Lotus T128 hits the track at Valencia

Team Lotus is confident its new T128 will enable it to challenge the established teams from the first race in 2011, after the car hit the track for the first time at Valencia on Wednesday

Lotus T128 hits the track at Valencia

The Hingham-based outfit opted to miss the opening day of this week's first pre-season test in exchange for running on Friday, but its new car has now joined the action with Heikki Kovalainen at the wheel.

Technical chief Mike Gascoyne believes the new car is a major step up from last year's T127 - a result of a much longer development time.

"It is a modern F1 car," he said when asked by AUTOSPORT about his thoughts on the car. "It is what we always said - we had very limited time last year to do the car, so we had to take a conservative approach.

"The bottom line is that last year's car was always about finishing 10th. We were never going to be above 10th, so it had to get 10th place and then move on. It did that and it did it well."

Gascoyne thinks it too early to judge how much of a laptime improvement the new car will bring, but is confident it will see the team mix it with Scuderia Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India straight away.

"You are talking laptime relative to the people you are trying to chase. And, if you look at Toro Rosso or Sauber or Force India, they were one and a half seconds away - and that is the gap you have to make up.

"You can make the facts fit any theory. We are reasonably confident that we have done a good job, from the wind tunnel - and the rules are in our favour.

"There were things like blown diffusers that we didn't have, F-ducts which we didn't have, while everyone now has an adjustable rear wing. There were things there that were worth considerable time that we didn't have. And also there is time. We had eight months in the wind tunnel with this car, and we had eight days to do the last car.

"So we would be pretty stupid if we hadn't done a better job. Everyone wants numbers and proof, and we will find out in Bahrain, but I think we have done a very good solid job with good resources. We want to start in the group with Toro Rosso, Sauber and Force India, and I would hope we are there and we will find out in Bahrain."

The Lotus is a more aggressive design than last year's car, and features a notable blade-style roll hoop - similar to the concept used by Mercedes GP in 2010.

Gascoyne said there is no issue with the legality of that area in the car, although a change in rules had been introduced to stop teams going too radical with the roll hoops.

"Aerodynamically it is not worth that much, but in terms of weight and everything, we thought it added up to something that was worth doing," he said.

"This year's chassis is the same length as last year and the same fuel volume because the engine uses less fuel, and it is 15kg lighter. That comes through optimisation and design time and being a little bit more aggressive with it, because you have more time to do it."

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