The Radical SR1 XXR takes focus, strategy, and neck strength

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The difference between theory and practice has never been more painfully clear.

I briefly studied aeronautical engineering so I understand the principle of aerodynamic downforce, but, as I’m flying through Silverstone’s Copse corner, neck muscles straining against the g force, it might as well be witchcraft.

The SR1 XXR I’m driving is merely “the first step on the Radical ladder” and boy does it feel steep. Just months earlier I was tackling the same turn in my little Ford EnduroKA and the difference is almost unfathomable.

The Radical’s cornering capacity is simply incredible. It requires a complete mental and physical recalibration. There’s the speed that I think I can turn in and then there’s the speed at which I actually can turn in—and they are distant cousins.

Although it runs on treaded tires (slicks are reserved for Radical’s more potent SR3 and above) such is the force generated by the car’s front splitter and rear wing that the levels of grip are seemingly exponentially higher than one would expect.

Radical SR1 XXR Silverstone 4
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As the downforce builds, steering effort increases but the Radical just holds its course. Frankly, I never go fast enough on this pre-race test day to find out what happens past the car’s limits. However, as I’m overtaken by quicker cars, I do encounter the effects of “dirty air,” which causes the front wheels to momentarily yet quite dramatically lose their iron grip on the track surface.

Only in slower corners where I’m too eager on the throttle do I break traction, and then the transition from grip to slide is progressive and easy to catch with a little counter-steering.

“That’s the best thing about the SR1,” says Ryan Lindsay, the 2021 Radical Challenge Championship winner and my driver coach for the day, “it’s so easy to drive, but difficult to master.”

Radical SR1 XXR Silverstone data
Former champ Ryan Lindsay takes a bemused Berg through the data logs. Sprite Photography

With his encouragement I rev the SR1’s 1340-cc Suzuki Hayabusa-based motorcycle engine to beyond 9000 rpm, flat-shifting through the six-speed sequential gearbox with the right-hand paddle to gain more speed in straight line. I also brake later, working the 240-mm vented discs harder than before. The telemetry will tell me that I could apply even more pressure and hit the anchors later still.

Nonetheless, I shave several seconds off my times and, by the end of the day I actually manage to keep another SR1 at bay for few laps.

Of course, the fact that this latest version has a shark fin to aid its aero stability, new brake ducts for improved cooling, Intrax three-way adjustable dampers for the Nik-link suspension (Radical’s name, not mine) with its unequal length double wishbones, and adjustable front and rear push rods, certainly won’t have hurt, but such is the Radical ethos that these are incremental improvements rather than giant leaps.

“One of the great features of the Radical Cup series is that previous generations are still welcome and supported, which in turn keeps the used car values strong for our Radical owners,” explains Radical’s Global Head of Marketing Jon Roach.

Having made its debut in 2012, the SR1 has had an ongoing development program, but competitors taking part in the Hagerty Radical Cup series in the UK, or championships in North America, Canada, South Korea, Romania, and the Philippines don’t need to upgrade every year to stay competitive. In the U.S. the SR1 has long been a favorite at country club circuits and track day events, while the grid at races is filled with the higher-performance SR3 and SR10.

Wide-eyed Berg awaits his first experience of proper downforce. Sprite Photography

Radical’s entry list is a mix of (mostly) gentlemen racers seeking a step up from track days, plus a few young guns moving from karting on their way to careers in endurance racing. In the paddock I meet drivers who haven’t even got their road licenses, while others are enjoying an active retirement. In the North American series I’m told the oldest driver is 78—and leading his class.

He must be one seriously fit septuagenarian. After just two 45-minute sessions in the car my neck has had it, and without some serious gym work I doubt I could cope with a typical weekend that runs to three 30-plus minute races plus qualifying and testing. Radical drivers certainly get a lot of seat time for their money.

On that topic, the SR1 XXR costs $69,900. That’s hardly small change, but for a car that can lap almost as fast as a GT3 car it seems pretty good value.

Now to work on my sponsorship proposal …

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    The first line of the article reminds me of one of my favorite Yogi Berra quotes. He said, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice they aren’t.”

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