In another automotive battle in the style of David versus Goliath, Monsieur Jules shows why the first-generation Exige is still a force to be reckoned with. It’s light at just 1,600 pounds, and with 270 horsepower from the 2.3-liter Duratec motor behind the cabin, it’s not lacking in power. With each pony pushing just six pounds, that’s a ratio not to be sniffed at—though its rival, a monstrous 599 GTO, makes a mockery of that childish punch. Poke, more like it.
The Ferrari 599 GTO pushes just 5.3 pounds with every one of its 661 horsepower, and crucially, it’s paddle shifted and the 6-liter V12 makes 457 lb-ft of torque in the middle of the rev range. That’s enough to leave the Lotus trailing helplessly in its wake when the two emerge onto Dijon’s front straight, but the track is long, fast, and technical; the little Lotus can make good use of its attributes in those circumstances.
It’s when the road begins to curve and the loading on the outside tires weighs up, administering all of the Ferrari’s torque becomes more of a challenge. Even though balanced somewhat by a transaxle, the hard-edged 599 GTO was known as a demanding car which didn’t suffer fools. Essentially, a sharpened front end and reduced roll stiffness in the rear made for a car that was quite pointy and was more of an unforgiving racing car than the comparatively tame 599 GTB. Fans of Top Gear will remember Jeremy Clarkson struggling to keep the car pointed in the right direction in the rain.
Fortunately for Jules, the man in the Exige, the heavens opened over Dijon that day and left a thin layer of moisture on top of the asphalt. Not so much water that the two avoid the traditional racing line, but just slick enough to make administering the power a challenge—which is corroborated by the way the Lotus can just match the Ferrari mid-corner and even close the gap momentarily at the corner exit. Jules is using a measured, disciplined driving style to excel in these greasy conditions, and both drivers are wisely avoiding the curbs, which offer absolutely no grip when rained on.
Jules and his Lotus have the predictable edge in braking and cornering entry, but the athletic Ferrari is impressive in its ability to maintain similar speeds in the middle of quick corners and through the faster direction changes—this is not a fat man’s machine.
Tired of being hounded by a car which costs as much as his brakes, the Ferrari’s driver pulls aside and lets Jules through like a gentleman—albeit a competitive gentleman. Spurred on by his conquest and now with a clear track ahead of him, Jules goes ahead and sets the fastest time of the day in adverse conditions. Almost fearless, completely committed, and very disciplined, Jules demonstrates that it is truly about the driver—especially when the rain renders any power surplus superfluous.