Et voila: Lola hands you back the SP300R, with an aluminium honeycomb passenger tub, a supercharged 2.0-litre Ford Duratec motor hung behind it and an F3-spec Hewland gearbox with paddleshifters.
The SP300R looks and feels every inch the racing car. A one-make SP300R series beckons. It has air jacks as standard, is happiest firing from a slave battery, is snug to slip into and has first-rate fit and finish.
I’ve done a few track days and even a few races. But as I slot into the SP300R’s cockpit in the Rockingham pitlane, I’ll admit to feeling intimidated. It rides on slicks, for heaven’s sake. Despite the ability to post lap times three to four seconds faster than a BTCC car around Brands, the SP300R is completely assembled at Caterham’s Dartford factory.
I also think it looks the business. Clearly a designer’s hand, and not just an aerodynamicist’s, has been at work in the finishing. The detail strip across the back and the LED lights are sweet touches. The detailing inside is easily up to the standards of hospitality types, who will use them to scare corporate punters.
I suspect it’ll do that before it has even reached the end of the pitlane. It feels ‘proper’, as Caterham’s engineer eases it off its air jacks and its pitiful turning circle makes itself obvious on the way out of the garage. The clutch is sharp and there’s precious little response to the first centimetre of throttle travel.
It’s tractable enough, pulling from lowish revs without fuss, as long as you’re positive with the accelerator. Keep some throttle down and it upshifts without the clutch, too – cleanly, quickly and smoothly.
The motor makes 300bhp at 7500rpm, although drivers will have access to a higher ‘push-to-pass’ rev limit during racing for overtaking. The engine, gearbox, tyres and weight will all be controlled; the only difference will be set-up and driver talent. With the SP300R, Caterham is attempting to follow the theme of its other race series: affordable, fun and fair. All commendable aims.
Affordable? Well, that’s relative. It’s an £80,000-plus car, which is a lot for a track day weapon that is not and cannot be road legal. Options include spare wheels with wet tyres, a workshop and maintanence package, uprated harnesses, adjustable seats and other race-related additions. It’s easy to spend similar money on making a sports car good for the track and ruining it for the road. Value is measured in the fun you get out of it.
Fun? Hmm. During my first few laps? Crikey. There’s a lot going on. Too much potential, too much intimidation. I’ve always thought track days were about going out, pulling some skids and enjoying a car in a way that you can’t elsewhere.
I stop, take a short breather and think about it a bit and head out on to Rockingham asphalt again. Once you start to feel more confident in the SP300R – and in yourself – it makes a lot more sense.
Get to know it and it becomes clear this kind of car is the next logical step in track day driving. Once you’re tired of wearing out brakes and feeling 1300kg of underdamped metal move around, the SP300R makes perfect sense. It’s a track. It’s a track car.
The SP300R generates genuine aerodynamic grip – 450kg of it at 155mph – and weighs 545kg, so it develops 550bhp per tonne.
It’s not the kind of car you’d use on an airfield day, driving around the outside of Novas. On a serious circuit, on a serious track day, it would be immense. A car this good is able to let you feel, examine and enjoy its constituent parts. A car this memorable leaves sensations lingering for days.