Many journalists are so good at dressing up as race drivers they get confused with the real thing. But definitely not me. Wearing a set of borrowed overalls in Radical's old colours and an unpainted helmet finished in what my son refers to as Noob White, I couldn't look more amateur in Portimao's pitlane if I had a Yakkety Sax soundtrack.
The intimidation factor heading into this one is certainly high. I've driven lots of cars on track, including some that wear slicks, wings and non-ironic racing stripes. But a pre-flight briefing with the Radical team quickly establishes that none of these are in the same league as the SR10, or even likely to get there after a successful run in the playoffs. This is a car that can generate well over 2G of lateral acceleration, has a power-to-weight ratio north of a McLaren Senna and has a lap time around most circuits quicker than a factory GT3 race car.
Nor is there going to be a gentle introduction. The original plan was for me to start off in an SR1, with the less intense thrills provided by its 182hp Suzuki bike engine. But limited flight options from Faro means my program gets truncated, and there's only time for the SR10 and its combination of 425hp and just 725kg. And while the official reason I'm here is to experience some of the small changes coming for 2022 - a revised cockpit and an optional HALO-style protection frame - I haven't driven any Radical since 2011. So, in short, yes: bricks.
The SR10 has become the fastest-selling car in Radical's history since it went on sale in 2020, notching up 50 orders in its first nine months on the market. It's not hard to see why, given it uses a 2.3-litre Ford Ecoboost instead of the exotic, hand-built V8 of the SR8 which previously topped the lineup. As the SR10's output makes clear this is far from being a standard Ecoboost, running a map specially developed by Radical Performance Engines. But even turned up to 11 it is still claimed to be able to run for more than 80 hours at track speeds between rebuilds, more than enough for a race season.
Not that all SR10s are built to compete, despite eligibility to the company's top-flight championships around the world. Sales and marketing boss Dan Redpath reckons there is something close to a 50:50 split between racers and those looking for a weapon capable of dominating top-end trackdays. The idea is for a car that both experienced pilots and relative novices can both get something out. Which is where I come in...
I only experience the new HALO from the passenger seat of another demonstrator, it feels like a tight-fitting roll cage and gave the open cockpit a surprisingly claustrophobic feeling until my brain learned to filter it out. The SR10 I drove had no more front-end protection than that provided by a cut-down plastic aero screen, which also made it far easier to get in and out.
One of the other changes for 2022 is a relocated steering column to improve elbow room, but once installed the cockpit fits snugly on all sides. The engine fires into a reluctant idle on the button and getting rolling requires use of the clutch pedal which is then forgotten; from that point onwards all the sequential Hewland gearbox's changes are conducted without it.
To no great surprise the engine doesn't feel particularly special. Responses are keen and performance is huge, but the motor is more interested in delivering speed than character. Mid-range torque is huge - short-shifting well before the 7,000rpm redline barely diminishes the rate of full-throttle acceleration - but there is no zing to the top end, and the even through the padding of a helmet it just sounds loud and angry. If you want spine-chilling harmonics then look elsewhere, but speed is always plentiful.
Well before the end of my first lap it's obvious that the chassis is truly special. The first few corners on coldish tyres was the only time the SR10 felt in any way traction limited. Once the Hankook slicks were up to temperature grip becomes huge enough to require mental recalibration, on a different plane to even Cup-shod track special supercars. That's obvious going into corners, with neck-snapping turn-in and forces that are soon making my carefully tightened harnesses feel loose. But it feels even more alien when it comes to getting the power down, the Radical happy to take full throttle where anything road legal would be teetering on the edge of adhesion, or well past it.
Loadings will be brutal to anybody not accustomed to them - especially given the effort required to both turn the wheel and to keep lock applied once running at the sort of speeds when downforce starts to bite. By the end of a nine lap stint I felt like I'd been in a fight with a rugby team. While the factory demonstrator's manual steering was undoubtedly the purer choice, gentleman amateurs are likely to tick the box for the optional electric assistance. Strangely my tired neck muscles struggled more with fore-and-aft loadings than lateral acceleration.
None of this is to imply the massive adhesion results in a car that feels inert, the SR10 happier to be pushed beyond its limits than most slick-shod cars, tolerating small amounts of power some of Portimao's tighter turns without turning snappy. Grip will always be quicker than slip, but slip will always be more fun. (Fully adjustable suspension will allow owners to further tune handling characteristics according to personal taste.) The only area I found where the car will bite is under braking, with the lack of ABS making it easy to end up on the wrong side of the fine line that divides maximum retardation from locked wheels, especially as downforce bleeds off when slowing from higher speeds.
The SR10 will never be foolproof, and nor is it meant to be. This is a very real racing car, one that will thrill and educate anybody coming to it from lesser machinery in equal measure. At £131,400 (or £109,500 for those that can claim the VAT back) it will remain a performance bargain in absolute terms. You could buy one of these, a trailer and an appropriately muscular tow barge for not much more than half the price of a McLaren 765LT or Lamborghini Huracan STO. You'd likely have more fun with it on track, too.
Specification | 2022 Radical SR10
Engine: 2304cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed sequential, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 425@6,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 380@4,000rpm
Top speed: 180mph (gearing limited)
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