Assembling a one-make race series from lightweight British sports cars is nothing new: Caterham, Ginetta, Radical and others have been successfully organising very popular championships for years now. Buyers of Sevens, G40s and Raptures are always going to be interested in track days, makes sense to encourage them towards competition. And as many will attest to, there's no going back one the racing bug has bitten.
The Ariel Atom Cup was launched in 2013 on a similar premise. Like a Caterham Academy car, the constituents remained road legal, so racers could drive to and from the circuit if they so wished. Unlike the Academy Sevens, however, the Atom Cups were rather more serious track cars: Ohlins dampers and Alcon brakes were fitted, together with new wishbones to allow more camber adjustment. Along with the necessaries for competition like a roll cage and extinguisher, the Atom Cup was a different proposition to the road car - although it did use the same Honda K20 engine and six-speed manual. Still, hardly like anybody has ever complained one bit about that powertrain.
Predictably enough, everyone who drove the Cup loved the experience, because it was an Atom that delivered even greater thrills on track yet could still just about be used on the road. Tramlining could be an issue, and apparently the motorsport fuel tank could be tricky to fill, but nobody ever bought an Atom for convenience. The additional track focus was probably an acceptable a trade-off.
Or we assume it is because very rarely do we see one for sale in the classifieds, which suggests people tend to hang onto them even when their racing career is over. This one was built in 2016 and driven 3,500 miles since then, and looks remarkably fresh for a dedicated race car. But then there isn't an awful lot to damage on anything Ariel makes.
All the race kit remains fitted - check out the negative camber on the front - and the best part of 500hp per tonne would mean incredible circuit performance, while retaining the ability to nip to the shops. "We have fitted a handbrake to this car, so no worries come MOT time" the ad cheerily tells us. Which means that this is very much a real race car for the road. Not just a 1500kg sports car with some Alcantara inside.
It's going to require some effort, of course, because a wind deflector that now looks like a PPE visor is the only protection from the elements. But 'twas ever thus with an Atom. The flipside is probably the most exhilarating Ariel experience short of the V8; even the latest turbocharged Atom 4 might struggle to match the excitement of the 8,500rpm cars. With the motorsport upgrades to really get the best from it, this is probably all the Atom you'll ever need. And it's the cheapest one in the classifieds, too, at £43,950 - perfect for the 2022 track day season.
SPECIFICATION | ARIEL ATOM CUP
Engine: 1,998cc, four-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, LSD
Power (hp): 245@8,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 165@5,200rpm
Year registered: 2016
Recorded mileage: 3,550
Price new: £42,000 (plus race costs)
Yours for: £43,950
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