April 9, 2015As the son of a high school auto mechanics class teacher, it’s almost inevitable that Ipex Management’s Jeff Phillips is a gearhead and into racing cars. He always has been and it is something that his trio of daughters all seem to be falling in line with, as well.
Though he owns a 1969 Lotus Formula Ford – an open-wheeled, purpose-built race car – the vehicle of choice for the few times a year he makes it to the track is his 2007 Lotus Elise. The Elise may look like a streetcar but it is more of a hybrid. Phillips calls it the anti-minivan.
When the car launched in 1996, the automotive press heralded it as the return to Lotus’ roots of a basic, lightweight car engineered to be driven hard and fast. That is why Phillips purchased the Lotus.
For those unfamiliar with the Lotus Elise, it is a mid-engine two-seater with a targa (removable) roof section. The car is bare bones and requires some contortionist-like maneuvers to squeeze into the cabin though Phillips says after a few times it’s easy to get the hang of it.
“It was time to buy a car I could drive to the track, put out for a nice fun track day and drive home. Beat the crap out of it as it is designed for,” Phillips, P.Eng., LEED AP, Western Regional Engineer, IPEX Management Inc. “The deal I had with my wife is one of the houses we had, when we sold it, I had half of the profit to buy a car. We sold the house…I bought a car. That’s literally how it came to be.”
Phillips and his wife have bought, repaired and sold many houses in British Columbia and he says 2007 was the time to buy the car. He jokingly replied in the “Classic Cars and Trenchless Technology” feature in the July 2014 issue of Trenchless Technology that it was between a minivan and the Lotus and the minivan didn’t stand a chance.
“Actually, it was not even an option; the three kids don’t fit in the Lotus so it’s our date night car,” he said.
“What drew me to it? I can work on it, I can tear it down and put it back together,” Phillips says. The latest project, a new transmission, started in March because, as Phillips so aptly puts it, “You bring a car to the track, and it gets beat on.” The engine in the Lotus was replaced in 2012 for just that reason.
Phillips started autocrossing at the age of 16 with his dad – that was in 1986. Phillips has since left the autocross world behind, opting for a handful of tracks days each year in British Columbia and Washington State. He is able to slap his street legal track-rated tires on the Lotus, drive to the track, flog the car as it was designed, drive home at the end of the day, replace the tires with his street tires and drive the car to work the next morning.
“I am just doing it for fun right now. Until the kids get older and I can get into racing again, it’s purely just for fun,” he says. “Right now, this car is the perfect one for me. I am not doing any changes any time soon. It is ideal.”
So why strap on a helmet and hot the track as opposed to fishing or a round of golf? Phillips likes the speed, the controlled chaos that a track day offers. The events he attends often involve about 30 cars hitting the track for several laps. There is no timer involved and it is not a race. “Pushing it to the limits, seeing what I can do in a safe environment,” is what Phillips enjoys about taking the Elise to these events.
He further explains, “The speed of it, knowing that you are about to slip. You’re at that slip angle just before your tires let go, just knowing you are right on the limit. Now occasionally you exceed it, you just make sure you exceed it in a spot that when you do wipe out there is nothing to hit too badly. It’s just nice to push it to what it was designed for. It wasn’t designed to drive on the road and pick up groceries.”
What does the future hold for Phillips’ track day desires? For now, while his daughters – ages 8, 11 and 13 – are younger the Elise is perfect. When they are older, he’d like to get the 1969 Lotus Formula Ford on the track and actually race that car.
Will the automotive legacy stop at Jeff Phillips? It is not likely, because the girls already feel the need for speed in the form of a gravity racer. A few years ago, a family friend gave them a soapbox racer and the girls took to it. This prompted Phillips to begin building these “go-karts” with his daughters. The latest iteration is made of 24-in. PVC pipe for the cockpit. The girls add the steering, brakes and wheels with their dad’s supervision. The car is pushed up the nearby lane and gravity takes them down again.
“They are the ones who want to do it, so it’s good, it’s nice. They will probably know more about it than me soon,” Phillips joked. “They are not going to be one of these 16-year-olds without a driver’s license, I can tell you that much. They all want to drive the Lotus; they all want to go fast.”