Bonkers mid-engined Micra makes no sense, but the world's a better place for its existence

This is a new one on me: I’m about to drive a car for the second time and, uniquely, I’m actually more daunted than I was first time around. Usually, the second time’s a doddle, even in the most exotic machinery; you’ve had a go, you’ve got know each other and, if it was a challenge – well, you’ve won.So what’s different this time? Two things, both centred around our location. I first drove the Micra SR (then called the R) in the entertaining company of Mike Mallock at Silverstone’s short, open Stowe Circuit almost two years ago. Back then, the Micra sported a lightweight de-tuned 260bhp touring car motor and sequential gearbox. That’s reason one – the unreliable old motor has been thrown out and a tuned, 306bhp V6 motor from the 350Z (a somewhat larger, more powerful and, I suspect, heavier engine), has been installed in its place. So I dare say that today we’re more than likely to encounter a wee bit of oversteer.Not that that’s necessarily a problem in itself, but for reason two, which is that rather than Silverstone, I’m now at Cadwell Park. It’s a circuit I’d never visited until twenty minutes ago, and three sighting laps in a cooking Micra alongside Christian Vann, who finished 8th at this year’s Le Mans, has done my confidence few favours. There are untold gradients and cambers, of the sort that could make life really interesting in a 306bhp mid-engined Micra, and those run-off areas don’t look too wide either. Vann reckons that Cadwell is “one of the most difficult and challenging race circuits in Europe.” Just the place to be throwing a unique, mid-engined, 350Z-tyred pseudo-race car around, then.Still, I’ve some time before my drive to muse about some details. This Micra shell is a one-off, sports a roll cage and two racing seats, and overall weight is 1,250kg. The engine’s block is actually from a Murano but with 350Z heads, and has tuned by NISMO with the addition of high lift cams, a modified ECU, improved breathing and an exhaust you could lose a cricket bat in. Instead of the earlier car’s sequential ‘box, there’s a conventional six-speed manual from a Nissan US Altima SE-R, while wheels and tyres are off the 350Z and fill the SR’s arches quite purposefully. Estimated performance sees 0-60mph in under five seconds and the top end’s more than 150mph. Oh, and like the previous incarnation, it’s still entirely road legal.A quick rumble to the shops and back is, however, not on the agenda today. So, helmet donned, I drop myself into the driver’s seat, which although it slides on rails like a conventional seat, has no height adjustment. Now, I’m no shortarse, but Mallock is considerably taller than me and it shows in the driving position. With my legs set-up nicely for some heel-and-toe work on the pedals, the steering wheel, even on its lowest adjustment setting, is still at least at shoulder level, so it’s a stretch to reach the top of it and I’m peering over the rim like a Sunday-driving octogenarian.Still, backing out on grounds that I look a bit of an eejit and my arms might ache would be a bit weak so, first gear engaged, I head out onto the track. Which is where its first apparent that the change from a four-pot to a V6 is a good one – there’s a shed-load of torque, and it sounds fantastic – a deep, throaty bwaoorrp at low-revs, building to an impressive howl further round the rev-range.The first corners we hit are a complex set of on-camber downhill curves, where the Micra shows itself to be agile, and the steering peculiarly light, probably because of the lack of weight on the front end. I opt for a slow-in, fast(ish) out cornering technique, which seems to find approval from Mallock, passengering. Going in too hot and braking mid-bend, a couple of my colleagues later tell me, is a sure-fire way to end up going backwards and peering all-too worriedly at the approaching Armco, and that’s a situation I’m keen to avoid.So I choose smoothness all the way, gradually building up to a fairly decent lick which, as it turns out, is pretty fast – we’re sharing the track with some Micra 160SRs and they flash backwards like they’re standing still. And after a lap or two I try being just a little generous on the throttle at some corner exits; the 350SR straightens itself nicely, no fuss, no drama, just fast-gathering pace and one of the finest engine notes on the planet.After three laps, the fear of this car and location has gone and I’m having a thoroughly good time, which is, inevitably, when my session ends. Still should I get to drive it for the third time, I’m unlikely to be so daunted again. So now, I’ve just got to engineer the opportunity. Well, it is road legal…Matt Prior

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