Thirty years ago, Lotus’ Colin Chapman watched an apparently fearless British driver rise through the F3 ranks. Chapman liked what he saw, and offered a contract to the driver, who was older than most just entering the big leagues; hence, Nigel Mansell’s F1 career was born. Mansell spent the 1980 to 1984 seasons with Lotus, before going on to race with Williams and Ferrari in F1, then later with Newman Haas in the U.S. CART IndyCar World Series. Mansell was fast in nearly everything he drove, and is universally praised as being one of the top 50 Grand Prix drivers of all time. For 2011, Mansell is again back with Lotus, though not in the capacity you’re probably imagining.
Mansell has been named as one of the test drivers for Lotus’ new Type 125 track car. Designed as a no-compromise track day weapon, the Type 125 is an open wheel race car packing a 640 horsepower Cosworth V8 beneath the rear cowl. Like F1 cars, the Type 125 will use a six speed semi-automatic gearbox with a steering wheel mounted paddle shift. A variety of liveries will be available from Lotus, or customers can provide their own requests for paint and graphics. A spec series for the Type 125, called the Exos Experience by Lotus, ensures that Type 125 owners will get training on car setup from Lotus engineers, as well as trackside concierge service at European venues. You might guess that the Type 125 is an expensive track toy, and you’d be correct: the price of admission is roughly $1 million, but that includes a season in the Exos Experience series.
Mansell joins fellow test drivers Jean Alesi and James Rossiter in shaking down the new car at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi this week. The drivers will be on hand to meet with potential customers as well, many of whom will be eager to get advice from the former F1 champion. I’m not sure that I’d add “car salesman” to Mansell’s resume just yet, but his presence trackside will certainly help sell a few more Type 125s. Besides, Abu Dhabi may be the only place on the globe where a million dollars for a hobby seems like a reasonable expenditure.