There is a saying in racing: “Cheap, fast and reliable. Pick two.” Of course, every racer wants to go fast. So, in shopping for a car, that leaves just one other choice from the list: either cheap or reliable.
Being experienced in operating a race car myself, and after consulting many other racers who have much more experience, it quickly became obvious that buying cheap was not the proper second choice. Inevitably, the cheap choice becomes unreliable. When your race car is unreliable and you need your fix, you will have to start throwing cash at it. Cheap is a myth.
After running a Vortech supercharged Honda S2000 for six seasons (reliable, fast, fairly expensive to operate) and a 2002 Nissan Sentra with an SR20VE engine for one season (cheap, moderately quick, very unreliable), I was looking for something different. I wanted something that could turn fast laps, be similarly reliable to the Honda and be inexpensive to run. Yes, I wanted the elusive three: cheap, reliable AND fast. A guy can dream, right?
After hours upon hours of research, the answer started to become obvious. Running a vehicle that was built to go to the grocery store isn’t the answer if you are looking for the elusive three. Talking to owners of Formula Fords, Formula Mazdas and reading anything I could about operating costs of various vehicles, I came to the conclusion that I was looking for a purpose-built race car. More specifically, a formula car.
I had some reservations about an open-wheel formula car. Safety was one big one, but the ability to race, practice and do lapping days was also a big factor for me. Coming from the world of sedans, this was going to be a challenge. Open wheel cars and sedans do not mix, and finding simple lapping days for formula cars is very difficult.
Enter the sports racer – a formula car with full bodywork. This seemed like the obvious solution, but again finding a fast, reliable and inexpensive (at least to run) sports racer seemed elusive. Until I came across the Radical SR3.
Radical Sportscars is a small vehicle manufacturer based in the United Kingdom. Their humble beginnings go back to 1996 with their first car, the Radical Prosport. They hit the jackpot when they launched the 2002MY Radical SR3, their most popular platform. Turn the clock ahead and the company now builds five unique models. With over 300 cars sold last year and 1,900 since ‘96, Radical is the largest manufacturer of race cars in the world.
Up until last year, buying, servicing and racing a Radical in Canada was a lonely endeavour. But, as luck would have it, Radical infiltrated Canada in 2013. The division is based in the Greater Toronto Area and operated by Robert Burgess, a seasoned racer and son of veteran Le Mans and American Le Mans Series driver Tony Burgess.
With the introduction of a Canadian operation as well as the Radical Cup racing series, the Radical SR3 has moved into Canada in a big way. The ability to run the Radical with formula or GT cars makes it one of the most versatile cars to own. These factors culminated to finally allow me to make a decision. The Radical SR3 checked all the boxes and acquiring one became my goal.
About the car
The basis of the Radical SR3 is a steel space frame chassis with a fiberglass body. The chassis integrates a safety cell and complies with FIA production sports car safety tests. The suspension is a fully-adjustable design with unequal lengths, featuring top and bottom wishbones with bespoke uprights and forged centre lock hubs on all four corners.
The drivetrain layout is a mid-engine, rear wheel drive that utilizes a 1,340 cc Suzuki-developed superbike engine. Although a 1,500 cc engine is available, to keep costs low and reliability high, the Canadian SR3 series promotes the use of the more reliable, less powerful Suzuki that produces 205 horsepower. Power is transferred to the ground through a six-speed sequential gearbox and Powertec gear drive system that incorporates a torque-biasing limited-slip differential, interchangeable gear ratios and a reverse gear system.
What’s it like to Drive?
The enemy to any race car is weight. This where the Radical SR3 pays off in many areas. The SR3 has a curb weight of approximately 1,100 pounds (499 kilograms) with 205 horsepower on tap, which translates to a power-to-weight ratio of 5.36-pounds per horsepower. This is very impressive when you consider that a typical road car carries 3,200 to 3,500 pounds (1,450 - 1,587 kilograms), meaning a GT car would need around 650 horsepower to compete.
The SR3 has a 0-to-100 km/h time of 3.1 seconds, but where it really shines is cornering and braking, where weight loss is once again key. Combined with that advantage, the SR3 is equipped with front and rear aero, including a rear diffuser which creates a considerable amount of downforce for extra road holding. According to Radical, the SR3 is capable of delivering 2.5 Gs of cornering force and 2.0 Gs of braking force; substantially more than can be had from any road-going car and on par with GT racers that cost substantially more.
I’m not a big guy, but the SR3 was designed for drivers over six-feet tall and the cockpit is a true two seat design, allowing you to share the fun with friends, family members and race fans. Because it is a two-seater, there is plenty of space for larger drivers without feeling claustrophobic. An adjustable seat and pedal box ensures that most drivers can find a perfect seating position without much effort.
When you fire up an SR3 for the first time, that undeniable feeling of butterflies hits you in the stomach and your heart starts to race with excitement. The intake noise above your head only enhances the entire experience as you strap yourself in for the drive of a lifetime.
The SR3 sports a 10,500 rpm redline. The first time you pull out of the pits and you put your foot to the floor, your brain tells you to shift much earlier than you need to. The first time I hit the track in my SR3 I was constantly shifting around 8,000 rpm. After about five laps, the car began to display alarms due to cold engine temps! I quickly realized I was driving too slow, despite the fact I was turning laps faster than I had ever done before.
With a purely manual steering rack, manual brakes and no traction control or other aids, the Radical is a pure race car. Steering, braking and overall feel of the Radical SR3 is as raw and direct as you can get. The feeling of being one with the machine is intoxicating and addictive as you turn lap after lap. You can feel every inch of pavement below you and you really get a sense that you are commanding the car, not the other way around.
I’ve done thousands of laps at Calabogie Motorsports Park, located north of Ottawa and my first few times in the Radical caught me off guard. Having done all of those previous laps in GT cars, the braking potential of the Radical is beyond comprehension. Each and every lap that I complete with the Radical I brake harder and later – and there is still more to gain.
The car is quick, but because it is low on torque, it is a momentum car. The trick to driving the SR3 fast is to brake late on corner entry and carry plenty of speed through it. A few hours behind the wheel of this car is not nearly enough for your brain to begin to comprehend the limits it can achieve. That being said, the SR3 is still easy to drive quickly and after just 30 minutes behind the wheel, I was turning laps in the two-minute 15-second range. The SR3 is capable of turning lap times in the two-minute and five-second range at Calabogie. For reference, that is the same time as a Platinum Porsche GT3 cup car.
After a few hours, I have zero regrets about my purchase decision and look forward to pushing myself and the car further in 2014. When I picked up my car, Radical Canada was just in its infancy, but the Canadian division has been picking up steam and now offers potential customers a chance to test drive a Radical before purchasing. If you are interested in driving one of the fastest, most reliable and inexpensive dedicated race cars around, contacting Radical Canada is the obvious first step. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, because once you drive one you’ll want your own, as nothing else offers the exhilaration and performance for the money.