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LoT Track day, Exige goes and a new 7!

Updated: Nov 10, 2019

I've been struggling of late to find the time to blog about the 7, so apologies for that.

Over the last couple of months, plenty has happened, including a major project I undertook with a couple of fellow Seveners. It included decoding the car’s MBE ECU data stream and writing new data logging software. The task was quite an undertaking and I hope to make time in the future to cover the topic as it was pretty interesting. I also intend to write a review of my new half hood too. Those topics are going to have to wait, as I want to cover the most recent and surprising development in my Caterham ownership experience.

Over the last 12 days, my wife and I have been in the UK, Cheshire to be precise. My Lotus Exige V6 Cup was pending an annual service at Oakmere which was aligned with a Lotus on Track track day at Oulton Park. During the run-up to the event I felt that I'd rather take the 7 420R on track. This was in addition to the fact my Exige had sat pretty much unused since putting the 420R on the road. Nevertheless, the Exige needed the service and so it had to make the journey, but I was giving serious consideration to my ownership of the Exige. Through the weeks leading up to the event, I'd looked into various options, selling both the 420 and Exige and upgrading to a 620, or possibly selling the Exige and purchasing a used 620.

We arrived in Cheshire on the Thursday before the track day which was scheduled for the following Tuesday. Given my thoughts I’d arranged to pop in and meet Simon Clough at Oakmere Motorgroup. I’ve been visiting Oakmere on an annual basis since 2015 as they serviced my Exige, and more recently I’d purchased the 420R kit from them. Visiting the showroom was a familiar affair, but a delight as usual. The showroom is also jam-packed with brightly coloured Lotus cars, Sevens, a couple of Morgans and a few Mazdas. It really is difficult to suppress the desire to want just about anything.

Oakmere Motorgroup
Show room floor at Oakmere Motorgroup, so many cool toys!

The guys at Oakmere are real enthusiasts, if they’re not too busy they’ll always take the time to just natter about the cars. There’s no hard sell just a real passion for the cars, supported by a down to earth approach. Something sadly lacking when I’d purchased my Cup from JCT600, hence my long term switch.

Simon and I discussed my thoughts regarding releasing my Cup and possibly the 420 and in response suggested I consider a beautiful new Arancio Orange 620S SV. The 620S was presented with no decals, a strategy Oakmere use to maximise flexibility for customers, however in Simon’s head he’d already visualised the final look.

Caterham 620S SV Orange Oakmere Motorgroup
Caterham 620S SV Orange

Simon suggested a combination of 3 stripes in Silver with Black pinstripes. To help visualise the look we took the new Caterham Cars Configurator for a spin. Think of this as the web-based configurator on steroids. Driven on a large grunty PC and graphics card the configurator displays car designs on a large screen in significantly greater detail to that of the web version. The detail even includes the carbon fibre weave present in the various carbon elements, it really is fantastic. Oakmere has also invested in a high-quality printer which produces glossy prints of your wildest designs.

Caterham Configurator Oakmere Motorgroup
Glossy print from Oakmere's design studio, Caterham Configurator

We cheekily asked Simon to build and print my 420R. As enjoyable as the afternoon was I didn’t feel I’d reached a conclusion in my head about which way to turn. I opted to leave without making a commitment, several variables still needed to be resolved before I could make a final decision. Before we left I spotted a new red 310R, with matching painted roll bar, headlights, and gold decals. Personally I’m not normally a fan of red cars, however this Seven looked amazing. There was something about it which made it stand out, even amongst some rather flashy Lotus cars. Little did I know how much that 310R would play on my mind!

Caterham 310R S3
Caterham 310R S3

Over the weekend I mulled the decision over, trying to decide what to do, should I keep the cars, and if not which combination should I use to revise the garage. At the end of the weekend, I hadn’t made of a decision, however, I did have greater clarity over the strategy. Firstly I came to the conclusion, if I let the Exige go I could keep the 420, and if I did then a 620S was too close to the 420R. I was looking for something more focussed for the track, so a 620R was better suited. In addition, I decided I should at least attend the track day in the Exige, if only to give the car the opportunity to shine, demonstrating how truly great it is, in doing so sanity-check my thoughts. I updated Oakmere via email and suggested we speak further during the day of the service.

The night before the track day Little Budworth and the surrounding area in which Oulton Park is located suffered below zero temperatures which resulted in a frozen Exige and some very slippery roads.

Track conditions throughout the morning were hazardous and not to my liking, so the Exige spent a fair amount of time in the garage. The conditions didn't hamper others with plenty of cars enjoying the day from early on. I just didn't want to take any chances, especially considering my background thoughts. It's also important to consider the Exige is fitted with Pirelli Trofeo R tyres, and they don't like the wet or slippery roads!

The lack of track time in the morning was not lost though. It allowed me to chat with SteveHS3 a fellow Lotus 7 Club member. Steve and I had agreed to share a garage over the club message system but had never met before, so the lack of driving provided ample opportunity to discuss all things 7 and more.

Around 11 am the autumnal sun had removed most of the hazardous conditions and driving could resume if a little reserved. The exit of the Shell hairpin remained surprisingly slippy, along with the entry into Druids.

As the day continued Steve and I exchanged passenger rides in each other's cars and it was through this process that I identified one of the critical attributes that lead to my ultimate decision. Steve drove his 7 around Oulton with a lot of skill and for me brought out the inherent playfulness of the car without making it feel out of control or leary. Through the entire circuit Steve's 7 felt wonderful, similar to the experience I'd found during my quicker drives around the TT circuit. The experience was in stark contrast to the Exige which is significantly quicker, quicker than I can drive it too. But! and here is the big but, the Exige has so much more performance and grip it's not as much fun at the lower speeds. As a track day enthusiast I'm not looking for outrageous speeds, so the playfulness experienced in the 7 is never really there in the Exige, unless it's travelling at serious speed. Speed I won't carry through bends.

Caterham 7 K Series
SteveHS3 K Series 7, a total joy on track.

There is also a secondary concern of cost. Pushing the Exige with lateral grip is amazing but it eats tyres, costly tyres. The Lotus DPM system is pretty amazing too, in Race mode you can brake incredibly late without concern but its also harsh on brakes. Knowing some of the costs when you drive the car very hard just takes the fun out for it for me. The comparative costs on a Seven for a track day, well they're pretty much zero all things considered.

Having owned the Exige since 2014 I also feel I've not improved as a driver on circuit. Its abilities at low to moderate speed supported by the Lotus DPM system provided the perfect level of grip and support which didn't need any effort to control. It's time to improve.

Since the track day was a LoT date, Steve Jevons from Oakmere also popped down to the circuit to say hi to many of his customers. Steve is the sales manager at Oakmere, so the man that can make things happen. Between sessions Steve and I had a quick natter about the sales prospect and ultimately agreed to resume the conversation on the following day during the service.

On the day of the service the Exige flew through with ease with no additional costs. In fact Steve passed comment that my tyres didn’t even look like they’d been on track. During the wait for the service to be completed Simon, Steve and I found an acceptable compromise and agreement was reached. I took the decision to let the Exige go and add an additional Seven to the garage! I should probably thank my wife here, without her tolerance for my hobby, more addiction, this wouldn’t have happened.

Replacing the Lotus Exige V6 Cup with a new Caterham 620R S3.

I’ve opted to purchase a new red Caterham 620R S3 from the Oakmere stock line up. I have to say this is a rather unusual decision for me, as I’ve mentioned before red isn’t my usual choice. I suspect with a new build I’d have opted for another perl or metallic bright green. So why red? Well remember the 310R I’d mentioned earlier, I’d kept thinking about that car all weekend, it was so elegant. I decided I would purchase the 620R also in red and ask Oakmere to paint the rollbar, headlights and apply identical decals. It wouldn’t look exactly the same as the 310R didn’t have the carbon arches and cycle wings fitted to the 620R, but I figured it would be close enough. There was also the consideration of paint durability. The problem with exotic finishes such as that on my Exige and of course 420 is the difficultly to touch in or respray sections. If I was to use the 620R on track then stone chips and minor paint damage was going to happen, and for this reason a simpler paint finish was preferable. The red finish on the 620R should certainly offer an easier finish to touch up.

Carbon arches however offered a new component to protect. Unlike the arches on my 420 which are fitted with carbon arches protectors, the carbon arches on the 620R don’t have any protectors. I spoke to Simon about this and he stated that carbon protectors fitted to carbon arches don’t look right. The solution is to fit Paint Protection Film to the arches. This seemed sensible, the car is subsequently being fitted with PPF to the arches and nose cone before delivery, along with the paint and decals.

Unfortunately our break in Cheshire has come to an end, I’m writing this blog post from the Ben-My-Chree ferry as we journey home, without the Exige. It will be three to four weeks before I can take delivery of the 620R, which does mean we’ll likely be into December. I’m therefore looking at options to avoid driving the car home. Inclement December weather, 311BHP, a sequential gearbox and ZZR tyres sounds like a handful. I’d also like to avoid gritters and salt too!

Exciting times! I hope to be able to post a blog on the day of collection, maybe even a collection video.

In the meantime, I’m also back out rallying with Steve ‘Show-Time’ Colley on the PokerStars Rally 2019. Check back soon to see how we get on!

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