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Radical SR1 review (2012 onwards)
What: Radical SR1
Where: Bedford Autodrome, England
Date: September 2012
Available: On sale now
Key rivals: Caterham R400, Ariel Atom 300, Radical SR3, BAC Mono
Awesome performance thanks to serious grip and serious go from Radical's new entry-level mini Le Mans racer lookalike.
We like: Grip, progressive chassis, feel and feedback
We don't like: Not road legal, poor visibility? (come on...)
British sportscar maker Radical was founded on the concept of grass roots motorsport, and its latest product - the SR1 - is taking things back to basics. The firm's first car - the 1100 Clubsport - used superbike power combined with a chassis that was cost effective, fast and easy to drive.
Over the years though, Radicals have become bigger, more complex and more expensive. Enter the SR1: it's pared back next to Radical's other products, and in the process provides an attainable and relatively cheap platform for amateur drivers to get their first taste of motorsport.
For £37,500 you get the car, your ARDS race licence tuition and fees, an Alpinestars race suit, two exclusive instructor-assisted trackdays, two training seminars detailing maintenance, circuit driving skills and race weekend prep by Radical's mechanics, as well as eight races spread over four weekends.
It's brilliant value.
A kerb weight of 480kg and an output of 185hp and 130lb ft combine to give serious performance: 0-62mph in 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 138mph, in fact.
You can keep this unabated shove going
The car uses a 1,340cc Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle engine with a few choice tweaks from Radical, designed to make the engine better integrated with the car and improve reliability. The company uses its own ECU, limiting revs to four figures (around 9,800rpm), and narrower throttle bodies.
It doesn't matter. In such a lightweight chassis, and even a gear higher than you probably should be, the motor lugs hard without hesitation from the bottom end, pulling smoothly through the mid-range to a wonderful naturally aspirated crescendo at high revs.
You can keep this unabated shove going thanks to the motorbike gearbox, too. It's a six-speed sequential unit that just requires a little lift of the throttle on upshifts - no clutch, just lightly unload the drivetrain and pull another gear with the long gear lever that protrudes from the centre of the car's floor pan.
The SR1's massive performance relates to its weight. If you've got less of it, there's less effort needed to go, turn and stop. And on that last point things are pretty impressive.
Despite relatively small 240mm discs and four-piston calipers, the SR1's un-assisted brakes are brilliant. So much so that you have to watch your downshifts otherwise the flare of revs will actually lock up the rear tyres while you're on the stoppers.
But there's loads of feel through the pedal if you do and a quick bleed of brake pressure and reapplication will see the tyre start turning again.
Mechanical grip is impressive, but this baby prototype also creates a useful amount of downforce, gluing the car to the road. You can feel it working above 80mph - it's an amazing phenomenon through the fast stuff, you just have to remember it's not there in the slow corners...
Ride and handling
Manufacturers are continuously embroiled in the quest for more grip and clever electronic systems to adjust a car's chassis, improving ride and handling. The latest Radical shuns this sort of technology and uses good old mechanical know-how to extract speed.
The suspension's compression and rebound damping is fully adjustable, as is ride height and the complete alignment of the wheels. What Messrs Hamilton and Button can do to their F1 cars you can do with your SR1, albeit to a slightly lesser degree.
It's forgiving, but only up to a point
It's a proper race car so it's not going to be troubling a Rolls-Royce Phantom in terms of ride comfort, but it is compliant, and that helps grip.
There's loads of it from the road-legal treaded Dunlop control tyres (of which drivers only get two sets for a full season), and combined with the communicative chassis and steering, it means you get an excellent sense for the friction levels at each corner.
Understeer builds in a progressive fashion, but it can be cured by a lift of the throttle or a mid-corner dab of the brakes to tighten the line. That or a stab of the accelerator to get the tail out and the nose in.
It will slide at the rear too - especially if you apply too much power before you've started to wind off the steering lock. I can vouch for that.
But the balance isn't knife-edge sharp. Instead the car is forgiving, but only up to a point. You have to remember this is a race car. It reacts to your inputs, so if you don't treat it with respect, it won't respect you.
The SR1's interior is sort of its exterior as well. It's open to the elements, with only a little aero screen 'lip' to protect you from windblast. As a result, everything is waterproofed and fairly utilitarian.
Again though, it's not about comfort here - simply control and saving weight. You sit very reclined with your legs outstretched in front of you. It's tight as well - the cockpit will take two, but it's a squeeze.
There's a carbon dash that houses the weather-proof switch gear and a digital display highlighting revs, gear, and race car specifics such as oil and water temperature and pressure. It's pretty damn cool.
Economy and safety
Economy is difficult to predict - it purely depends on how fast a driver you are. As a race car it's not important anyway, the SR1's 44-litre foam-filled aluminium fuel tank will see you through a race.
Safety is good. A six-point FIA-spec race harness, a Motorsports Association compliant full roll cage and an aluminium front crash structure mean you should be firmly clamped to your one-piece race seat and well protected in it if you should misjudge things somewhat.
The MSN Cars verdict
The SR1 is awesome. And it's an inspired choice by Radical to fit those treaded control tyres, bringing the focus back to where the company originally started. The only problem is - despite the rubber - it's not road legal. It really is that good you could use it on the Queen's highway if you wanted to.
It's ridiculously quick for an entry-level novice racer, but not to the point where it's impossible to drive - the levels of feedback through every control interface are wonderful. And at £37,500 including everything you need to go racing for a full season, it's unbelievable value too.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: 1,340cc
Engines, diesel: N/A
Torque: 130lb ft
0-60mph: 3.6 secs
Top speed: 138mph
MPG combined: N/A
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