, you're looking at the other wall. On the other side of the track. More throttle. I will not bend Lotus's only-one-in-the-country supercharged Exige Cup. More opposite lock. The wheel hasn't been stationary in eons. You remember that you've never, ever put a car into the wall. You remember seeing the speedo out of the corner of your eye just as the car started sideways: definitely triple digits. Just not sure of where.

And then, suddenly--just like that--it's over, the car is pointed in the right direction, and you're cruising down the front straight at a sedate 90 mph. Safe. Nothing was bent. No spin. Miraculous. After excellent, near-miss saves like this, you are supposed to feel like a genius (for saving it), or maybe a dick (for having to save it in the first place). You feel like a genius. But also kind of a dick.

There has been a man, a young guy, riding with you this whole time. He is Malcom Barnett, he is twenty-five (your age), and he is a suspension development engineer and race driver for Lotus Sport. He has kept his mouth shut until now. He laughs.

"Well," he says. "Had a bit of a moment there, did we?"

Yes, Malcolm. Yes, we did. You hear yourself sheepishly apologize. He accepts, and laughs again. Tells you to get back on it.

You ease back into the throttle, and the supercharger resumes its steady whine behind your right ear. Time's a-wastin'--dust yourself off, Junior, but stay humble. Worse things have happened.

Just remember to keep your foot in it next time, huh?

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