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Wednesday 18th August 2010


DRIVEN: CHEVRON GR8 RACER

Caterham Academy boy Riggers gets a go in a 'serious' racing car

The GR8 in action at Thruxton (Riggers not included)
The GR8 in action at Thruxton (Riggers not included)

'It's as fast as an F430 Challenge racer, if you push it.' That's not necessarily the sort of thing you want to hear as you get into a brand-new car on an entirely unfamiliar circuit, but that's what the chap who straps me into a red and very racy-looking Chevron GR8 - the new one-make racer from the company famed for its 1960s sports car club racers - tells me. Just before he shuts the door and sends me out onto the new Silverstone south circuit in thick track day traffic.


The GR8 might be as quick as far more expensive GT racers, but its ethos is to provide pukka sports car racing enjoyment at a fraction of the price. As a result, The GR8 might have Ferrari pace, but it has a most un-Ferrari cost - initial cars were offered at 49,500 plus VAT, although this has now been raised 'slightly'.

There's no slick GT car glamour about the construction of the GR8, however. True to its club racing aspirations, the GR8 is all about function over form. Underneath its workmanlike GRP body (think of a two-thirds-scale McLaren F1 GTR crossed with a 60s sports car and you'll get a sense of how it looks) is an aluminium 'semi-monocoque' sill and platform mated to a full roll cage, with steel spaceframe box sections front and rear. In other words a classic racing car construction.


The authentic racing feel continues when you actually get strapped into the GR8. Fit and finish were - quite rightly for a racing car - clearly quite a long way down the priority list for Chevron. You can see daylight in places between the door and body, the seat is mostly finished in duct-tape (with a couple of foam cushions for a short a*se like me), and bare metal and GRP abound. But far from being a bad thing this actually adds to the atmosphere. The message is clear: you are in this thing to drive fast, not to pose. Quite right, too.

I twist the ignition cut-off switch and thumb the starter button (unlike on road cars, starter buttons are no gimmick; if you spin mid-race and stall, you don't want to be mucking around looking for keys and ignition barrels). The 2.0-litre Cosworth BYD coughs into life and settle into a buzzy, business-like idle.


Pushing the stubby sequential gear lever forward to make sure it's in first I give the stiff throttle pedal a good prod to make sure I get plenty of revs (better to over-rev a little than to stall a racing car in the middle of a busy paddock) and trundle out towards the circuit.

In truth the drivetrain is tight but not too tricky, and the GR8 proves quite docile as we queue up to join the circuit. Eventually I'm waved out onto Silverstone's Tarmac and get a chance to open up the 255bhp mid-mounted engine.

I've been told not to worry about revving it hard as there's a limiter at around 8000rpm to stop me doing bad things to the Cosworth motor - and that the engine doesn't really get going until 5000rpm. So I do what I've been told and hold on to the revs before knocking the Hewland straight-cut gearbox up another gear. There's a lot of noise and vibration - and the four-pot won't win any prizes for its singing voice, but boy can it chuck plastic and metal along the road once it's going.


It's a good thing, therefore, that you can really stamp on the brakes - especially since it takes me at least four laps to have any clear idea of which way the corners go. The firm middle pedal is also ideal for a spot of (inept) heel-and-toeing, and banging down through a couple of gears has a very satisfying braking-for-the-Mulsanne-corner sort of a feel to it.

Once you're in a corner, the GR8 proves tenaciously grippy - even with road-going but track-oriented Toyos on the car. A test at Anglesey circuit subsequent to our test has had the GR8 lapping six seconds quicker with slicks, too, so the grip levels of a slick-shod car must be truly astounding.


There's none of the edginess that you would expect to get in a mid-engined racing car, however - the GR8 feels planted and neutral, with a whiff of understeer (though presumably this is largely so numpties like myself don't bend Chevron's test car). The low-geared steering is a bit of a surprise, though; tight corners get you flailing at the steering wheel far more than I had expected.

After a few laps I begin to learn where the circuit goes, and begin to feel just how heavily you can lean on the little Chevron. Once you trust that the car isn't going to throw you off the track, that claim about being as fast as a Ferrari 430 Challenge is perfectly believable. There's certainly not much on this track day that could keep up with the little GR8.

At the moment the Chevron is being raced in its own one-make series, but a pair of cars have been entered for the Britcar 24-hour endurance race in October, and tweaks are being made to the car to allow it to go GT4-spec racing. In the medium term, Helen and Vin Malkie - the couple behind the GR8 - have plans to create a track-day spec car, and there's even the possibility of a limited series of road cars, although that's a long way off yet.

In the meantime there's only one question: can we have one?

Thruxton photos: Derek John Binsted




Author: Riggers