It’s time to go racing. This weekend is the first competitive outing for our Radical SR1 in the Radical SR1 Cup at Silverstone, on the full grand prix circuit no less. Gulp.
For those who’ve not been hanging on every word of this blog these past couple of months, Autocar has been granted the guest car slot in the SR1 Cup, a low-cost one-make series for rookie racers looking to take their track day experience into racing for real.
In those two months since getting behind the wheel of the SR1 for the first time, there was a worry that all the early learnings and progress made would have been lost and forgotten.
But fortunately within half an hour of testing yesterday, those fears had been allayed. Indeed, what happened instead was akin to the feeling of accomplishment that comes from finally working out the ending to a complicated book or film. An enlightenment, in other words.
For the car now feels like one we’re getting on top of. Certainly not mastered, but just past the stage of being able to get up to a consistently good speed, and onto a bit of experimenting in squeezing out those extra few tenths.
In a one-make series where everyone uses the same tyres, it really is down to which driver can get the best out of the car. And the SR1 is the archetypal easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master car.
Driving your first race car is an experience that’s half exhilarating, half terrifying. It takes confidence in both yourself and the machinery to keep pushing more and more (making your smile broader and broader in the process), to know that you can brake later than your road car experiences will have you believe, to know that if you’re not on full throttle or full braking you’re probably treading water, to know that every input you make to the car on every inch of the track will have an impact good or bad to your lap time.
So where can the advantages be gained? One is knowing what to do with this mythical thing called downforce. Put simply, downforce is a wonderful thing that lets you go around quick corners (70mph-plus) quicker than really feels right.
Such as dropping only one gear after a quick dap of the brakes into Copse at Silverstone, and flooring it again mid corner, wondering why that barrier to your left isn’t getting any closer. Or trying (and still chickening out of) trying to take Maggots flat, despite the car goading you into doing so because it can.
Downforce, then, probably links you into the size of what’s in your trousers. There’s a limit, of course, but to really find out, even in an ‘entry-level’ race car such as the SR1, you have to stop thinking ‘what if I can’t go around the corner that fast?’ and instead think ‘what if I can get around the corner that fast?’. Thinking like the latter on a circuit the length of Silverstone will take seconds rather than tenths off your lap time. Corner exit speed is everything if you're not to be a sitting duck on the next long straight.
The other advantage is your tyres, and knowing what they are telling you. Until you actually experience the contrast between tyres that have gone past their best and a new set of rubber, you don’t figure just what a difference they can make. As obvious as it sounds, then, fresh rubber - and the confidence it can inspire in you - is another factor worth seconds rather than tenths.