Radical SR1: back to basics
Sean gets a few pointers from a former Le Mans winner and comes up trumps
I’m not unfamiliar with driving bike-engined cars. I own one myself. But it’s nothing compared to what I drove the other weekend.
Which was… a Radical SR1. Unless you’re a track day junky or a serious performance car fan, the chances are you might not have heard of it. So here's our full first drive review of the car.
It’s Radical’s new entry-level racer, and put simply, it’s bloody marvellous. You can read the finer points of the chassis, engine and in fact the all-round merits of the package in our first drive coming soon. Here I’m just going to fill you in on a few points as to why it’s simply brilliant.
For one, it’s cheap. It costs £37,500, but for that price you get the car, two sets of tyres, your race licence, test and admin fees paid for, your entry fees for a full eight-race season covered, two instructor assisted exclusive track days and two training seminars explaining maintenance, circuit driving skills – as well as technical prep and setup of the car by Radical mechanics.
A Caterham R400 SV boasting a similar power to weight ratio – but arguably slower – costs £36,300.
Two – it’s so thrilling. When do you ever get to drive, let alone race a full on prototype style car with downforce, sat reclined like a Le Mans driver in the cockpit with your legs stretched out in front of you and threaded under the steering rack and onto the pedals?
Incidentally, it was a former winner at the French Classic that was my guide around the car. A Mr Andy Wallace, ‘vainqueur des 24 heures du mans 1988’ – and sporting a rather dubious ‘tash at the time – gave me the basic run-through the car and control layout, as well as a full-on demonstration as to just what the car can do.
The engine is great – it’s a 185hp 1,340cc Suzuki motorbike engine. In rev-limited form here, it still spins to 9,800rpm, at which point you’ll have to use the slick ‘box to keep the charge sustained.
Using the sequential bike unit, you need to be accurate and precise – preload the lever (perfectly located in terms of proximity from the wheel), slightly roll the throttle to unload the drivetrain and the next ratio will slot home as quickly as most modern paddle shift gearboxes.
Not using the clutch means there is literally almost no loss of drive, similar to a dual-clutch transmission. It’s not the easiest movement to coordinate if you’ve not done it before, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s just awesome.
As was the tuition from my instructor. OK, he’s got a modicum of talent, so would you expect anything less. Importantly though, after my three-lap stint, he brought us into the pits and gave me the feedback I needed to know to go quicker at my level. Not pointers for someone three stages beyond my pace.
My problem was not locking off quick enough as I was applying the power, or applying too much power with steering lock on, however you want to look at it. It made for a few breath-taking moments, as any 120mph fifth gear slide tends to induce…
Back out on Bedford’s West Circuit and putting Wallace’s pointers into practice, it felt like I was going slower from the driver’s seat, but faster from where he was sitting.
My minded sessions over and a quick cup of tea slurped down, it was time for my timed run. After a discussion about tyres the now ‘classic’ R8 LMP car Wallace races in the States, he tells me to do a controlled out lap, bank a time on my first flying run and then start pushing if I feel like it on my second and final timed tour.
I heed his advice and focus on putting his tips to good use. This time it feels like I’m going quicker and the car appears less stressed. There’s more grip and as a result I can carry more speed everywhere.
It turns out he was right (who’d have though it…?). I upheld MSN Cars’ honour and set the fastest time of the day in the SR1 with a one-minute 20.4 dead. 5.5 seconds quicker than the next closest time and around 2.5 seconds quicker than a man whose put his £37.5k where his mouth is and will be racing one next season. Lapping is one thing, racing wheel-to-wheel is another, however.
I went home happy. But it wasn’t the fastest thing I lapped the track in that day. You can read about that here.
MSN Cars' Steve Walker takes the UK's cheapest new car for a test drive to see if it's worth parting only £5,995 for.
Date 23/05/13, Duration 4:17, Views 879
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