After half a season of covering (and occasionally racing in) the Grand Prix Legends series featuring the Lotus 49 I feel marginally qualified to explain why every road-racing enthusiast should purchase this car yesterday. There are many reasons to participate in this series, some of which are obvious, but others not so much. In this article I will outline the eight most compelling reasons.
Very few cars elicit the kind of passion and emotion of the Lotus 49. The lines on this classic Formula One car are simple and elegant, and the historic and exotic liveries available for it on Trading Paints are a dime a dozen. It’s very, very recognizable as well. Very few racing fans would have a hard time identifying a Lotus 49 within the first half second of seeing one. More specifically, in iRacing the car is absolutely gorgeous, as evinced by the pictures I’ve used in the articles so far this season (pictures which were not hard to find at all, this car just loves the camera). The car has been tediously perfected down to the axles which you can actually see spinning during the race. Few cars in iRacing can claim to have visible moving parts; the Lotus 49 is one. The sense of realism a sim-racer gets from seeing the degreeof meticulous detail that’s been poured into this car is truly amazing.
The Lotus 49 is the second oldest car available in iRacing, with the Legends Ford ’34 Coupe taking top honors in that category. The car was designed by Colin Chapman. ‘Nuff said? It’s powered by the Ford-Cosworth DFV, unquestionably THE most successful engine in the history of Formula One. And it was piloted by legendary racers like Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, Jo Siffert, Emerson Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti. The classic images of these racing heroes as they battled both car and track simultaneously while defending and attacking against rivals are burned into the brains of many enthusiasts. There are cars (even F1 cars) which enjoyed more success in their history, but none available to iRacers (yet).
This car is really fast. Like, probably faster than the majority of cars you own. The only cars with a lower weight to power ratio are the Indy Cars, the Sprint Cars, and the other two F1 cars (Lotus 79 and Williams-Toyota FW31). The engine pumps out 400hp and the whole car weighs-in at a whopping 1200lb. Basically, take the RUF Track Spec and cut it in half without removing any horsepower. At Indianapolis we saw the cars hitting 200mph and above without breaking a sweat. Not only is the car actually fast but it also feels fast when you’re going slowly. The sheer nature of the car makes slow corners seem to fly by in your 400hp toboggan on wheels.
There are plenty of factors which add to the danger level of this car. For one, there’s no downforce. The lack of positive aerodynamics means the wheels lock pretty easily. Also the car is very prone to oversteer, in spite of the larger than life rear tires. The aforementioned power to weight ratio also means it’s easy to get this car up to terminal velocity, but contact of any kind is potentially race-ending. The good news is most or all sim-racers who have experienced what it’s like to push this car to the limit have had a catastrophic failure, and will drive with great respect for car, driver and track alike.
The difficulty of this car is obvious from the first moments you drive it. Exiting the pits can be exciting in the Lotus 49, even from second gear. The car, by nature, also has oversteer; not just when pressing the loud pedal though, even under braking. In fact, often times the fastest way through a corner is to slide through it, something the fastest of drivers have setup their car to handle, and are mentally prepared to do lap after lap. It’s not an easy way of driving, and can be very frustrating when you are actually consistently putting the car beyond its limits and fighting the wheel only to end up in the grass or worse. The difficulty, however, means that the rewards for success are very fulfilling. The sense of accomplishment you get from a clean AND fast lap is unlike any other car.
6. The Community
Every community in iRacing is unique, and it’s part of what makes iRacing itself special. The Lotus 49 community is smaller than some of the other road series, but the result is a more even series. The car is intimidating, especially for those who might read my articles or see videos on YouTube. The rare breed of person who chooses to battle wheel-to-wheel in this type of car is not an easy one to find. There are leagues for this car (Wings are for Wussies) and even classic series where sim-racers assume the roles of classic drivers from the 1960s and race as teams complete with livery and all. There are no bad communities within iRacing, but if I said that, in my opinion, the Lotus 49 was anything other than the most mature and respectful of all I’d be lying. I don’t know the other series communities as intimately, but I have a hard time imagining a closer group of sim-racers. People share setups on the forums and in the sessions themselves, and will help new-comers as they are trying to get to grips with the car.
7. It’s Unique
There are no other cars that handle like the Lotus 49. You can debate until the cows come home about the intricate differences between the various GT3 cars, but at the end of the day the braking points, top speeds, apex speeds, horsepower, weight, etc. are all marginally different at best. We’re talking very small numbers here. And that makes for great sim racing as we see week after week on iRacing News with that very series. With the Lotus 49 you are driving a car that cannot and does not compare to any other car in iRacing. The Lotus 79 has a similar name, it must be similar right? Wrong. The Lotus 79 has one major difference which makes it more like the Williams-Toyota FW31 than the Lotus 49, and that’s downforce. If you haven’t driven the Lotus 49 already, I can guarantee you have no idea what it’s like.
8. You will never drive it in real life. Ever.
Many of the cars in iRacing are stripped down versions of cars you might see driving (or drive one yourself) on the road to work each morning. Others are cars are the type you might see an affluent person enjoying on the weekend or at a track recreationally. Another group of cars are actual real life racing cars that you could potentially tune in to see on television later this month. The Lotus 49 is different. This is a legendary car that very few people alive today have ever had the pleasure of piloting. There are very few people who would be considered qualified enough to sit in the cockpit of this car, and even fewer who actually possess this coveted machine. The chances of a sim-racer getting the opportunity to drive a Lotus 49 in real life is… well, not good. To say that you will NEVER drive this car in real life is probably not an exaggeration, and all the more reason to take advantage of the unique opportunity iRacing has given to the community. The car is immaculately constructed and performs exactly to specification, and is not to be missed by any road racing fan.