Lotus had been using the Lotus Esprit GT1, which is a racing version of the Lotus Esprit road car, in the BPR Global GT Series since its foundation in 1994. The Esprit GT1 competed against other race cars such as the McLaren F1 GTR, Venturi 600LM, Ferrari F40 GTE as well as some other blistering quick speed demons. However, in 1997 the series became known as the FIA GT Championship and manufacturer involvement was increased with greater international exposure. Porsche was the first to start a new breed of racing car in 1996, otherwise known as the 911 GT1. This was quickly followed by announcement that Mercedes-Benz planned to get in the game with the CLK-GTR in 1997.
In order for Lotus to remain competitive in the GT1 class they had no choice but to follow the route set forth by Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. The thing was that Lotus lacked the resources available that Porsche and Mercedes had to create not only the race cars but also the production sports cars at a guaranteed loss of money for the company. The brain powers at Lotus discovered, via an interpretation of the rules for FIA GT, that they would only need to build a single production car in order to meet the requirements. The car would not even need to be sold to a customer, it merely had to be built.
Once all of those details were confirmed, Lotus turned to designing their racing car. They decided to abandon the aged Esprit chassis and instead turn to its new sportscar, the Elise. The Lotus engineers retained only the Elise’s aluminum chassis for the GT1, although it was heavily modified from its stock form. A new carbon fiber body that resembled the Elise was built, featuring a much longer length in order to increase the car’s aerodynamic capabilities.
Lotus engineers also knew that the Elise’s stock inline-4 motor was a far cry from what would be needed in order to compete. So it was initially decided that the car would use the 3.5L V8 out of the old Esprit racing car. The thing here is that testing showed that this engine was now outdated and also experienced reliability issues. Now Lotus had to decide whether or not to use the Lotus turbo V8 (terrible choice in my opinion) or take advantage of the Chevrolet LT5 (347 cubic inches/5.7liters) V8 from the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1. The Corvette actually had Lotus involvement in development when they were owned by GM. Lotus further developed the LT5 by fitting it with a flat-plane crankshaft and increasing its displacement to 366 cubic inches/6.0 liters for the Elise GT1 Race car. After all of those details were agreed upon seven Elise GT1 racing chassis were built and sent to factory teams GT1 Lotus Racing as well as privateers GBF UK and Martin Veyhle Racing. The factory GT1 Lotus Racing team would be the only ones to opt for the Chevrolet V8 instead of the Lotus turbo unit.
The Elise GT1’s 3.5 liter/213 cubic inch motor (Lotus Type 918 twin-turbo V8) produced 542 horsepower at 6500 rpm and its modified Chevrolet LT5 V8 block produced 607 horsepwer at 7200 rpm. Only the factory cars had the LT5 V8 engine and the customer cars had the Type 918 V8. No matter how you look at it, both of these engines helped propel the car from 0–60 mph in 3.8 seconds (Lotus Type 918) and 3.2 seconds (Chevrolet modified V8) with a top speed of approximately 200 mph. The car was initially fitted with a 6-speed sequential manual transmission but other transmissions were used during its life span. Unfortunately, this car wasn’t able to match the performance of the other cars at LeMans and would experience a very short lifespan.
Just in case you were wondering, here is what the regular 1997 Lotus Elise looked like before it was converted into the GT1 race version. Yes, this is a sexy little car and I admit that I drove one and actually liked it BUT this car was far from fast as it was merely a fun little car. As a matter of fact, my Ford truck (at that time) was actually faster than this car. Yes, it is bad when a stock Ford pick up truck can run faster than an English racer the stock Elise – not the GT1. LOL
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