Heavy-duty trucks, motorcycles, cars, tractors, boats, aeroplanes, tanks, redoubtable gearboxes and, in recent decades, market-leading karts. These have all been a part of the colourful patchwork that is Czech engineering all-rounder Praga, which is now forging ahead with an ambitious plan to stamp its mark on UK motorsport in 2021 and beyond. It may be a peripheral player in Western eyes but, on the evidence of the latest R1 single-seat sports racer that it launched this week, this is a company full of Eastern European promise.
Up to 13 examples of the R1 look set to race in the Britcar Endurance series this year, forming their own class in a wide-canvas branch of national motorsport that categorises entries based on power-to-weight performance rather than homologation.
That’s quite a statement for a company that only gained admittance to UK motorsport in 2019, with its all-carbonfibre, turbocharged R1 that claimed the overall Britcar title last year. The ambitious expansion is the next stage of a strategy that could lead to a one-make series for a car that exceeds GT3 performance and has the capacity to match LMP3 prototypes but is targeted as a user-friendly and fun tool for inexperienced amateurs and battle-hardened racers alike.
Coming in from the cold war
Founded way back in 1907, Praga was an automotive pioneer of significant clout, even if it’s now unknown or long-forgotten for most of us.
“It was the largest of around 50 car manufacturers in Czechoslovakia,” says Jan Martinek, R1 project leader and paid-up Praga acolyte. “If you had put Skoda and Tatra together, Praga would still have been larger. It also supplied parts such as crankshafts for Mercedes-Benz, because it had the technology. The 1930s was the golden age of Praga. It was huge.”
It had success in regional motorsport too, but its car production wings were clipped under post-war communist rule. “Its most famous product was the V3S go-anywhere truck,” says Martinek. “It was slow but is still in use in parts of the world today. You find them in India, Pakistan, Russia and Eastern Europe, plus South America was a big market.”
The return from state to private ownership after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 was tough as Praga struggled for footholds in the new capitalist landscape. However, its expertise in gearboxes, trucks and endurance motorcycles kept the flame burning – notably as an entrant on the Dakar Rally, as it was this month with its V4S truck.