Kovalainen's best finish for Lotus to date was 13th in Australia
Lotus technical head Mike Gascoyne feels the team are close to challenging established Formula 1 teams.
The team have yet to win a point this year, but Heikki Kovalainen lapped the other new teams in finishing 16th in Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix.
"It was a big step forward. Instead of trying to be the best of the new teams, we are trying to get on to the back of the established teams," Gascoyne said.
"That's exactly where we wanted to be at this stage of the season."
Like the other new Hispania and Virgin teams, Lotus have yet to register a top-10 finish, with Sauber's Pedro de la Rosa the only other driver still to open his account.
But as well as finishing ahead of the new teams, Kovalainen beat Renault's Vitaly Petrov and the two retired Saubers and it is those types of teams that Gascoyne wants to be racing.
"This weekend marked a big turning point for us as a new team," said Gascoyne.
"We nearly out-qualified one of the Renaults, we were racing throughout the race with the midfield teams.
"OK, some of them had got delayed but we were genuinely racing them. And we lapped all the other new teams."
And Gascoyne is hopeful that the improvement can be taken to the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks' time which, while only the ninth outing for the new Malaysian-owned team, will be the 500th grand prix contested by a car under the Lotus banner.
"It's something we've been very aware of," said Gascoyne.
"Clive Chapman [son of the team's founder Colin] and members of the Chapman family will be joining us for the 500th grand prix. "It's a special thing for us as the new Lotus team and I think it's right that we recognise that heritage and hopefully people will enjoy watching Lotus go racing again."