Monday 1st October 2012


A debutante's taste of downforce aboard Radical's new 'back to basics' SR1 racer

The sight of a Radical on a trackday has always puzzled me. Without wishing to offend those that do use them as pure track day cars, it’s always struck me as the equivalent of taking a Trident missile to a knife fight. You wouldn't take a racehorse pony trekking, so surely these cars should be duking it out wheel to wheel as well?

New SR1 condenses Radical basics
New SR1 condenses Radical basics
Perhaps Radical was listening, because for 2013 the Cambridgeshire-based manufacturer is launching a new championship, aimed entirely at novices, and a new car to go with it. The entire season package, including, five championship events, two pre-season training sessions and the SR1 itself, costs £37,500 (£45,000 with VAT); not an inconsiderable sum of money, but one that, judging by pre-launch interest, provides good value to those with deep enough pockets.

“The aim with the SR1 Cup was to knock down all the barriers that hold people back from going racing,” explains former Evo contributor and now Radical marketing manager Roger Green. “The championship had to be very cost-effective, it had to remove all the hassle of gaining a licence and understanding how to race, and put drivers on the grid only with others of a similar experience level. Above all though, it had to deliver in terms of drivability and fun.”

Tyres last a full season, or should anyway
Tyres last a full season, or should anyway
Step by step
Competitors are introduced to their cars through a pair of exclusive track days. There will be instructors on hand at both of these events along with the opportunity to practice standing starts. After these familiarity sessions the competition begins, firstly with a ‘How Fast’ time trial, then eight competitive races held at Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Oulton Park and Cadwell Park. Beyond the opening season, a separate class in the Radical Cup and the chance to make mechanical and aerodynamic upgrades ensure longevity for the cars and the drivers. 

To provide an insight into what competing in the championship will be like, and an opportunity to drive the new car, Radical invited Pistonheads to Bedford Autodrome for one of MSV’s ‘How Fast’ events. During the day, we would compete for the fastest lap time against other journalists on the West Circuit.

Downforce is the big lesson for Radical newbies
Downforce is the big lesson for Radical newbies
In isolation the SR1 looks incredibly focused and not a little intimidating, with bodywork barely above knee height, a front splitter extending usefully in front of the nose and a single plane rear wing dominating the rear end.

It’s only when I look across to the SR8 parked in the garage that the extent of Radical’s de-tuning begins to reveal itself; no winglets or rear diffuser, smaller front splitter and wing, narrower body (it’s based on the old SR4) and treaded Dunlop road tyres designed to last the entire season.

Beneath the engine cover it’s a similar story with the 1,340cc Suzuki Hayabusa engine turning out 185hp. Although, with only 480kg minus driver to push round, it’s plenty quick enough and will hit 60mph in 3.6 seconds and 100mph in less than ten.

Just as well Danny's skinny...
Just as well Danny's skinny...
In sequence
I’ve never driven a car with a sequential gearbox, or downforce, before so it comes as a great relief that for the first few laps I’ll be shoe-horned into the passenger seat alongside none-other than Le Mans winner, Andy Wallace. The cockpit, quite rightly, prioritises the driver, leaving me wedged against the bodywork and my head slapping against the rollover brace.

It’s Andy’s first time in an SR1 – although he’s driven plenty of other Radicals – but he quickly tunes into the controls, feeling for the grip levels and familiarising himself with the circuit layout with small, well-defined inputs that are lightning quick but never unsettling.

Was your teacher a Le Mans winner?
Was your teacher a Le Mans winner?
All too soon it’s my turn and I’m sliding into the glossy, moulded seat. Inside the tub the carbon fibre dash is dominated by a digital display. There’s a pocket-sized alcantara steering wheel and a long aluminium-capped gear lever that sits right alongside your left hand when it's at the quarter to three position.

Equally well-placed are the pedals, with the clutch requiring a surprisingly light and progressive touch. In fact, all three possess a similar weight to their action and a purposeful lack of travel. The SR1 has a high idle but remains smooth and shudder-free at rest. There is none of the straining at the leash that I’d anticipated, and while the throttle is light and engine incredibly free-revving, pulling away is utterly benign.

How fast? Faster with trust in the aero
How fast? Faster with trust in the aero
Getting moving might be easy, but it still takes me a handful of laps to tune into the controls; to iron out the lurching, soothe the throttle blips and lift my right foot just enough to facilitate the clutchless upshifts. It’s here that I stumble the most, lifting my foot completely from the pedal. Andy spots my mistake and puts my technique right; just small degree of pressure on the lever and a slight lift of the foot will allow the ratio to change.

So, How Fast?
The 20 minutes free practice is gone in an instant, at which point I can operate the controls with reasonable competence and just about know which way the circuit goes. But as far as putting a lap time together, well that’s a big step. And knowing that the SR1’s aerodynamic advantage will need to be explored in order to get a quick lap turns that big step into a giant leap of faith.

£45K will get you on the grid in a SR1
£45K will get you on the grid in a SR1
During my out-lap familiarity lets me begin to feel my way round the mechanical grip available. In this respect I’m helped by the excellent communication through both the wheel and the chassis. Under braking there is complete clarity as to the movement of the rear, and a beautifully soft and rounded edge to the limit. The engine is buzzing through the rev range and I'm a bit slow to catch the flicker of LEDs on the dash before it hits the limiter. I’m using fewer revs blipping on downshifts, braking harder and later and carrying more speed around the slower corners, but I’m still pottering, relatively, around the faster ones. Only on the final corner of my last lap do I carry enough speed to feel the car squatting and the contact patch of the outside tyres growing. It's my first taste of downforce and I instantly realise it’s a corner I could probably have taken flat.

The results are soon in, and it’s a steady middle-of-road performance from me. My 1:23 putting me fifth out of 12, some three seconds off the pace of Track Driver’s John Mawdsley. So no champagne shower, but I do go home with a massive grin on my face and a deep jealousy for the 24 lucky individuals that will be racing in the SR1 Cup next year.

Radical SR1
1,340cc, four-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed sequential manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp):185@9,200rpm
Torque (lb ft):130@7000rpm
0-62mph: 3.6 sec (0-60)
Top speed: 138mph
Weight: 480kg
CO2: N/A
Price: £45,000 (Championship package inc VAT)

Danny's onboard video here:

Author: Danny Milner
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