At some point we've all become infatuated with something or someone and realize that we just have to make a game-changing move and realize our obsession. Peter Kangs' obsession was named Elise-a Lotus Elise to be exact. And the trappings of living in the City that Never Sleeps-or drives for that matter-was the impetus for his relocation to California.
Kang explains: "Having lived in Manhattan for most my adult life, you don't really drive as part of your daily routine. You take the subway, you walk, or you cab it. It's common to even know people who live there that don't even know how to drive. So there I was with the problem of how to reconcile my dream of learning how to properly drive a racecar while being stuck in what's otherwise one of the best cities in the world. Then a chance came up to transfer to an office in Los Angeles and I immediately took the opportunity to move out West."
With his dream squarely on deck, Kang began his hunt for the right machine. "The goal was simple. Find the best tool for the job, and learn how to properly drive a mid-engine lightweight sports car," he says.
A close friend and fellow motor head stopped by to help him decide on a car. Top Gear was on, the episode where presenter Jeremy Clarkson featured his test of the Exige. They watched Clarkson gush about how the Lotus "is a triumph of British engineering" and praise the car's light weight. He commented that anything "sold by the gram" is "always more exciting" than stuff "sold by the pound." Kang was sold; it had to be the Lotus Elise/Exige platform.
When he got to California he found his brand-new Elise at Southbay Lotus. There were three main shops that have had a hand in building this monster Elise. The project's jump-off point began at Tripoint Engineering, which fabricated the custom air-to-water intercooler and installed the initial supercharger system. He also looked to Dynamic Racing Solutions (DRS), which was responsible for sorting out the high power mods including the current engine block that was hand built by Kris Valdez and "is performing exceptionally well with perfect compression across the board." Kang explains
The Elise's buildup faced ongoing challenges riddled with mod gremlins and setbacks. "The most discussed aspect of the car is the powertrain," Kang says. When you drastically increase the power on any engine, everything needs to be reinforced, rethought and re-imagined. Kang reminds us: "This is basically a highly massaged Toyota Celica drivetrain that wasn't meant for the high abuse some in the community deliver to the platform."
Peter turned to Frank Profera, a central figure in the movement toward aftermarket supercharging for this platform. His Elise was the third vehicle to use the first-generation GReddy supercharging system for the Celica that was adapted to the Lotus Elise/Exige. "The 2ZZ engine now has lots of aftermarket support for engine strengthening and accessories; Frank has a dual charged setup rated at 550 hp," Kang says.
The Elise was haunted by catastrophic engine failures as the power skyrocketed. It happened three times-once from oil starvation, then the stock block gave out, and then another time under unknown circumstances. In the end, Kang got her sorted out with the guidance of Kris Valdez at Dynamic Racing Solutions to stabilize the machine, and he's been maintaining it ever since.
With the Elise finally performing solidly, Kang was eager to cut his racing teeth. He embraced the vibrant racing community on the West Coast. "One of the primary reasons I moved was for the car culture and access to canyon roads and tracks that can't be found anywhere else," he says.
He thought he was prepared to take this little lady to the prom... but it turns out he wasn't quite. In his own words: "Getting used to the car was a shock-you could hear everything, every tiny pebble that hit the undertray. It got squirmy if you hit the brakes while the wheel was turned, it wanted to rotate in ways you would never understand, it was loud, and it was almost impossible to get inside with any sense of grace."
Kang describes his first track event, (just prior, he had the supercharger installed): "It was a very rude awakening on how difficult driving a car can really be on a race track. With little understanding of chassis dynamics, I was helpless as the car punished my mistakes on the track, concluding in an epic storm of smoke and dust as I went into an oversteer spin at 100 mph through the entrance to the Bus Stop at Buttonwillow. It was textbook, a lift at the apex as an attempt to slow the entry made the car instantly spin, and I was headed backward into the dirt. The result being the interior of the car looking like a bulldozer just filled the inside with weeds and rocks. Having survived that day with nothing but a bruised ego and a dirty car, it really made me want to focus on learning how to drive using this exceptional track tool."
Undaunted and determined, Peter was going to master this lightweight monster-"...even though the car scared the bejesus out of me when I took it into the twisties, the community was so strong and supportive that you just felt that you had to just dive into it head first in order to get anything out of it."
Kang found the local racing community hospitable and loaded with events for the Lotus, explaining that "Getting into motorsports with a car like an Elise is very easy to do because of the community around it. For me it was easy to find the right people online in the Lotus forums."
Lucky for him, local enthusiast Jack Fried has paved the way by organizing private track events for Lotus drivers. The local community has evolved into a legitimate force with a dedicated time attack and race called the Lotus Challenge Series.
"Where else can you go to Cars and Coffee on any Saturday morning in Irvine, see classics or Veyrons, and then head to the canyons, and then the next day hit the track at Willow?" Kang asks. "It's a rare combination of incredible weather, car culture, and people that makes living here simply amazing."
When Kang started to get the itch for pure driving pleasure, he went out and scratched it. And now maybe you can catch him whipping through L.A. in his near perfectly tuned Lotus. Actually, you might see him, but you won't catch him.
Transverse mid engine, rear-wheel drive
1.8-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve. Mahle 9.1:1 forged pistons, Darton cylinder sleeves, Crower rods, Magnuson MP62 Supercharger (15 psi), Spearco air-to-water intercooler with 3 PWR heat exchangers at front, Circuitworx oil pump, Accusump oil reserve, Eibach valve springs, Supertech valves, Forcedfed race headers, 2Bular custom exhaust, additional swirlpot fuel tank
Nitron adjustable coilovers with Eibach Springs, Sector 111 components
Girodisc two-piece floating rotors (f&r), Hawk HT10 track pads, upgraded lines and fluid
Wheels And Tires
ROTA alloys, 7x15 (f), 8x16 (r)BFGoodrich g-force R1,
205/50 (f), 245/45 (r)
Custom flat aero bottom from IMRP custom flat undertray/diffuser/side sills, Reverie carbon fiber side scoops, APR front splitter and rear 300GTC wing with custom rear wing supports bolt directly to subframe, Craft Square carbon race mirrors, TWRD carbon hardtop/carbon rollbar cover, custom paint with yellow stripes by Shelly Ward Enterprise
Peak Power: 340 hp
Peak Torque: 230 lb-ft
Sparco Pro2000 seats, Schroth six-point harnesses, carbon door sills, door panels