Lotus heads into this weekend’s Six Hours of Circuit of The Americas with realistic expectations, as its LMP1-L entry makes its long-awaited debut in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The Romanian-badged, German-based effort debuts the new Lotus CLM P1/01 AER, bringing much-needed competition to the pair of Rebellion R-Ones in the new-for-2014 lightweight prototype class.
For Christophe Bouchut, who will share the wheel of the Kodewa-run car at COTA with James Rossiter and 20-year-old Lucas Auer, optimism is high within the camp, especially after facing no major issues in testing.
“We are realistic,” Bouchut told Sportscar365. “We know this car has a lot of possibilities and we’ll [eventually] have some problems but it’s been good so far.
“We ran six days with the same engine and didn’t have any problems. I believe this car is really well built. We’ll see here. It’s really hot conditions and a hard track. But in the end, everyone will see what will happen with this car.
“We all want to do well but we have to show this car with the spirit of finishing the race.”
The prototype completed a total of six days of testing at Monteblanco and Lausitzring in late June and early July, with the Frenchman pleased with the power and durability of the new LMP1-L package.
Bouchut said the car, powered by a new customer-based AER V6 twin-turbo, topped out at 292 km/h (181 mph) in testing, thanks in part to recent Balance of Performance adjustments, which sees a power increase for LMP1-L cars to help close the gap to the factory LMP1-H entries.
“It’s helped a lot because the engine, without a hybrid system, was missing some power, to be honest,” he said. “When I drove the car in the beginning I said, ‘Oh the engine is not strong.’ But [the FIA WEC] gave this extra power and the car was completely different.
“The AER engine is quite strong. It’s very easy to drive and very nice. It’s not like the Audi R10, the last LMP1 I drove. That had no power with the diesel in low revs. This car, as soon as you accelerate, bang. It also has good handling.
“I’m really confident and I believe we can fight with many of the other LMP1s.”
According to Boris Bermes, head of operations, the car has been entirely designed and built in-house, with no components from the ADESS AG-designed Lotus T128, which ran the LMP2 ranks last year by the same team.
But with no reference to the Rebellion R-Ones, the only other car in the LMP1-L class, the team doesn’t know where the P1/01 will stack up this weekend.
“We have to go step by step and develop [the car] race by race,” Bermes told Sportscar365. “We’ll see what will come out of it.
“It’s the first time comparison [against Rebellion]. All of these rules with Balance of Performance, it’s not really clear for the moment.
“To get a real balance, we need some more races and adjustments. But for this, we need to run.”
Bouchut, meanwhile, makes his first start in America in nearly two years following a successful four-year stint with Level 5 Motorsports, which included two ALMS class titles.
“It’s really nice to be back in the U.S.,” he said. “Probably of all the things I did in my career, working for Level 5 in ALMS was a really great moment. I really enjoyed that time.
“It stopped and left me empty, as it’s really hard to find something at that level. There are not too many great opportunities.
“That opportunity came in 2013, almost straight away, with Lotus. We’ve built a relationship and I’m really happy… It’s a great time to come back to the U.S.”
Bermes said they will use a pool of drivers for the remainder of the season, including Pierre Kaffer, who is slated to run the final four races. Bouchut has been confirmed for Fuji and could contest additional races as well.
The team, meanwhile, is exploring the option of expanding to a two-car operation in 2015, as well as the possibility of selling P1/01s to customers.