Open cockpit racer delivers extreme track performance for those yet to step up to wheel-to-wheel racing

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This is a new track car from Radical, the Peterborough-based company claiming to be "one of the world’s most prolific sports car manufacturers" with over 2200 cars produced in the past 20 years, the overwhelming majority for circuit use only, primarily in any one of a dizzying number of one-make and other race series for which they are eligible around the world.

The SR10’s purpose in life is to provide the performance of the long-time flagship of the SR range, the SR8 (which 15 years ago in kind of road-legal form lapped the Nürburgring in 6min 55sec - over a decade before a car from another manufacturer went faster) but without the maintenance costs and headache of what is a very highly strung and specialist piece of kit. So instead of a bespoke normally aspirated 2.7-litre V8 motor producing 411bhp at a screaming 10,500rpm, the SR10 comes with a turbocharged 2.3-litre Ford Ecoboost motor shovelling out 425bhp at around 6900rpm. But the real difference is its 380lb ft of torque, compared with around 231lb ft for the SR8.

Radical has recently upgraded the 'regular' SR10 driven here to XXR-specification, which brings extra aero louvres, an LMP-style central fin and new lightweight alloy wheels, as well as high-intensity light clusters

The engine is rather more than a Ford Focus ST unit with the boost turned up. It has a custom Garrett turbocharger, forged rods and pistons, a tailor-made dry sump system, a race exhaust and its own Life Racing ECU. It comes with a six-speed Hewland gearbox originally developed for Formula 2 cars. Housed in a car weighing 725kg and running slick tyres, a formidable aero package and fully adjustable pushrod double-wishbone suspension, it is a very trick package indeed. Which, some might say, it should be, given the six-figure purchase price, even before VAT.

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Interestingly, although the SR10 is a full-blown race car, Radical is aiming it at a slightly different audience from its Radical SR3 staple racer (which accounts for half of everything Radical makes) and the SR8. It is instead "an ideal choice for those who want a car with extreme track performance, but who aren’t yet committed to full wheel-to-wheel competitive racing." The firm cites the track day and car club markets as prime targets for the car.

You climb over a high side intrusion bar and drop down, down, down into the cockpit. Hands appear and belt you tightly into the car. You look at a new wheel-mounted scrollable LCD display, while rotary dials allow you to choose different throttle and gearbox maps and also the level of steering power assistance if that option box has been ticked, which, in my case, it had not. I’d like the wheel to be higher, but there’s no manual adjustment. Otherwise, the cockpit is spacious yet feels snug, which is a neat trick.

The engine blasts into life. From the first turn of the crank, it is clear this is simply a tool for doing the job, no more and no less. There’s quite a lot of vibration, it’s easy to stall when pulling away and there’s nothing remotely nice to say about the harsh blare it emits when stretched. But my goodness it gets the job done.

Because while 425bhp may not sound that much in these crazy times, when you consider how little car it has to push and that the result has a better power-to-weight ratio than a McLaren Senna, you begin to get an idea of just what you’re dealing with here. But it’s the torque that makes this car such a different experience from an SR3 or SR8.

In most important ways, it just makes life easier. If you’re ever anything other than as busy as you can be in something like the SR10, you’re driving the wrong car. And knowing that it doesn’t really matter if you’re a gear too high, or make a mistake and lose some speed, because all you need to do is twitch a toe to find it again, is a real bonus. It means you can concentrate more on guiding this missile around whichever track you’re on.

In my case that was the Bedford Autodrome’s West Circuit, which, with its short straights but super-quick combination corners, could have been tailor-made for showcasing the talents of a car such as this.

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It is, of course, bloody rapid. As in quick enough around a place like this to make a typical hypercar look utterly pedestrian. And that’s to be expected: with slicks, a highly evolved aero pack, full race suspension and bugger all ground clearance, it has advantages no road car could enjoy. To give you an idea, it will generate about 2.3g lateral, which is double a perfectly respectable figure for road-going sports car. You find yourself tightening your belts until it’s almost difficult to breathe to stop yourself being slammed around the cockpit.

I had slightly tricky conditions – a bit too damp for slicks but too dry to make full use of the wets, but on both tyres and despite no driver aids of any kind, it gave no problems at all. You could skid it around in the slow stuff, the chassis balance was beautiful, and even when the back started sliding in the really quick turns on slicks, because the fronts switched on sooner than the rears, you never find yourself in crisis management mode.

The car is so light, inherently well set up and fundamentally stable that you can almost always just correct on the steering without thinking about getting off the throttle and losing time. You can quite easily lock an unloaded front tyre if you’re sloppy about bleeding off the brake pressure in the entry phase to a corner, but you can learn your way around that. All in all, it’s an impressive package.

I think the car would benefit from an at least optional system that allowed not only traction control but for the driver to be able to choose both the point and extent of its intervention. The car doesn’t actually need it, but if the car is aimed primarily at the track day market and not committed racers, such drivers might appreciate the choice and enjoy playing with it. I know I would.

But actually, if I have any problem with the car at all, it’s only that I also drove the latest SR3XX, which may have only a fraction of the power from its 1.5-litre Suzuki engine (226bhp) but is over 100kg lighter, at 620kg, and only two-thirds the price.

And while I liked, enjoyed and admired the SR10 in all regards save its rough and ready engine, I absolutely loved the SR3, which is just as quick through a corner, sounds completely brilliant, revs past 10 grand and is even more chuckable, even easier to sort out on the limit and is in every way that matters to me utterly addictive. It’s also been around in one form or another for nearly 20 years so you can pay pretty much whatever you want for one, from less than £20,000. I know this because it sent me scuttling for the classifieds as soon as I was home.

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But I still get the SR10. I don’t much like the engine but appreciate absolutely what it brings to Radical’s table in terms of not just power but also long-term dependability, and for that its place in Radical’s model line-up is thoroughly deserved. I wish it well, almost as much as I wish I could have a few more laps in that mind-bendingly brilliant, gorgeous SR3.

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Radical SR10 First drives