Some people buy music without hearing it first. And most people buy books without ever having read them. But for me, this habit can be a bit more expensive, as I seem to buy cars without driving them.
That’s exactly what happened when I bought our Radical SR3, so after having had some work done to it post-purchase, it was finally time to put it through its paces.
This car has an excellent pedigree. It won the closely contested 2016 Bikesports championship where it held its own against the newer 2016 models from Radical. It also finished second in the 2016 Silverstone 6-hour Birkett. These were not fluke results, as they clearly demonstrate how devastatingly quick this car is in the right hands.
Knowing all this, I had a restless night the day before the test, and by 5am I was wide awake and raring to go (even without my Weetabix). While heading down to Oulton Park, I remembered driving our Mini S Work on the same track, and tried desperately to recall which lines to take, braking zones, turn in points and so on, and started worrying I wouldn’t get the most out of the day.
Not that I should have been concerned. When I got to the track and entered the reserved garage, I was met by my trusted race driving instructor and skilled pit crew technician, and I knew I was in great hands.
The car had arrived earlier and the pit crew technician had been busy prepping it and warming the fluids, ready for it to get out on circuit. First though, I had to sign in with the track day provider and attend the driver briefing. A good in-depth briefing of the circuit with conditions and instructions for the day were conducted, all of which was standard stuff.
Once back in the reserved garage I donned my race wear: a FreeM race suit, FreeM racing boots, FreeM racing gloves, FreeM balaclava, HANS device and a Sparco helmet, all FIA approved. With all my gear, I was now ready to experience first-hand exactly why this car has a cult following.
With a little assistance, I got strapped in and reached for the starter button. The Hayabusa engine jumped into life and settled to a pitched idle. It had already been warmed up, which was essential as the oil and fluids were now up to operating temperature and it was ready for a good blast.
I pressed the clutch, pulled the paddle shift for first gear, and made to move out of the garage – but I stalled it. Must remember to add more revs next time!
I tried again and gave the engine a bit more throttle, and this time we were off. The pit lane was open so we trundled down the straight with the car goading me on, and by the time I reached the marshal who was waving me on to join the circuit, my heart was thumping.
This was it, we were now on track!
I took care to warm the tyres for a few laps, but bearing in mind the tyres were cold and I was having to break earlier for corners, the speed round the bend and the acceleration out was still mind altering. But all that was as nothing compared to when the tyres were warm. Once they were up to temperature, the whole experience seemed to become telepathic. The turn in was instant, the car placement felt intuitive. Deceleration and acceleration were both mind-warping experiences, and I reckon I now know how it felt for the Star Trek crew to accelerate to warp factor five!
With input from the instructor, my laps were getting quicker and quicker. I was able to brake later and carry more speed through a corner. With the wind noise buffering against my helmet and a paddle shift system that allowed full throttle upshift and clutchless downshifts, I had the sensation of what it must be like being a Formula 1 driver.
The noise was intoxicating as the Hayabusa engine screamed away at full throttle, and the shove from each gear change was verging on the side of vicious. There were some seriously quick and capable vehicles at the circuit that day, such as Ferraris and Porsches, but they were all having to move over so I could overtake. It was a feeling I didn’t want to end. There really was nothing quicker on track that day and I felt like a driving god.
But due to the increased forces I was experiencing, I was getting increasingly fatigued and starting to make small mistakes. Eventually the instructor advised we head to the pits for a rest and debrief.
We pulled into the garage, and the pit crew technician asked me, “How was it?”
I think he could see the grin through the visor and the exhilaration glowing in my eyes.
“Unbelievable,” I blurted out, “it was amazing!
“Right then, help yourself to a drink, let me check the car over and we’ll get you back out there to enjoy some more,” he replied.
How did it get to this? The fastest track car, an instructor to get the best out of me and a pit crew technician to maintain the car…
Well, the answer to that is simple.
Because…. Because Racecar.