Custom-Fit Track Toy: Meet The South Korean Woman Who Spends Her Vacation Time In A Lotus Exige S
In 2013, when it was delivered to Seoul, it was the last of two Lotus Exige S V6s in Racing Green metallic produced, and above all, it was absolutely the only one heading to South Korea.
“Lotus is a very minor brand in my country,” says the owner, Mrs. HJ Vicky Park. This 47-year-old entrepreneur is the only female driver in a track-day club of 52 (Team 365-1) which now includes 30-40 Lotus cars in its ranks. She was told by the British manufacturer that her exclusive and very individual purchase would take a whole year before delivery could be made, but she didn’t mind at all, as her determination to own one was stronger than anything resembling impatience. Her love for the model began after a visit to the English Lotus factory in Hethel after a friend introduced her to the marque.
“I decided to take advantage of one of my frequent business trips to Europe to take a look at the company,” she recalls, “I wish you could see how these cars are handmade!” Though she’s had it for a few years now, she’s still as enthusiastic today as she was during that visit, relaying the story with a sparkle in her eye and a smile on her face. Being so fascinated by the brand and wanting a means to experience it back home, the first idea that popped into her head involved buying an Elise, a way into an “entry-level” Lotus, but then she saw an Exige on track and it didn’t matter if she didn’t even know what is was at the time: that was the one. She didn’t hesitate after that experience.
So when the new nearly-350-horsepower Exige S V6 was introduced as a 2012 model year car, Vicky had already been well versed in the thrills of track action, and her confidence level with circuit driving was established long before she started to drive the lightweight coupe.
Vicky began with a Porsche, a 987 S PDK that she bought in 2010. “My life was too focused on work and I was going through a particularly stressful time, so my brother suggested me that I get a hobby and invest some money in something with a different kind of dividend,” she says. That’s how her passion as a “gentlelady driver” started; a new hobby that would push the worries and anxiety of work to the background. However, she soon realized that she’d chosen the wrong set of tools for her needs: “The car seemed to take control of me instead of me controlling it. It was no fun at all,” she remembers, “racing is about the interaction between you and your car, and I didn’t feel that connection.” And then, laughing, “I must admit that sometimes I do even talk to the Lotus now!”
The next step led to more power in the form of a Mercedes AMG C63, but also, for a good bit of spec-racing fun, Vicky and some other club members purchased a set of 20 Kia Picantos for some low-powered one-make racing to hone their track skills on cars that require the fundamentals rather than big power and driver assists.
She’s looking much younger now thanks to the fun she’s been having on the circuit, and she’s found the perfect car for herself, though not without a few modifications. As you can see, Vicky isn’t very tall, she’s quite “small,” as she says. “And women’s feet are smaller than men’s too usually,” she adds, which is why the pedals and the footwell of the driver’s side of the Exige have been modified to accommodate. Not only that, her car is bespoke elsewhere in the interior too: there are many details of the grey trimmed cabin that have been improved to completely fit her body. A longer gear shifter was ordered last year, and was installed this past winter, for example. Certainly, the driver–this one is fond of classic cars too–must be comfortable and feel that everything is under control while lapping with full race gear at 230 km/h at the Korea International Circuit, near Gwangju. That’s her favorite track for Exige exercise, although another one, the Inje Speedium, in the northeast of the Korean peninsula—where these photos were taken—also features strongly in her club’s schedule.
This brilliant and unconventionally-minded woman, who started her working life as an English teacher before realizing that such a career too calm and routine for her, typically has no time to hit the track more than once every couple of months. However, from December to February, she gets her adrenaline shots by getting behind the wheel up to 15 times in the short span of those winter months when she isn’t as busy; sure, some people spend more time in this activity, but remember this is relative to a pretty airtight schedule of work—Vicky finds her seat time where she can.
Each track day with the Exige usually lasts six or seven hours all told, so it’s not just a handful of laps either. Her tailor-made carbon fiber helmet helps to avoid any feeling of fatigue at the end of the day, for one will definitely feel the strain at these sustained speeds.
“One of the best things about racing is that you start learning about yourself beyond your abilities as a driver, in my opinion,” she remarks. “When there’s too much speed, for example, and you consider whether the car is oversteering or understeering, you might step beyond your abilities in trying to find out where you can progress to. It keeps you honest for sure, but it makes you push forwards too. I constantly feel that this advancing process is inherently a bit dangerous; a part of me wants more speed, faster laps, more Gs, while another version of Vicky says that I need to slow down… It’s not only a matter of knowing how to get the best performance from the machine. It’s more about how to negotiate with yourself, how to achieve progress of the mind.”