This annual meeting of the very best driver’s cars might be in celebratory mood but, like any 30-year-old, it’s changed somewhat over the years. And when all the judges’ votes had been counted this year, we were reminded of a time when ultra-lightweight two-seater sports cars like the Ariel Atom were deliberately excluded from entry on the basis that it would be unfair on everything else to let them in. “Of course they’d win,” the argument went.
Well, since the demise of that rule, we’ve had Caterhams, Ariels, stripped-out Lotuses and others like them in the BBDC mix – and, despite a couple of near misses, none of them has quite triumphed. Until now.
The Ariel Atom 4 has succeeded where so many cars of its ilk have fallen short. Beating the truly great and considerably more usable McLaren 600LT Spider into second place by a clear margin, this West Country marvel simply stunned us all. Some were visibly stuck for words to describe it; others, on reflection, settled for “exhilarating”, “visceral”, “absorbing” and “raw”. Nobody awarded it fewer than 22 points for its showing on track, and nobody placed it outside of their top three overall.
When comparing the car to its immediate forebears from Ariel and summing up what makes it different, one juror remarked that, although he’d seldom failed to be excited by “over-driving” an Atom in the frenetic, physical, delicious little wrestling match these cars habitually engage you in, he’d often felt right on the knife edge of control with them – and sooner or later, therefore felt more inclined to back off than press on.
“With this one,” he went on, “once you get on top of it near the limit of grip, you feel much more confident – with a bit of effort and concentration – that you can stay there. And the amount of fun to be had as you do is just incredible.”