It was a week before 12/5, and I could already barely contain my excitement. Myself, along with a group of others in the Lotus community were invited by Lotus of West Covina/ Sage Lotus to attend a private track day at a brand new private racetrack facility out near Palm Springs. For those of you not yet familiar, It’s called The Thermal Club, a brand new facility only open to wealthy members where entry into the club starts with a $1MM elevated property with views of the track, BMW performance clinic drivers, and those invited to attend.
Before the event, I had to have a handful of maintenance items done on the car. My radiator had a slow leak, so I dropped the car off at my independent Lotus mechanic in LA to drop a new radiator in. At the same time, the car got a brand new pair of R888 rear tires, and some new front brake pads.
Great, the car was all set now. I went with two of my close friends, and we brought the wives out as well (even though they were both equally bored). We knew the weekend we attended, Lotus Cup USA would be holding their season finale race, so I was equally excited to drive the track as I was to see the Lotus Cup cars run. Okay, who am I kidding? I was itching to get out there myself!
We woke up at 4:30am and found the only section of light to do some morning prep on the cars. In this case, we applied some track tape to protect against rock chips and other track debris.
It was only a 30min. drive from the hotel to the track. When we got there, I quickly understood why the Thermal Club is billed as the Disneyland for adults. Lined up was the entire range of BMW M cars, Lotus cup cars, the new Elise Cup R, V6 Exige S, Alex Job racing Evora ALMS car, among others. There were way too many to name. Overall, I was immediately impressed at how nice the facilities were compared to other local tracks. You can tell they spent a lot of money. $120MM was the last estimate I heard, much of which was spent on running fuel lines out to the track, building up the local infrastructure for accessing the track, and grating the land for development.
The track itself is divided into tracks, North Palm Circuit and South Palm circuit. I spent a few days watching clips on YouTube of other cars running to help learn the race line, but couldn’t fully prepare because I didn’t find out until we got there that we would be running, Twin Palms Circuit – both the North and South fully combined to create one large 4.5mi. track encompassing a 2,500ft. back straight.
I knew I’d be toast on the straights. Fortunately, our run group all day consisted of no more than 7 cars. A couple corvette’s and my buddy’s McLaren 650S. My car was the slowest in terms of straight line speed, but more than made up for it in the technical sections of the track, which there were many of!
In terms of track layout/configuration, it’s the best one I’ve driven to-date. I haven’t raced at all of California’s tracks, but it was the best I’ve driven relative to those I have. The track is very well balanced with multiple straights and plenty of low and speed technical sections. My two favorite parts of the track are the Esses on the backside of the North circuit, and the double apex section on the South circuit. I found that my car performed very well all day and I didn’t have to fiddle too much with my tire pressures as I have at past tracks. I settled on 22/23 psi cold, 27/28 psi hot. The front tires had much less life on them compared to the brand new rears so there were a few instances where I felt some understeer but was able to account for it and found that it never bothered me to the point where I was getting slowed down. Rather than continuing to talk about the details of the track I encourage you to watch some of the video footage below.
We did have one incident where a friend broke his shift lever in half out on the track. Fortunately, he was mid shift and the car stayed in neutral, but unfortunately that meant his day got cut short earlier than planned. He got a push off the track and waited until the tow truck could get his car back to for maintenance.
Aside from that incident, we had a fantastic day and all of us already have the itch to go back soon. I will say that after having done a handful of different track events, the ones that are the most fun are those where the run groups are small and you go with a group of people you know. I won’t knock on any of the track day providers out there as I’ve done their events in the past, but I’ve found that the sessions are often crowded and since they’re fairly inexpensive to do you get a lot of people going that can pose a danger to themselves and others on the track. As you may have seen from the videos above, by keeping the run groups small you get plenty of clear air on the track without needing to jeopardize your lap to point someone by.
In the two videos above with the rear-facing viewpoint, I caught some footage of the Cosworth-powered ALMS Evora running laps out with our run group. His overtake on me caught me off guard because here I was, out there in a section of the track all by myself and he came from out of nowhere and passed me on a straight into a corner. I could hear the exhaust popping and backfiring as he downshifted. I hate to sound corny but it really was a surreal experience to be sharing a track with a Lemans race car.
I also rode shotgun in my buddy’s Mclaren 650S. I shared a video of that on Instagram for those interested in seeing that, but it got cut short because I ran out of storage space on my phone due to running my lap timing app during my runs. Riding in a car with that much power is definitely a memorable experience. In race mode the acceleration and speed where phenomenal. I wish I had a better way of putting the feeling I had into words. It felt very Lotus-esque in the overall balance and handling of the car, with a lot more power. Maybe it’s a British thing, but the McLaren really is a very grown up Lotus. What impressed me the most was that for as much power as the car has, it’s able to maintain it’s balance so well and not only serve as a strong performer on high speed straights.
It was a memorable day and I’m fortunate I got to have the experience. I’m looking forward to participating again in the future. It’s easy to get bitten by the bug. Here I was, at a private track running laps with supercars and dedicated Lemans race cars, and at that moment all I could do was smile.