Auto Tech

The Caterham SP/300.R made me feel like a racer

XCAR's producer took a spin in the track's only Caterham SP/300.R. He liked it.

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Take a good, long, hard look at the SP/300.R. Drink in the Lola-developed aero package capable of producing 450 kg of downforce. Focus your attention onto the monstrous carbon adjustable rear wing. Notice the slick tyres wrapped around Formula Three wheels, the literal breath-taking six-point harness, the F1-style steering wheel that requires a masters in engineering to steer.

Before this day I'd never driven a purebred track car. And what a way to start -- completely and utterly petrified. I'd been repeatedly reassured that although the design gave the R the appearance of an £80,000 supercharged, fire-breathing racing demon that would snap the spine of anyone without the correct ARDS paperwork filed, in fact it wasn't too dissimilar from its relative, the Caterham Seven.

Did I mention the SP/300.R is a Caterham? The company that for fifty odd years has pretty much stuck to the tried and tested formula of a Lotus design from the 1950's? This is probably just me, but this seems like a teensy weensy baby/pigeon step into new territory for them. I've driven a few Sevens. They may look like Brum (my family's words, not mine) but they can be both immensely fun and face-tearingly terrifying, depending on the situation.

So, perhaps the looks had just caught up with the experience of taming a Seven. Maybe it was a no more intimidating car. It was one thing hearing this, but with a team of mechanics working around you in the Rockingham pit lane as the air is slowly squeezed from your lungs via an ever-tightening harness as a muffled engineer briefs you through a fogged up crash helmet (a tad too much hyperventilating), you tend to think they're all horrible liars and that this is some kind of fatal mix up.

Astoundingly though, they all proved to be correct, and after my initial goal of exiting the pits without looking like a rank amateur was promptly put to bed after several spectacular stalls (racing clutch and unfairly close concrete bollards, not my immense lack of talent), I found myself shrieking with hysterical disbelief as I drove, without too much drama, around Rockingham.

It truly is a wonderful machine. The violent downshifts, low-slung seating position and roar of the thing gave me my 15 minutes of pretending I was the world's greatest driver.

The sounds, smells and feel of the R makes the experience as far removed from a Seven as it gets (the only similarity being a missing roof -- and a parent company), but the accessibility was truly impressive. Driving with slicks and downforce-creating aero that actually did something was a completely new experience, but I can safely say I got nowhere near exploiting the car's fullest potential.

It was the closest I'll probably ever come to driving a proper racing car. In reality I was giving it a few laps of Rockingham, in my head I was heading down the Mulsanne Straight at full chat.

It was at this point that my race-fueled, overly excited head said: "Come on, Nick, let's see what she can really do." Then I span. Twice. It seems rather than belittle and intimidate me, the R encouraged me, pushed me to my (modest) limits and beyond. Clearly I need more practice. I obviously need one. Donations welcome. Please. Help me.

Engine 2.0-litre supercharged four cylinder
Power 300 bhp
Torque 213 lb. ft.
0-62 mph 2.8 seconds
Top speed    174 mph