If you’ve read the latest print issue of R&T, you know that I took a Lotus Evora 410 to the Nurburgring earlier this summer and had an experience that was humbling, frustrating, and exhilarating all at once. You might even recall that I spent a day at Spa-Francorchamps beforehand, just to get a sense for the Evora’s behavior at the limit. Here’s what I didn’t tell you: I think Spa is a better track than the Ring. It’s certainly more fun to drive, it is safer, and it has a history of top-flight competition that continues to this very day. Furthermore, the newest lightweight Lotus is just the stick-shifted ticket for a track that some people rank as the finest road course in the world.
Although parts of the Spa-Francorchamps track have served as public roads over the course of the past ninety years, in modern times this is very much a closed circuit just like Mid-Ohio or Watkins Glen. Therefore, you’ll want to schedule your trip to coincide with one of the public days held there. As with the ‘Ring, the you get an entry ticket, support at the track, and a rental vehicle. I didn’t bother to borrow a car from RSR, of course, because I had keys to the Sport 410.
As good as the Lotus Evora 400 is–and it was good enough to be runner-up in last year’s Performance Car Of The Year test–the Sport 410 version of the car is immediately and tangibly better. The Toyota-sourced engine bellows a very un-Camry-like note through a blue-tipped titanium exhaust, and although we don’t get the few extra horsepower that Lotus found for the home market, the existing 400 horsepower combined with 132 pounds’ worth of weight reduction in the USA model can kick the car down the road at a quoted 190mph top speed. I couldn’t confirm that during my drive but I can say that it’s no trouble to approach 150 on the long straight after Eau Rouge.
The 410 has some aero advantages as well, doubling the mild downforce of its stable-mate to 141 pounds at top speed. This ain’t no Viper ACR or even a Camaro ZL1 1LE–what you feel at speed isn’t the firm hand of aero pressure but rather the reassuring absence of aero lift in the fastest corners. I’ve never before driven a mid-engined street car which had its nose so firmly planted at triple digits.
As with the standard Evora 400, the cockpit and driving position in the Sport 410 are unmatched by anything this side of a McLaren 675LT. You sit low and towards the centerline, gripping a usefully small and flat-bottomed steering wheel and with an effortless reach to a notchy-feeling short-throw ball-handled shifter. The pedals work perfectly for heel and toe, although if you’re a size 12 shoe or above you might want to think about leaving your Alden Long Wings at home in favor of something as narrow as possible.
Amazingly, the A/C works effectively enough for a summer’s day in the Ardennes and it can even be left on while you’re circling the track. Imagine doing that in an old Esprit! Unlike most of the US-based trackday organizations, the Spa folks are just fine with you running windows-up. With that said, they also tend to have a relaxed attitude towards things like keeping the yellow flag out after the first lap to which it applies. Whatever level of attentiveness and vision you bring to an American HPDE, you’ll need to dial it up a bit for Spa.
So what makes Spa better than the Ring? It’s simple, really: there is a wide variety of challenging corners with an adequate amount of runoff for mistakes. Most people focus on the famous Eau Rouge/Raidillon combination, which contrary to what you hear cannot be taken “flat out” in a truly quick street car without wings. You’ll be lucky to get through it at 110mph, compared to Michael Schumacher’s 180-. It’s almost like Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew, only in reverse and in fourth and fifth gear. For me, however, the big thrill is Blanchimont, a wicked-fast left-hander that is more challenging than almost anything we have in the United States. You enter the turn at well over 100mph and you just have to hang on and adjust with the throttle. This task is made more difficult when there’s traffic, to put it mildly…
In fact, it’s the long, fast corners at Spa where the Evora really makes up ground on the run-of-the-mill machinery that you’ll find at European trackdays. The mid-corner balance is even better than it is in the Evora 400, and the back end steps in and out with the throttle at a nice relaxed rate. You’re not going to find too many cars in your mirrors with this thing.
Ironically, however, one of the very few cars that did manage to get around me at Spa was a Corvette C6 ZR1 with an outrageous USA-flag vinyl wrap. (Turns out that American-car fans in Europe are just as goofy as Euro-car nuts in the States.) Which leads to the obvious question: At approximately a hundred grand depending on options, does the Evora Sport 410 have a place in a country where you can find outstanding bargains on a ZR1, or a factory-fresh example of the quite satisfying C7 Grand Sport, for two-thirds of the price?
If you look at strict laptimes, the answer has to be no. Yet the fact of the matter is that most drivers of Evoras and Corvettes spend the bulk of their time on the streets. It’s here that the Lotus truly shines, with tidy proportions and a willingness to push on backroads that you won’t capture on any spec sheet. Like the much cheaper and much less capable ND-generation Miata, this is a car that makes slow driving feel like an adventure and spirited driving feel like the experience of a lifetime. It’s recommended even if you never take it anywhere near a track.
Also recommended: the Spa experience. I’d much rather spend my money and time there than at the Ring. If you’re heading to Europe with the Nordschleife in mind, you owe it to yourself to drive the short two and a half hours over to Belgium and take a look at Spa-Francorchamps. Trust me, it’s not something you will want to do just once.