Chris Randall – or Randy as many know him – has been a long-standing member of the Lotus community, with experience not just in racing Lotuses but also in developing class leading race cars in his role as Director at Hofmann’s Motorsport – leading up to the creation of their Lotus Europa, which first raced in 2009. But what lured Chris towards Lotus cars?
“I grew up around Lotus cars so it’s in the blood, my Dad had a succession of them when I was young and impressionable, first an Elan, then two Esprits, a Turbo then a Turbo SE and then a Lotus Carlton which was awesome. I tried an Elise soon after they came out and absolutely loved it so when the opportunity to buy an S1 Exige on the cheap from a local bankrupt company came up I jumped at it and that got me behind the wheel in one.”
After getting to grips with the Exige and experiencing some of the frustrations of the VHPD power plant Chris soon went in search of a more powerful and reliable engine and through that found his way in to a race seat.
“After putting a Honda in that car I met the infamous Simon Scuffham who invited me to race in Britcar in his little Honda S1. Other than the chassis bending testing crash I had at Silverstone we had a terrific time with some great results including the Britcar 24 hour race. After that I raced for the works Lotus Cadena Team in British GT before building my own Exige up to do Lotus on Track with.“
Chris campaigned his Honda-powered Exige in the new LoTRDC Elise Trophy series in 2007 and 2008 taking multiple wins, along with outings in other series, and it was these outings which drove the decision to build a new car for 2009 built around the rarer Lotus Europa.
“The Honda engine made for a terrific car but it was always a bastard child which doesn’t go down well in multi marque racing. Beating Porsche’s in a plastic bath tub never goes down well but add a non-factory engine into the mix and it’s a sure ticket to getting weighed down. The Europa made sense with a strong engine and gearbox from the factory and better aero. The downside to the Europa is the weight but with enough motive force that aspect can be overcome!”
Moving away from the more common Elise and Exige models may have aided the cars acceptance in to other series, but it brought with it its own set of challenges…
“There were plenty of challenges. Originally I wanted to outsource the engine build but soon realised that the Vauxhall tuning scene contained very few good tuners so we had to take that on in house which added to the workload. With nobody capable of tuning the original ECU that added yet another dimension but luckily we provisioned the right resource and expertise to get that job done in a timely manner.
Ostensibly the chassis isn’t too different to the other cars although the extra torque means a slippy diff is required which changes the basic setup and the extra length and weight distribution changes have some effect too. With the right wheel and tyre package on and the engine wound up the performance is quite exceptional and certainly quicker than the Honda cars we used to run.”
The cars pace was proved almost immediately – winning the opening Elise Trophy race of 2009 outright with more podiums and wins following throughout the year. For 2010 however the Modified class was dropped by the Elise Trophy, limiting the grid to Production class cars and exiling the Europa.
The Europa had already competed in the GT Cup in 2009, but for 2010 it became the cars sole hunting ground and while able to make the podium at Brands Hatch reliability issues and limitations inherent in designing a car which can compete in multiple series.
“There are compromises all the way through the car. For example the rear wing is tiny as it was built to comply with Lotus on Track regs and as such we are leaving lap time on the table against the bigger GT cars. The car is built on an extremely tight budget though and we have to place that budget in the right areas, so if it needs tyres and brakes it doesn’t get a new rear wing!”
The introduction of the Lotus Cup UK series in 2011 once again allowed the Europa to compete in the LoTRDC organised events in the UK, with the Hofmann’s built Europa of Campbell Cassidy competing in several rounds, with both cars entering in to the season finale 1000km race at Brands Hatch.
The cars qualified well, locking out the front row of the grid, but fuel tank pressurisation issues ended the race before the half-way point for Randall while the sister car lost time due to gear selector issues and finished well down the field.
The car has seen a number of changes since it first ran, with the specifications changing over time.
“It’s a moving target! Engine is fairly stock, it has Arrow rods and Astra VXR pistons with a completely stock cylinder head, cams, etc., just lightened and balanced. The effort has gone into the turbo system, ECU (which is Syvecs tuned by TDI) and the cooling systems which have taken a fair amount of development. Gearbox is stock but with a big, well optimised cooler and an ATB Diff. Suspension is all Nitron and I’m running our latest spec 46mm three-way damper which has moved the game along considerably.”
Many of the developments for the race cars have also been able to transfer in to improvements for the small but enthusiastic community of Europa owners, who have typically haven’t been as well catered for as well as their Elise and Exige owning counter-parts.
“We have several owners running our Syvecs ECU solution now which really opens the door to tuning these cars. The charge cooler system we developed with Pro-alloy has been fantastically successful and gives big gains over any other system on the market and there are other more straightforward part available like wheels and tyres.”
These changes help broaden the appeal of what has been for many a highly underestimated car.
So what does the future hold for Chris and his Europa?
“We are hoping to get the car over to the Nurburgring to compete in an RCN round and maybe some more GT Cup.
Currently we are working hard on plans for GT racing next year. If we find enough sponsor money we want to target Brit GT in a Porsche but if that doesn’t happen I will run the Europa in GT Cup and look to rebuild over winter to close the gap to the faster GT3 cars. Either way I don’t want to sell the car as it’s just so much fun to drive and don’t feel like we have reached the end of the journey with it yet.”
We’d like to thank Chris for taking the time to answer some of our questions and would like to wish all the best to both himself and Hofmann’s Motorsport in their future endeavours.