Lotus' major coup for 1985 was signing rising star Ayrton Senna from the Toleman team to partner Elio de Angelis. De Angelis had finished third in the previous season's drivers' championship and had had many promising results with the 95T. The 97T was a natural development, but taking into account new sporting regulation changes over the rear wings of the cars.
The 97T was very competitive during the season, taking 8 poles, 7 with Senna and 1 with De Angelis and 3 wins. Senna's first was a brilliant performance in the 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix where he won by over a minute in monsoon conditions. His second came at Spa, held in wet/dry conditions. De Angelis added a third win at Imola after Prost was disqualified.
The 97T was fast but was unreliable. Senna in particular had a run of bad luck mid season, including a huge shunt at Paul Ricard; and he retired many times while leading which cost him a possible chance at the world championship. Eventually, Lotus finished fourth in the constructors championship.
In total the Lotus 97T scored 3 victories, 2 second places and 4 third places. The car also achieved 8 pole positions and 3 fastest laps.
The car marked the start of a brief return to the successful days of the 1960s and 1970s for Lotus, which was continued by the 98T of 1986 and the Honda-powered 99T of 1987.