From Lotus driver to Lotus racer
Australia is a key strategic market for the ongoing transformation of Lotus. It’s consistently one of the top 10 largest markets globally for new car sales; we have a dedicated importer, five retailers across the country, and a very loyal and enthusiastic customer base.
Some of them take Lotus ownership very seriously. For example, on 19 April the Targa Tasmania starts. It’s is a closed-road rally of more than 2,000km, staged over six days on the island to the south of mainland Australia.
Here’s the story of how one Lotus owner has embraced the world of Targa rallies, going from nervous novice to the steps of the podium.
Keen drivers often dream of taking part in motorsport events. The nervous anticipation as the racers take to the grid, the adrenaline rush as they sprint for the first corner, the thrill of a win – it’s easy to wonder what it’s like to be Lewis Hamilton. Then the reality sets in; never-ending costs, time commitment and the risk of damage to your car.
For most people it stays a dream but plenty of people do take part. Lotus lover Rob Bryden from Sydney, Australia, has been a passionate driving enthusiast since the age of six, having an older brother who introduced him to fast cars and driving early on. Over the years he has owned many Lotus cars, including an Esprit Turbo, Elan, Elan+2, Lotus 7, Elise, all three generations of Exige and even a 340R.
Not content with having them sit in his garage, Rob actively participated in Lotus social drives, ‘cars & coffee’ meets and casual track days. The obvious next step was making the leap to racing, entering club level local motorsport activities. “I think I am like a lot of other drivers,” said Rob. “I think it’s too hard to attempt or I’d have to be a professional. But with a bit of research and help from the Sydney Lotus dealership I realised I could do it.”
In 2016 Rob decided to fulfil a dream of participating in a Targa tarmac rally event. In Australia it’s not as hard as you might think; practically anyone can try their first rally with a road-registered vehicle and a Motorsport Australia licence.
Targa can trace its origins back to the world-famous Mille Miglia in Europe and other similar events where competitors would race on closed public roads through towns and villages. In Australia there are a number of different Targa events, with a blend of casual driving groups and competitive timed classes. Entrants get to drive on some of the country’s best roads with no danger from traffic coming the other way.
Rob and navigator Ian Noble decided to get a first taste of what Targa is all about by joining the Australian Lotus Tour group. Targa Australia runs a number of tour groups as part of its tarmac rally event programme and Lotus Cars Australia hosts an exclusive group for owners of Exige, Elise and Evora sports cars.
There are benefits of doing it this way; Lotus Cars Australia handles all the logistics and provides guidance for each participant. Staff from the local Lotus dealerships are on hand during the rally to provide any assistance needed, and there’s also a lead and chase car driven by Lotus staff so you can’t get lost. Rob was hooked, explaining: “Once we had a taste for it, we felt comfortable enough to try a more competitive class.”
In 2018 he attempted his TSD Competition. It stands for Time, Speed, Distance and is the first step up from the Tour classes. Crews have to complete a stage distance within a given time and average speed, so it’s competitive but restricted in terms of outright speed and you don’t need a race car to compete.
Using his Lotus Exige 380 Cup in TSD was an ideal way to participate without making the full commitment required to compete in the Open classes. Rob and Ian raced in the Targa Tasmania, Targa High Country and Targa Great Barrier Reef events with great success, achieving multiple top five positions.
For 2021 Rob upgraded his vehicle to a Lotus Exige Sport 410, and he and Ian are now racing in the GT Sports Trophy. This class requires a more measured commitment and is a stepping stone to the Open competitive classes of GT2.
In GT Sports Trophy, the crews must not exceed a speed limit of 80mph (130km/h) which doesn’t sound very fast. However, in the Targa High Country event, on the tight and twisty roads on and around Mount Buller – in eastern Victoria, three hours’ drive from Melbourne – it’s plenty. Its mix of country roads and forest-lined mountain passes are not for the faint-hearted. With the assistance of Simply Sports Cars Lotus in Sydney, Rob’s Exige was prepared with all the necessary safety equipment including harnesses, driver and navigator communications and a roll cage.
Even with border restrictions caused by Covid-19, there were more than 60 cars entered. After three days of gruelling competition there were less than 30 seconds separating the top three positions, all Lotus Exige sports cars. And the great news for Rob and Ian was that they clinched their first ever podium position in GT Sports Trophy, finishing second overall.
A delighted Rob said: “Driving on closed roads in a tarmac rally is a unique experience. It’s not just about the driving, it’s more that doing an event with other driving enthusiasts is like nothing else.”
See Rob in action at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vy2dfnIB9sI