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Lotus Cars Australia will give its brand new Exige Cup 260 its world competition debut when Targa Tasmania gets underway in George Town on April 28.

The 2009 Exige Cup 260 is the new motorsport variant of the Exige S, with more power and less weight though extensive use of carbon fibre. It comes race-prepared with a roll cage, fire extinguisher and battery cut-out systems, race suspension and brakes. Importantly, it can also be road registered.

With a price tag of $139,900 ready to run, it is also cheaper than a race prepared Lancer Evo, Porsche GT3 or Nissan GT-R.

This will be Lotus’ first ever official factory-backed entry and the first major entry since Paul Stokell’s third place in an Elise in 1999.

Sydney motoring journalist, Dean Evans, will drive the Cup 260 and is a vastly experienced circuit racer and tarmac rally driver, racing in Australia and Japan, and in factory cars prepared by Subaru, Mazda and more recently, Lotus. He is also the editor of Tarmac magazine.

“Lotus is showcasing the car to prove you don’t need to spend $150,000+ to be a strong contender,” says Evans. “The car is super light and dripping in carbon fibre – the entire roof panel, the dash, facia, side sills, wing, and splitters in made of the stuff. And it also gets around 18 percent more power than the standard Exige S. All we’ve done is fitting the Lotus Sport roll cage and fill it with fuel, and it will run in ‘showroom’ spec.

“The Cup 260 is Lotus doing what Lotus does best.”

Evans has competed in Targa once previously: in 2006 he gave the factory-prepared Mazda6 MPS its global debut, taking the car to a class win. His race career has also seen him drive a Porsche 911 GT3, in which he finished on the podium in the 2007 Sandown 4 Hour race.

Together with co-driver, Simone Bachmann, they finished sixth outright in last year’s Mt Buller Sprint in a mild-tune Evo 8, and they enter Targa Tasmania 2009 with a new car, and the weight of a factory entry on their shoulders.

For Evans, the attraction of Targa Tasmania is being able to showcase the performance of the stunning sports car, and being involved with the ultimate road rally.

“I think we’ll stand out because we’re not an Evo! I love racing a Lotus not just because of its performance, but because they’re a sports car designed for performance driving. They’re popular amongst enthusiasts, but far from what you’d call common.

The Exige is also quite advanced. It has race-tuned ABS, launch control and 18 settings of driver-adjustable traction control. Adds Evans: “Wet roads aren’t a problem either – we just dial in some more electronic aid.”

“Though the Cup 260 is untested and unproven at Targa, on paper we think it’s capable of a top 10 finish - but this year’s competition looks tough,” he adds. “We’re not focussed on winning or an outright result, we simply want to show the potential of this performance car to the audience of this internationally known road rally.”

As a motorsport veteran, and a previous Targa competitor, Evans says that fitness is one of the key factors in performing well in the six-day event.

“Getting up each morning to race at Targa is the easy part! The hardest part is winding down and going to sleep. But you have to be both physically and mentally fit; by day four, those two aspects start to figure.”

With support form Lotus Cars Australia and Tarmac Magazine, Evans and the new Exige Cup 260 are certain to make an impact all the way around Tasmania. As the only Exige in the field, the unique and diminutive sports car will not only attract the crowds, if passion and enthusiasm is anything to go by, it should also make a big impact on the results as well.
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