Nigel Mansell officially opened the revised and restored Group Lotus test track at Hethel, England with a roar from the 1981 Essex-Lotus 81B in which he started his glorious F1 career more than 30 years ago.
Mansell led a convoy of seven Lotus cars, including the innovative 1980 Type 88 twin-chassis car - which the rule makers never allowed to race; the Lotus Type 125 Exos Experience car driven by fellow F1 legend Jean Alesi; and a brace of Lotus Renault GP cars piloted by current F1 stars Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna.
This was the first time that modern-era F1 cars had blasted around the historic Hethel tarmac since the early 1990s. The layout of the 2.2-mile circuit has changed very little, with one extra corner added. But the new asphalt and larger run-off areas are better suited to modern racing and performance car testing.
Its mixture of corners, straight and braking zones makes it ideal for testing and optimizing every performance aspect of the new era of Lotus products, and evaluating car control at the Lotus Driving Academy.
In addition to a spacious new workshop, the test track will soon be accompanied by a new pit building and hospitality suite.
Dany Bahar, Group Lotus CEO said: "A year ago we set out our plans to introduce a new model line up, ambitious motorsport plans and a revitalization of the iconic Lotus brand. A year in, we are meeting all the targets and milestones we set ourselves. One of the milestones was opening our test track. You might say this is just a refurbishment of a track but seeing this project accomplished demonstrates that step-by-step our vision is becoming a reality. "
Nigel Mansell, Group Lotus ambassador and 1992 Formula One World Champion said: "What a joy it was to be reunited with my old 81B after 30 years. Hethel is a very special place and it was wonderful to open the circuit today by driving alongside my sons Leo and Greg."
Clive Chapman, Managing Director of Classic Team Lotus said: "I remember my father testing the Lotus 49 on this circuit. He didn't wear a helmet and you could see him grinning from ear to ear because he knew he had another winner. The circuit's longest straight doubled as a runway, and we would land here in my father's plane after visiiting race tracks around the world. The revised circuit has managed to keep a lot of the character of the original, and seeing those seven cars lapping today is something I shall never forget. Lotus is enjoying exciting times once again, and it fills me with pride when I see brand new Lotus cars around the world still bearing my father's initials."