Photo from the paddock at Laguna Seca after the accident.
We started off by taking the car apart to get rid of the damaged parts. In the accident, the car sustained damage to the rear clam, all the right rear suspension, right rear CV joint, right rear brake line, wheel, exhaust, tail lights, engine cover, diffuser, and some other miscellaneous parts.
Rear subframe removed and waiting for replacement parts
I was lucky enough to find a matching rear Exige clam in Tehachapi, CA (about 5 hours from the shop), so I woke up at 4am on a Tuesday morning, drove down to pick it up, and made it back to the shop by the afternoon. The clam was used to make molds and then stored in a shed for a few years, so it does need some minor repair and a paint job.
I found a shop on the East Coast that was parting out an Exige, so I was able to get a package deal on the rear sub frame and control arms. The rear toe links were replaced with Inokinetic’s RTD Brace.
While the car was apart, I decided to do some extra work to it before it made its way back to the track. I replaced all the ball joints, tie rod ends, and replaced the rubber bushings with spherical bearings. The car already has a quick ratio steering rack and Nitron shocks. However, I do plan on changing out to JRZ Suspension coilovers (more info on that below). I also wanted to start fresh and get the car up to date with maintenance, so I replaced the coolant, engine oil/filter, brake fluid, transmission fluid, drive belt, spark plugs, air filter, supercharger oil and inspected the intake cam for wear.
Later, I found that the A/C system had been removed from the car. I plan to drive the car on the street (for now), so this had to go back in. After replacing the compressor, condenser, receiver dryer, and all the lines, I was able to get it working again. Not a very exciting thing to spend time and money on...
The Exige had a Bride Low Max seat which was a little too narrow for me so I sold it and the stock passenger seat. It also had an Alitech shifter, which felt nice, but took up too much interior space, especially for the seats I wanted to install. I sold the Alitech and replaced it with the Inokinetic ShiftR111. The seats that went in are carbon Tillett B6 Screamer XLs with cut edges. These are probably the largest bucket seats you will be able to fit into this car. We ordered the seats from Tim at Torqued.io!
First Shakedown At Laguna Seca
November 18, 2018
Before the car got a chance to get repainted, I decided to put it together and have some fun with it at the track. The right rear coilover and wheel was damaged in the accident, but two fellow Lotus owners graciously let me borrow a set of wheels and Nitron 3-way coilovers. The car was a blast to drive, but very loose on corner entry and not progressive when it broke away. We should be able to dial that out with some suspension tuning after installing JRZ dampers. Considering I only drove the car for 2 sessions, I was happy to do a 1:46. My good friends Graham and Tom also took the car out for a session. Graham was able to clock a 1:44. Very impressive for the first time ever driving a Lotus- Especially one that's tail happy.
View video :
First time driving this car. Tires: RE71R Engine: Stock Suspension: Nitron 3-way
With help from a friend, we got hold of some pretty wheels.
TE37 Sonic 16x8 +25 Diamond Dark Gunmetal
Bridgestone RE71R 205/45/16
TE37 Saga 17x8.5 +40
Bridgestone RE71R 235/45/17
The Lotus LSS suspension is known to have a soft spring rate with stiff valving, making the ride harsh on the street. Contrary to belief, you can run a stiffer spring rate with better shocks and the car will be more compliant on the street and handle better on the track. For this reason, coilovers are the the best upgrade for the Lotus Elise & Exige, whether you are using the car for street driving or racing.
Over the years, we’ve worked with JRZ Suspension Engineering for different platforms and have had nothing but great experiences. While they’ve been in business for over 60 years, most people seem to think they are only focused in motorsports. Accordingly, their Motorsport Line has been very popular with serious racers. However, not many people are aware that they have also developed their RS Line, geared for those who don’t necessarily race competitively but still want great coilovers for the street or even the occasional HPDE track day.
It only made sense for us to go with JRZ for the shop Lotus.
JRZ RS PRO 3
I chose to trade out the Nitrons on the Exige for JRZ’s RS PRO 3 kit. The main advantage of their RS PRO 3 kit, vs their RS ONE & RS PRO kits, is that the 3-way dampers give you the ability to adjust both high speed damping and low speed damping. Low speed compression controls movement under small bumps, braking, accelerating, and turning. High speed compression controls movement over harsh bumps, like pot holes on the street or berms on the track. Since I plan to track the Exige, and possibly eventually race it, the RS PRO 3 kit was the best choice.
I plan to have the kit installed on our Exige in time for a weekend at Buttonwillow on Dec. 22-23.
Test Day At Buttonwillow Raceway
December 22-23, 2018
Unfortunately, due to holiday shipping delays, we didn’t get the JRZs in time for this event. The bright side is, we would get a better baseline with the current suspension before switching over. On Friday before we left, I spent the morning properly setting up the car with a corner balance, alignment, and base shock settings on the 3-way shocks. I personally like to start on the softer side and work my way up. All of this information was written down on our chassis set up sheet for reference. At the end of the day, we packed up, drove straight to the track, and unloaded everything in our garage.
In the first session out, I noticed right away that the car wasn’t as nervous in corners as it was at Laguna Seca the month before. Corner entry felt good with smooth steering inputs. I could get the car to rotate mid-corner by slightly lifting off throttle. However, too much lift, the rear end would come around quick and there was no way to catch it. The car felt stable on corner exit, but did understeer a bit with too much throttle input. I liked the balance overall, but the low speed compression damping felt a bit soft. I noticed this the most in Cotton Corners and the Esses. The car also felt unsettled and too stiff going over the berm at Bus stop and between Riverside and Phil Hill.
Throughout the day, we wrote down notes on the changes we made to the shocks and took some tire temp and pressure data for reference. Between me, Andrew, and Sean who also drove the Exige on Saturday, we got down to a low 2:01.
Video BW 2:01 :
There is definitely some room for improvement in driving, but by the end of the day, we felt that we had the shocks dialed in the best we could. The result was significantly better than where had started off, but we felt that there was more to be desired as far as giving us the confidence to push the car harder on this notoriously bumpy track.
Also worth mentioning…due to cold weather, we decided to bring our hot pot to the track.
On Sunday, we were only able to stay until noon which meant just 2 sessions for me. I didn’t improve my time any further, but I did feel increasingly more comfortable with the car and was able to drive it more consistently.
Tom Tang was able to take it out for 3 sessions and it was interesting to see his process for adapting to a car that he is still largely unfamiliar with (the only other time he’s ever driven a Lotus was in this Exige for 1 session at Laguna last month).
Tom spent the first session getting reacquainted with how the Exige drives and its unique handling characteristics. It was quite an adjustment, considering he had just spent all day yesterday working with our customer, Marc David, in his track-prepped E46 BMW M3. If you didn’t already know, Tom runs an excellent driver development program that leverages in-car coaching from both the driver and passenger seat (if there is one), video review, and data analysis. He was able to help bring Marc’s lap-times down from a previous PB of 2:08 to a new PB of 2:01 in just 1 day!
After session 1, Tom came in with a big smile on his face. He said he was “reminded again of just how awesomely light the Exige is” when it came to corner entry and braking. He described how he could “adjust his braking zones back by nearly a hundred feet” because of how little the car weighed. This allowed him to brake deeper into a corner than compared to other cars. However, Tom did describe some shortcomings with regard to the current setup. He felt that the Titan QR steering rack combined with a 300mm steering wheel was a bit too heavy for his preference (something we might look into changing soon). He also complained about how bumpy the Nitrons felt in comparison to the JRZ RS Pro dampers (Marc’s M3 has these) that he was driving on a day earlier. Despite these issues though, he still managed a mid 2:01.
For session 2, Tom decided to make some adjustments to his driving style to better suit that of the Exige and he was able to drop another second. He was also becoming more comfortable in the car; catching slides and getting back to throttle earlier. On his 3rd and final session, he managed a 1:59. Really impressive, considering he was still fairly new to the car and in its current state it is still a bit of a handful.
Ride along with Tom for a sub-2 minute lap around Buttonwillow CW13:
The JRZ RS PRO3s will be installed and set up for testing at Thunderhill with Ongrid Track on January 12th. We are excited about how the new shocks should do a much better job of making the Exige easier to drive at speed and look forward to continuing to develop the platform next year.