B-Team Racing

Nomination details : B-Team Racing (Steve Warwick, Brian Knudson, Chris Considine, David Perigo).  "This bunch of loons have put a small block Chevy V8 into an Elite - and are winning races with it. Madness, enthusiasm and persistence like that deserves to be rewarded."


Nominee's story

In January 2003, if I'm not mistaken, Lotus announced that they were bringing the Elise to the States in mid–to-late 2004, as a 2005 model year.  Scores of people in the Los Angeles area put down a deposit to reserve an early spot on the production list, many of whom also joined an Elise focused online forum.  Through that forum, local meetups were arranged & lasting friendships were made - even before the first cars were delivered.

Over the years, a core group emerged from those regular meetings. In late 2008/early 2009, one of those core members, Steve, having done a good bit of wheel-to-wheel racing in an Elise (and a couple rounds of the La Carrera Panamera in Mexico to boot), decided to put together a team for the amateur racing series "24 Hours of Lemons."  He found a poverty-spec BMW e30 for about the price of a new Elise tire (singular), and recruited a few fellow Elise owners from the meetup group - yours truly included - to race prep then drive the thing in Lemons.

If you're not familiar, the 24 Hours of Lemons is a budget-minded endurance race series that's equal parts tongue-in-cheek posturing and honest racing. Races are held on sanctioned road courses (think Laguna Seca or Road America) and last around 14 hours – usually split between two days. While the teams at the front of the pack are putting down impressive lap times, some of the teams at the back are running cars that might not be able to maintain the speed limit up a slight incline – the whole thing is quite a site and *loads* of fun.

Following suit, our e30 got a paint job resembling the A-Team van... and then we gave it a Mr. T mohawk... and we wore Mr T-style gold chains when walking around the paddock. It was great fun, but despite the ridiculousness of it all, our car and our team were fast. Really fast. We were consistently finishing in the top 10 out of 100-ish teams.

A little over a year into our Lemons racing career, we started thinking about the next car. Several of us had slightly left-field tastes, and all of us were enthusiasts; so a Lotus would be the perfect fit, but they aren't exactly readily available – especially for budget racing.

Fate, however, came literally knocking at the door when Steve listed a refrigerator for sale. The person who came to purchase the fridge noticed Steve's Elise parked in his garage and said, "I've got an old Lotus running a Corvette motor that's been sitting in my garage for 10 years..." After a bit of back and forth, we ended up purchasing that person’s 1974 Elite 502 (serial number 187) into which he had wedged a 1977 Corvette engine and a 4 speed Muncie transmission with the intent of drag racing. Not only did it already have the engine swap (poorly executed, unfortunately), but the nose and hood had been modified to fit the new engine. While we found the body mods to be… unappetizing, the person who made them was proud enough to keep a sign in the car that read, “Look, but don’t touch.”

The Elite was mostly whole, but far from operational. It took us a better part of a year to get it fully caged and race-ready (side note: fitting a roll cage into an Elite with its center backbone chassis is no small task, especially with the *very* stringent rules put forth by this racing body). 

With great anticipation from not only us, but our competitors as well, we took the Elite to its first race in December of 2011. It was, in a word, awful; but somehow wonderful at the same time. We had all manner of teething problems, but there was potential... it just needed work. We finished that race just this side of dead last - quite a change from our former e30 glory. Battered, but not broken, we took the Elite back to the shop and really got to work.

Our Elite, which we have an affectionately dubbed "Chotus" (part Chevy, part Lotus), tips the scales at just under 2800 lbs - a good bit heavier than when it rolled off the assembly line - primarily on account of the rather large roll cage that would pass a WRC inspection, and, of course, the heavier engine up front. As such, as it got faster, we found ourselves breaking, or otherwise over-stressing front suspension components. 

One of our issues was the uprights - they were simply not up to the rigors of racing with the heavy lump up front. After scavenging both left and right uprights from our parts car (that was donated to us) to replace those that were broken at successive races, we went with aftermarket Spyder uprights that were said to be stronger... which also failed. We would eventually end up with Ford Crown Victoria uprights, which, having been designed for a 4200lb police car, were perfectly capable of carrying the load of our heavyweight Lotus. The Crown Vic uprights aren't a perfect fit, but we managed to make them work with a little massaging here and there.

Once the uprights were sorted, the over-stress issues moved to the lower links and sway bar. In the Elite, the sway bar locates the lower links - making it, and its mounting, a critical part of the front suspension. Regardless of the bushing material used, we were getting a lot of vagueness and the occasional violent shudder under braking – surely due to the added heft of the olf American V8 with iron block and heads. To fix this, we designed and built a custom chromoly lower a-arm to replace the single lower link, then attached the arm to the chassis with heim/rose joints to allow for geometry adjustment. We found a suitably sized sway bar from a junkyard (from a full-size pickup truck) and fabbed up new mounts to make the whole system work like a charm.

With suspension working well, we found that the front shock towers were mushrooming, and even starting to crack from all the added forces; so they were reinforced and tied to the roll cage. To get access to the towers and cage, and because it would make current and future servicing so much easier, we made the nose removable. 

With the front end sorted, we were able to point the car where we wanted, but the stock, open differential meant that we couldn't put down all that wonderful V8 torque without melting the inside tire. Furthermore, because we were running a 4 speed transmission, the stock differential limited our top speed to somewhere around 90mph. A complete, early 90s Jaguar XJS independent rear suspension unit (IRS) solved both problems by giving us a stout LSD and a top speed of just over 120mph from its taller gears. As an added bonus, the Jag unit has disc brakes, so gone were the horrible stock drums that are a nightmare to service. The jag IRS is *much* heavier than the stock setup, but it ends up balancing out the heavy engine, resulting in an almost perfect 50/50 weight distribution.

Once we could both turn and put the power down, we found stopping to be a bit of an issue, so the front brakes got replaced with a suitable offering from Wilwood, the rears got vented rotors, and we experimented with pads until we found the right combination of bite and longevity. The master cylinder was also replaced with one from Wilwood, we added a cockpit-operated brake balancing system, and routed brake ducting to all four corners to keep things cool. Most recently, we’ve switched to outboard rear brakes by moving from XJS to XKS axles/brakes/hubs (which, by the way, are a direct fit in the XJS IRS)

One of our team members took an interest in telemetry gathering, and installed a Race Capture system that records and sends live data back to the pits so we can monitor vitals during the race. This system also gives useful information like lap delta and predictive lap times, and, in fact, gives us a fully configurable dashboard on a screen in the car. 

With the car handling great and sending data back to the pits, we focused on the engine. The original engine got tired and exceedingly difficult to keep cool.  Trying to fight the heat, we started running two radiators - one that’s short and wide (nearly the full width of the car) running way up front, deep inside the nose; and a second just behind, sealing off the front of the engine bay. We’ve made a custom bumper that flows quite a lot better than the stock model, routed air to both radiators, and measure water temps both before and after the radiators to check efficiency.

With cooling handled, we focused on power by replacing the stock cast-iron Chevy 350 heads with aluminum heads that are not only considerably lighter, but have a much more modern Vortec-style combustion chamber. We then swapped in a mild cam to compliment the higher flowing heads and modified a set of tubular headers to fit in the tight engine bay. While our goal is reliability over power, the latest incarnation is running well over 300 hp, and is scary fast. With so much power in a relatively light car, we were able to lower the redline to a paltry 5500rpm to help preserve the engine and save a little fuel for long stints, while still putting down lap times at the head of the pack.

Our most recent race was run at our local track - Buttonwillow Raceway.  The 50 year old Elite was turning times on par with the much more modern Elise - on the same track with the same drivers. In fact, at that race, the Elite put down the fastest lap of the weekend - faster than 83 other teams - each trying for 14 hours to beat it.  Not only was it the fastest car of the weekend, but it was a full 3 seconds faster than the next fastest, while the remaining 9 of the top 10 were separated by only 2 seconds.

Unfortunately, because we're pushing the car to - and likely beyond - its design limits, racing the Elite has not been without its trials and tribulations. While we are often at or near the front of the pack for the first several hours, we very often find some way to break the car before the checkered flag is thrown. 

At our last race, after setting the fastest lap and holding the lead of the race for the first few hours, we had the very unusual failure of a broken throttle pedal take us out of contention. The race before that was a problem with the gear box. At the race before that, we blew the fuel pump fuse while we were in the lead. Before that, the differential failed after being rebuilt improperly. The list goes on and on… broken trailing arm, shift linkages fouling each other, wheel bearing failure, ruptured oil pressure gauge line (which caused a giant, race-stopping fireball), seized differential, hole in the carburetor float bowl, snapped throttle cable, bent pushrod, etc, etc etc…

Our failures have been so unusual, and happen when we're doing so well, that they have become a thing of legend amongst our fellow competitors. Everyone knows the car & roots us along - we’re the fastest underdog you’ve ever seen. On the rare occasion when we’ve made the podium or otherwise received some sort of mention, you’ll often hear the entire field chanting “Chotus!! Chotus!! Chotus!!” as we receive our award - which helps make it all worthwhile.

2024 will mark the 13th year of racing our beloved Chotus and the 50th year since it was built. It’s done about 40 races & about 50 practice days.  It’s done over 20,000 wheel-to-wheel race miles in addition to miles logged during practice (which has to be some sort of record?). In that time, we’ve gone through 3 Chevy small block engines, 2 Muncie transmissions, 2 Tremec transmissions, 2 jaguar differentials, 2 noses, and 4 windshields. (The second nose was a welcome repair – it got rid of the ugly carburetor hump & got us back to the sleek Winterbottom’s design - with exception of the air cleaner sticking out above the hood, of course)

In that time, we’ve had two class wins and a number of honorary mentions. While we haven’t had an overall victory, just last year we came as close as 2nd overall - just a few seconds behind the overall winner after 14 hours of racing. We may finally have a handle on this racing thing. Time will tell.

Our race team, called “The B-Team” (a riff on our original e30’s A-Team livery) is made up of four primary members: Steve, Dave, Chris, and myself (Brian). This is a passion project of ours & we run the whole show - service, engineering, paint & body, fabrication, transportation, and, of course, driving. Back in 2003, it was the Elise that brought Steve and I together, but the Elite has kept us and the rest of the team together, and has made us appreciate the Chapman era Lotus cars that much more. Since taking on the Chotus project, we have individually restored two road-going 1974 Elites (both to original spec) and a G-body Esprit.

Every few years, we repaint the car - parodying of some of the famous Lotus F1 liveries throughout the years:

Version 1, no livery - fresh out of the barn:

Version 2, “Just Plain Stupid” - John Player Special parody. 

This was its first paint job - black Rustomleum and gold spray paint. These pictures are from Sears Point, aka Sonoma Raceway:

Version 3, “Gold Lemon” - Gold Leaf parody. F1’s first sponsorship made for a relatively easy livery. This time, we found a company that would print large vinyl decals - making the lettering much easier to read. These shots came from Sonoma Raecway (top) and The Ridge Motorsports Park (bottom):

Version 3, “Gold Lemon” - Gold Leaf parody. F1’s first sponsorship made for a relatively easy livery. This time, we found a company that would print large vinyl decals - making the lettering much easier to read. These shots came from Sonoma Raecway (top) and The Ridge Motorsports Park (bottom):

Version 4 - “Llama” - Camel parody. Using Ayrton Senna’s Lotus 99T as a guide, we stickered this one up to the hilt. Rear fender flares and knock-off Halibrand wheels really set off this design. The top two pictures come from Thunderhill Raceway, and the third from Laguna Seca:  

Version 5 “Just Plain Stupid Llama” - Half JPS and half Camel. Our Llama livery was so popular, it was hard to give it up; so we split the car into half Senna and half Andretti, modeling the right-rear after Mario Andretti’s type 78:

Finally, to wrap things up, the street cars:

Dave’s Elite:

Brian’s Elite

…and Steve’s Esprit, which has taken a back seat to the Chotus, but it’s getting there:

Chris Considine  Steve Warwick  Brian Knudson

The award was for "Index of Effluency" - The top prize in Lemons - a subjective award, decided on by race organizers

Steve Warwick  Chris Considine  Brian Knudson  David Perigo

This was for the "Class B" win, when we also got 2nd place overall

Dave Perigo  Steve Warwick  Chris Considine  Brian Knudson

This was for the "Class C" win - when we were still running the stock 1977 Corvette engine