The Light Fantastic


September 12, 2015 By Mike Lee
Last updated on September 12, 2015

The Light Fantastic
When it comes to pure, unadulterated enjoyment behind the wheel, not much beats the cool air and empty roads of a night drive, does it really? If your idea of heaven is a midnight dash through the most involving and challenging of country lanes, then forget the size of your engine or the ferocity of your brakes. The smart money is spent out front, illuminating the way. When it comes to cerebral performance enhancements, the future is most definitely bright, my friends!

When you stop to analyse it, Petrolheads spend their modifying budget on the most eclectic mix of upgrades; stickier tyres, lighter seats, faster remaps, stiffer suspension. The list is literally endless. Every penny spent intended to maximise performance, enhance the driving experience and improve looks. Occasionally, you even find the holy grail and tick all three boxes at the same time! The only problem, once you have created this fire-breathing, pub-figure boasting behemoth, however, is the state of most roads during the daytime. Try and shake out your 500bhp monster during the hours of daylight, and you’ll spend more time sitting in traffic than you will powersliding through ‘B’ road apexes. The sad truth is, modern life, road congestion and high-powered motors are not easy bedfellows…

One answer to this conundrum is your nearest trackday. Book yourself in to one of the many superbly run events throughout the year and you can drive safely at full tilt for the whole day. It’s not cheap though, and a day’s worth of fun, tyres and brakes can easily make a substantial hole in around £500-700 worth of cash. No, save that one for a treat and think a little more laterally. If you can stomach getting up early – or staying up late – then there is a world of entertainment to be had by rapidly navigating deserted local country lanes… always within the legal speed limit, of course…

Even within, ahem, the confines of a 60mph ceiling, it’s amazing how much fun your car can be when driving it quickly at night. The beauty of night driving is that it’s always easy to see what other traffic is coming too, long before it gets to you. So, driving sensibly, and within a large margin of safety, it’s the ultimate playground to get acquainted with your motor. If you’re really looking to raise the bar in terms of activesafety, you might want to upgrade your lighting output a little bit, and this is where a company called Lazer Lamps steps in with their literally brilliant product range.

If you haven’t had chance to look at their website before, Lazer Lamps are an all-British firm that was born out of one lighting engineer’s desire to create the most effective motorsport and automotive leisure lighting in the world. That talented young chap was Ben Russell-Smith, and after years of creating bewildering clever LED lighting solutions for all manner of top-end OEMs, he decided to pluck up his courage and soldering iron, lock himself in his R&D lab and create a light that’s luminescent enough to worry your local Air Traffic Control at 50 paces! Joking aside, what he did create was bright enough, durable enough and low enough in mass to go straight onto the shopping lists of factory teams like Bentley and Aston Martin for endurance racing and Ford’s M-Sport operation for its WRC campaign. Put simply, these lights give you a high quality ‘white’ light, just where you need it, making night-time driving more akin to hooning around in daylight.

For my introduction to this product, my road test subject was a nicely sorted Subaru WRX STI – itself no stranger to a brisk thrape through a nicely winding back lane. Initially, nearly all of my seat time in this accomplished cross-country machine had been during daylight, so the whole USP of Lazer lamps has been lost on me. That was all to change one fateful evening on a late-night blast across one of the UK’s best driving roads; the A4086, or as it’s more commonly known, The Llanberis Pass. For reasons I won’t bore you with, I ended up making this journey at a somewhat antisocial 2am. Normally, In Summertime, this is a great time to be on the limit in a 340bhp turbocharged car. Loads of cool, dense air to keep the blower on song, coupled with a complete lack of traffic to allow for unimpeded progress. On this road, that’s a blissful combination, but this time around, with the ability to keep my main beams on – and therefore bring the Lazer Lamps into play, I had something of a driving epiphany. For the first time ever at night, I could see every detail of both verges in pin-sharp detail. Allied to this, my range of vision was significantly extended, allowing me to foresee hazards – as well as the road orientation – many seconds before I have been able to before on main beams alone. The effect was akin to driving in daylight, with the effect being on off hugely increasing my confidence to push on a little bit.

I quickly noticed that I was able to make safe and controlled progress along this wonderful road much more quickly than I had ever been able to before. It makes a great deal of sense when you think about it; for even the most talented of drivers, you can only ever pedal as fast as you can see. That’s why even mental rallying types bedeck the front of their chosen steeds with more candlepower than the Eddystone Lighthouse on full beam. When you can really see where you are heading, chances are you’ll feel a lot happier piling at full tilt towards it…

So how do they achieve this kind of power from such small units then? Using thoserallyists as our yard-stick, we can all remember the awesome site of racks of huge dinner-plate sized lamp units on sideways pedalled Group B icons as they slithered through ‘80s night stages, can’t we? The downside to that old technology was the massive increase in frontal area, undoing any carefully calculated aero work that the designers had skilfully sketched in, and that’s before you start factoring in the heat of filament lights, the huge current draw they need – meaning a larger alternator and greater engine drag – their significant weight, or the fragility of the lights themselves and the fine, hot, burning wire within them. By comparison the hardy LEDs of the Lazer Lamps, the unit’s unbreakable polycarbonate lenses and the ingenious cooling and reflector technology housed within the smart, fully waterproof alloy casing mean that I’m getting a whole lot more light than my rallying heroes ever did, but  without the penalties of weight, drag, fragility or current draw. A bit of a win-win really!

The lights on this test STI were the ST4 versions, which have been fully certified for road use, making them fully Police and MOT (UK annual test) friendly. If you fancy a set with build in DRLs, then you’ll want the ingenious RS range, in either 4 or 8 main LED flavours. In either case, these can be mounted freely, or built into a custom grille kit as with the Subaru. Lazer Lamps are adding to their bespoke grille range all the time, but engineering firms like ZunSport can also fabricate up one-offs if you fancy the factory look on a rarer machine. For those wishing to see a full KILOMETRE ahead, Lazer Lamps has recently had its fully motorsport-proven ‘Triple R’ range EU approved, meaning that these can be fitted to a road car with impunity, allowing you to literally drive behind the same light output as the top Le Mans and WRC teams. As these too are wired into your main-beam circuit, it’s all safe, legal and sensible for road use.

If you enjoy night driving, and let’s face it, who doesn’t? You should perhaps think about putting a decent set of LED driving lights a little higher up your shopping list. It doesn’t matter how big your turbo, your tyres or your talent may be. In each case, you can only ever exploit what your confidence –and vision – allows you to. By increasing your active safety and field of vision by carefully focussed white light I promise you that you’ll make much quicker and more enjoyable progress in your night driving. And believe me, if you ever find yourself on the A4086 at 2 o’clock in the morning, I absolutely guarantee you’ll agree it was the best money that you ever spent on your car!

Contacts
www.subaru.co.uk
www.lazerlamps.com

Words Paul Cowland. Photography NWVT