Release the Rapture! The Latest Radical Follows an Enduring Recipe
Most sportscar manufacturers tout a close connection between their road cars and the race track. Radical Sportscars obliterates any distinction, building cost-effective cars that compete with the world’s automotive giants for “fun to drive” honors. Following in the proud English tradition of small car constructors that punch above their weight, Radical has made thousands of cars and attracted customers around the globe.
Intrigued, The Speed Journal wanted a closer look at the Radical recipe, so Jeff Francis was deployed to Donington Park for a test drive with the Radical team.
Tracing its roots back to founding in 1997, Radical Sportscars have stayed faithful to a consistent design philosophy. The basic approach is a platform emphasizing simplicity, robust power to weight ratio, interchangeable parts, and easy maintenance. Design cues such as an aggressive nose and a double element rear wing evoke more of a race car heritage than a typical road car.
Radical is perhaps best known for its trio of SR1, SR3 and SR8 track day specials. They share a similar look but offer progressively more performance. Don’t be fooled – the entry level SR1 is no watered down compromise. Its Radical-enhanced Suzuki 4-cylinder engine produces 182hp. That power installed in a lightweight 490kg (1080 pound) car results in a rocket ship capable of reaching 60mph from a standstill in only 3.5 seconds. Lateral grip is just shy of 2g. Those are crazy numbers for an entry level track toy that costs a fraction of the price listed on the window stickers of most other sportscars. The SR3 and SR8 take that philosophy further with more tech, more power and more performance.
Over the years, Radical Sportscars has made and sold over 2,000 cars in total, including over 1000 of the SR3 alone. Many of those are raced on a regular basis by enthusiasts who see the value of a low cost entry point into motorsports.
At the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed, Radical announced its newest offering – the road-legal Rapture. Powered by a 350hp turbocharged inline four-cylinder Ford engine with additional Radical massaging, the Rapture is an open-cockpit two-seater with a race-bred chassis and crash structure draped in aggressive high-downforce composite bodywork. It carries on the SR tradition but dials up every aspect – faster, less compromised, more aerodynamic, more adaptable. In theory, the Rapture is street legal. While many buyers will still use a truck and trailer to keep their Rapture focused on track duty, it is incredibly appealing to think that an owner can drive to the track, spend the day running around at speed, and then drive home. Radical is optimistic about the Rapture, as the company recently opened a new facility at its Peterborough, England home dedicated to supporting Rapture production.
Radical took advantage of an open track day at Donington Park to bring six various cars for potential customers to try out. Four customers brought their cars as well. The trial day was the first opportunity after the Goodwood reveal for the public to get a first-hand taste of the new Rapture. The Radical factory in Peterborough is less than a 90-minute drive to the east of Donington Park. Fourteen Radical technical and sales staff plus instructors were on hand to provide support and enthusiastic guidance. The instructors all arrived with deep professional racing experience, ranging from time behind the wheel of Radicals to British Touring Cars to Le Mans prototypes.
Before hitting the track, Francis got the download from Dominic Lee, the Radical UK Regional Sales Manager, on the Radical story. Lee explained how Radical has intentionally cultivated single marque racing events to give a venue for Radical customers to race. The similarity of the cars puts a premium on driver skill and development. The spec approach keeps costs dramatically lower than many other forms of motorsport. The low cost, however, doesn’t mean low performance. The SR1 is comparable to a modern GT4 car and a SR3 can turn lap times in the same neighborhood as a GT3 car, both of which are commonly found in events such as the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
The Suzuki crate motor in the SR1 benefits from the Radical touch to improve reliability before being sealed and installed in a car. The 40-hour warranty provides comfort for a customer looking to avoid extra expense and lost track time due to maintenance issues. Lee explained that Radical cars are driven around the world because they are easy to maintain, and settings are easily transferrable between cars depending on the track being run.
The SR1 is the first step on the Radical racing ladder and the most common entry point for most Radical customers to track action. Radical organizes racing events and provides full trackside support.
The SR1 has been so successful that Radical revised and updated it to make a Generation 2 version of the SR1 in 2017. New styling, updated aerodynamics and improved electronics featured in the overhaul. While many customers start with the SR1, Lee explained that the SR3 is the workhorse of the Radical family. Over 1,100 have been sold since it was released in 2001, making it the most popular prototype style sports racer in the world. It continues the basic Radical formula of a cost-effective, accessible, high performance path to the race track.
The time for chatting ended and the time for strapping on a helmet and heading out on track was at hand. Francis moved towards a brand new yellow Rapture with black wheels, stripes and trim. The headlight clusters on either side of the nose looked like eyes of a bug with eight different lights arranged vertically at each corner. The nose profile easily looks like that of an open-wheeled race car with aerodynamic curves and inlets beneath. Stuart Moseley introduced himself and provided a tour of the Rapture.
Moseley comes with plenty of Radical seat time to his credit. He has been and is still involved in the development and racing of the Radical customer cars. He also was integrally involved in the Radical SP9 Le Mans prototype program that ran in 2006 and 2007. It was an honor to have someone with such a close connection to the car talking through the features of their new project.
The pair climbed aboard with Moseley in the driver’s seat. The interior was spartan but purposeful. A multifunction steering wheel, electronic instrument panel, and sculpted dash faced two molded racing seats with harnesses to keep the occupants safely situated during their journey. Moseley fired up the Rapture and steering it briskly out onto the Donington Park circuit. At just under 2 miles, the fast and flowing circuit rewarded a precise driving line, crisp braking points and grip in the corners. Moseley demonstrated the car and pointed out features of both the car and the track. The goal wasn’t a hot lap to challenge the stopwatch, but rather an introduction before Francis took the controls.
Introduction complete, passenger became driver and Francis got the chance to try out the Rapture. The Ford engine roared to life and the Rapture quickly showed its potential. The performance easily matched its aggressive styling but was not difficult to drive. The six-speed paddle shift quickly moved up and down through the gears, complete with an auto-blip function to match engine revs to road speed and avoid sudden weight transfer through the car. The clutch was only necessary for starts and stops, as the 350hp hurled the lightweight Rapture out of the corners and down the straights. The aerodynamic downforce and race-bred suspension glued the car to the pavement through the corners and absorbed the apex curbing. The wing mounted across the back and diffuser beneath the rear balanced aerodynamic downforce produced by the carefully carved nose and splitter.
The Rapture inspired confidence and an enjoyable driving experience. It never felt like a high-tension racecar perched on the edge of control. Quirks otherwise common in a pure race cars were absent. The engine and drivetrain were easy to manage and docile enough to walk a balance between race car and road car. The fully adjustable dampers make the Rapture adaptable to different track surfaces and circuit configurations for those that wish to take their Rapture touring.
Wind blew through the open passenger compartment which heightened the experience. The driver heard the engine note, had unobstructed sight lines, and could hear the tires if they struggled for grip. Even smells were more pronounced involving another sense and adding to stimulus to the driver’s brain. The power to weight ratio is the not so secret weapon. Power coupled with a mid-engine configuration and rear-wheel drive made the car nimble, lively and faster than most anything else on the track. The rear-view mirrors provided excellent sight lines around the curvaceous rear bodywork at anyone trying to keep up.
It was a thrill to pound around the Donington Park course with a brand new Radical machine amidst an impressive assortment of vintage four-wheeled hardware. An original Ford GT40, a Jaguar C-type tribute, several GT3 racers and even an open-top Lola-Mazda prototype that raced in the US in 2007 were testing for the upcoming Silverstone Classic event. Open track days are always fun with the promise of being able to see interesting cars exercised at speed and hear the distinct engine notes from different makes and decades.
After returning to the pits and dismounting, it was striking to realize that the Rapture could be legally steered through the paddock and out onto British roads. The Rapture isn’t shy, so its dramatic styling, rollbar, wings and open-top would surely attract plenty of attention from the curious.
Now armed with fresh Radical miles under his belt, Francis had the chance to bench race with a few others in the group. One guest, now in his second year of racing in the Radical series, was taking advantage of the test day to log test miles in his SR1. He had followed a path familiar to other Radical owners, leaving behind exotic street cars for the track in favor of the Radical. The affordability, competitive spirit, camaraderie of the Radical series and community, and deep Radical factory support were difficult to beat.
A pair of Porsche GT3 owners were also on hand to try out the Radical. Visiting from the London area, the opportunity to try out the new Rapture on an international race circuit was the best test drive imaginable. It was certainly more thrilling than looking at a static car in a showroom and listening to a salesperson trying to explain the intangibles of what makes a Radical special.
Radical continues a tradition that changed the course of Formula One history as the 1950s gave way to the 1960s. Small outfits scattered around rural England pushed the pace of development. These scrappy upstarts took the fight to traditional heavyweights such as Ferrari and Maserati. Enzo Ferrari dismissively dubbed them “Garagistes” as small time challengers working out of their garages.
What constructors like Lotus, Brabham, Cooper and BRM lacked in resources they made up with ingenuity. They established a model that typically joined their chassis creations with power from an engine manufacturer. They also established England as the epicenter of auto racing and Formula One that remains to this day.
While Formula One teams now sprinkle the British countryside in palaces powered by monster budgets and high-technology, a spiritual successor to the Garagiste tradition is found in Peterborough in the form of Radical Sportscars.
The Speed Journal thanks the Radical team for their hospitality at Donington Park and looks forward to joining at another track day in the future.
The Driver’s Series scours the world to find and explore compelling driving experiences for anyone with a driver’s license and passion for speed. We send our resident driver Jeff Francis to get behind the wheel and report back to Speed Journal readers to ride along virtually or become inspired to take on the driving experiences themselves. Are you involved with a driving experience that should be featured on The Speed Journal? Do you have a driving experience suggestion for The Speed Journal to investigate? Please contact us.