This year no fewer than three cars have set new lap records around the MIRA dry handling circuit we use during our road tests.
We try not to make too big a thing of it: the laps are a useful, repeatable, subjective handling test for us, not a competition. That we come up with a lap time is just an objective by-product of our testing.
Manufacturers, though … well, they’ve come to like a lap time.
The first car we lapped in record time this year was the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, all 1183bhp of it. That’ll be that, we thought: 1min8.5sec. Nothing will go faster than that anytime soon.
Then Ariel acceded to the idea of us performing a full eight-page road test on the Ariel Atom V8. It ‘only’ has 475bhp but it only weighs 650kg. It duly went round in a hairy 1min8.4sec.
This week, though, we’ve tested the Radical SR3 SL. As you can read, SL stands for Street Legal. But once a track car, always a track car.
Despite weighing over 700kg and only toting 245bhp, the SR3 SL ripped around our dry handling circuit in 1min8.0sec dead.
How does it feel, to lap at that pace compared to doing similar in the Atom or the Veyron?
Slower, in a straight line, naturally. If you’ve driven a supercar, the accelerative performance of the Radical is not other-worldly. Neither is its braking overly remarkable.
The speed the Radical can carry through corners, however, is utterly stupendous.
There’s this long left-hander on our circuit. The Veyron was very grippy through it but, you didn’t want to lift-off. The Atom, meanwhile, needed to be bunged in and driven on the throttle to keep its nose on-line.
But because the Radical is first and foremost a circuit car it develops genuine aerodynamic grip. And it just drives round, faster than anything else, with absolutely no drama, if you’re prepared to take the leap of aerodynamic faith.
We’re used to grippy cars pulling more than 1.0, perhaps 1.1g. The Radical easily clears 1.2g and will sometimes hold 1.3 for a short while. On turn-in to one corner it peaked at 1.8g. You think ‘these tyres should give me, ooh, about <this> much grip’. Then you turn-in and realise they’ll give you about 30 per cent more.
And as a bloke generally used to mechanical grip, I found that quite exciting.
I’ll be honest, I used to think that Radicals were a bit daft. A bit pointless. In the office I’ve been banging on for months about the Toyota GT 86 (formely the Toyota FT-86) because it’s got more going for it than grip and lap-times and lateral g; it has feel and finesse and loveliness. (I still believe that, by the way.)
But I’m afraid the Radical has sucked me in a bit. I loved it. I still on the whole prefer slower cars with chassis that like to slide around a bit more, but every now and again, nothing else would do.
Couldn’t you have a trailer and an old Formula racing car and just as much fun? Well, yeah, you might. I always figured you could.