It’s not just quantity; the quality of grip is key to both satisfaction and safety, stresses Kershaw. The holy grail is a property he calls “sliding grip”, which means if a tyre breaks away, it’s always trying to recover.
Over the years, Kershaw has probably disappointed a decent proportion of the people he’s driven by not exploding into tyre-smoking action the second his car noses onto the track. He could certainly do so if he wanted, given all his (winning) Lotus GT race experience and his extreme familiarity with the Emira. But today he chooses to build up to speed, first stroking the car around and making manual shifts at about 4500rpm – 2500rpm short of the V6 redline – by moving the neat, loop-shaped lever sideways. Production cars will have paddles.
The speed builds. We start cornering harder. Then harder still. I’m still fairly well held by the touring seats, but the car must surely be getting close to breakaway. But it just tracks straight. Even the steering effort doesn’t seem to have built up greatly. The grip from these Goodyears is awesome. Kershaw calmly follows the racing line, but now he’s starting to really use the supercharged V6, which proves strong and torquey to 7000rpm. “I love the way it pulls right to the line,” he says, demonstrating its throaty howl at the top of the range, “without ever getting really intrusive. We’ve worked a lot on that…”
There isn’t really a proper straight on this southern loop, but we still hit an easy 115mph out of the Senna Curves and on towards Chapman before peeling hard right and back through left and right kinks, one named for Graham Hill, to the Andretti hairpin. The car feels superb, planted but agile. One normally negates the other, but not here. And such is its grip that there are only three places where it can easily be pressed to display real attitude: oversteer on the hard righthanders at the loop’s extremities (Kershaw does this for fun, holding the car at whatever angle of slide you’d like) and understeer – if he deigns to allow it – into the Graham Hill left-hander, where there’s a challenging transition from a faster kink going the other way.
I’m detecting hints of body roll – just enough of it – and we discuss how they tuned it. “I prefer a bit of roll,” says Kershaw, “and nearly all drivers benefit from it. The best cars take an initial stance, so the driver knows instinctively where and when cornering has started and how it builds up. If a car corners dead flat, you don’t feel the small differences you need. Ayrton Senna always said the hardest Formula 1 cars he drove were the active suspension types because you had to guess where the limit was. They felt nervous – and nervousness is the very last thing we want in a new Lotus.”