Drifting the Lexus ES 300h at Kari Motor Speedway racetrack!
This April, we took the Lexus ES 300h and headed to Kari Motor Speedway to experience the refurnished surface and layout of the track first hand. And to add more fun to a rather bland track experience, our Ed whipped the front-wheel drive Lexus sideways into drifting! Read on to know what our Ed has to say on his experience at Kari Motor Speedway.
Gravel crunches under the tyres of the Lexus and birds chirp their joy at the rising sun as we trundle through the pit lane of the Kari Motor Speedway. In normal course the ES 300h’s pure electric mode would be the party piece and the deafening silence of the powertrain does afford us an opportunity to creep up to the parabola without disturbing the flock of peacocks that have descended on what used to be the first corner. Back when I reported on the racing championship, the inside of the parabola was where I would park myself to snap the guaranteed first corner mayhem. Tin-tops, four abreast, a battle of wits on the brakes, and at least one car leaving behind a bumper along with a sizeable chunk of said driver’s ego. Single seaters, the lack of bodywork making the hotshots a little more circumspect into turn 1, yet my amateur fingers once snapped a car flying through the air, upside down at that, and driven by no less than the man behind this track B Viji.
That’s the thing about race tracks. Every inch of tarmac has a story to tell. And there’s history under all those layers of bitumen. These are hallowed grounds. Before it became a race track this was the runway where S Karivardhan flew his microlights. An engineering genius and universally hailed as the father of Indian motorsport, he was responsible for making single seaters reliable and affordable, kicking off the careers of scores of Indian racers including Narain Karthikeyan.
Fast forward to the 25th year of his death anniversary, when the world turned upside down. Work from home. Our partners cutting our hair. Going nuts doing the dishes. But while we were praying for a dishwasher, the guys at the Kari Motor Speedway were hard at work. They used the forced downtime to not just resurface the track but implement massive changes. A new sequence of corners at the start. A completely new back section. Chopping off the Mickey Mouse section. A new drag strip. And B Viji and his team did all this without so much as a murmur. We didn’t hear a thing.
Much like the peacocks who don’t hear a thing as the Lexus ES 300h creeps down the straight. Pin drop silence. You could argue that this is a rather unlikely car to hit a race track with. This is — very evidently! — a big luxury car. The seat coolers are sending a nice chill up my backside. Cranking up the Mark Levison sound system on the way to the track gave us a stronger kick than caffeine. And the hybrid powertrain is genuinely good for the environment; on the city commute it will in fact run as a full EV for 60 per cent of the time, which means zero emissions for that period. This is the total antithesis of a track car. But we aren’t here to set a new lap record. We are only here to experience, first hand, the new track layout; find out if it is any better to drive, and do what we do best — chuck the Lexus sideways and be an absolute hooligan!
And there’s another reason we’re driving this car. It is now made in India. Lexus’ whole brand image was founded on previously unseen quality levels, something that forced the dominant Germans back to the drawing board. Lexus prides itself on the Takumi, highly skilled and trained master craftsmen who work at their factories and ensure quality levels are the best in the world. And it’s a matter of great pride for the folk at TKM that the Lexus ES 300h is now made at the sprawling facility in Bidadi outside of Bengaluru, to the same exacting standards of the plants in Japan. In fact I can’t see or feel any differences between the made-in-India and made-in-Japan ES 300h which is also a big credit to the manufacturing powerhouse that India is.
Sport mode on the drive mode selector. The second protrusion on the right of the speedo binnacle is the ESP button — long press and it’s fully off. Transmission in Sport. And floor it at the exit of the last corner and on to the main straight. In the days gone by you could check your mirrors, adjust your helmet, tug at the seat belt straps, even make yourself a quick sandwich as you reeled in the straight but now it has been chopped down to 500 metres. As soon as the pits end, so too does the pit wall and the track now makes a 90 left — I suspect that will be the new favourite place for photographers as racers try and outbrake each other. Down shift to first, and cut left followed immediately by a 90 right where you can take a big bite of the kerbs and stay hard on the gas. Shift to second, maybe a quick poke into third and then back down to second for the parabola section, now T3-T4 on the new layout which, as before, you take as two separate corners. Plenty of room here to chuck the Lexus sideways and hold a big slide, foot on the floor, and then brake for T5 that completes the parabola, hang the tail out as you take T6 flat which brings you onto the back straight.
The circuit map shows four corners, T7 to T9, but all of this is easy flat. Even the high kerbs that facilitated those epic two wheels up in the air shots are gone. Rev out the 2.5-litre petrol engine which puts out 178bhp and is supplemented by the 120bhp electric motor that delivers a total system output of 214.5bhp. Hybrids are clean but they also deliver performance; from rest 100kmph comes up in under 9 seconds and the 500 metre back straight is dispensed with before I get down to making that sandwich.
Hard on the brakes for T10, a ninety left that the Lexus apexes with an armful of opposite lock and then flick it the other way to line up for T11 that opens into T12 and the short straight running parallel to the main road. This is all-new and the old Mickey Mouse section, the part that ruined the rhythm of the old layout is all gone.
Now comes the best part of the track, the one that adds a new dimension to the Kari Motor Speedway. Getting it right is the key to a fast lap. It starts with T13, unlucky for some, but insanely good when you get it right. Vicious and fast. Particularly tricky on cold tyres but our special MRF super-hard track day tyres are nice and warm and the most dramatic sideways shots you see on these pages and also in our YouTube video were all shot here. A short burst and you’re into the long double-right T14 that the Lexus takes in a beautiful four-wheel drift, and then a short squirt and into the T15-T16 hairpin, running it wide onto the kerbs on the exit to get a good run down the main straight to complete a lap of the new Kari layout. 2.2 kilometres of what is now smooth, flowing tarmac that you can attack with a lovely rhythm. There’s more run off, it’s safer and there’s more space to play the hooligan to satisfy your inner 8-year-old.
Kari would have enjoyed it, that’s for sure.