After driving the Caterham/Dyson SP300.R, we came to the conclusion that there's no substitute for driving a proper "downforce car" with low weight, high power, and a direct, electronics-free interface between the driver and the road. But that doesn't mean that there's no substitute for an SP300.R. In fact, there are several—but the name you'll hear spoken with the most reverence around your local road course is "Radical".

The crew at Radical Sports Cars in the UK were arguably the originators of the series-built sports racer, setting a variety of lap records for production cars including a staggering 6:48 lap of the Nurburgring by their street-legal SR8LM. Unfortunately for American drivers, Radicals are only "street-legal" across the pond. Here, they are limited to what the EPA rather charmingly and confusingly calls "off-road-use" only. To make up for that, the company promotes a Radical Cup race series and offers a cornucopia of configurations from the $65,000 SR4 Clubsport to the price-on-request, LeMans LMP1-legal SR9.

To find out what all the fuss was about, we tried a middle-of-the-road SR3 RS at Toronto Motorsports Park. With over 200 horsepower from a Suzuki Hayabusa engine (modified by Radical Performance Engines and rebranded as "Powertec") to push about 1100 pounds (minus the driver), the SR3 is serious business indeed. From a distance, only the height of the roll hoops destroys the impression that you're looking at a $1M+ prototype. But the hoop is high for a reason: the SR3 offers remarkably comfortable and upright seating for nearly anyone. We put a 6'2", 250-pound driver in there with a 5'10", 180-pound passenger and they both fit fine. Make sure you really want to spend time with anybody you offer a ride to, however, because the seats are coach-class narrow.

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The SR3 doesn't require a crew to get started. It substitutes a relatively conventional removable steering wheel for the Caterham's instrument-and-switch-laden rectangular affair. Press the neutral selector button, then hit the start button. After that, it's as simple as depressing the foot clutch, pressing the first-gear lockout button, then engaging first gear with a flick of the right paddle shifter. Release the clutch to go. We didn't even stall it.


Once on track, the SR3's ability to accelerate is genuinely impressive—only the most highly-tuned street cars with which we shared the track could match its straight-line pace. You won't use the clutch pedal on track; the paddles bang each shift up and down with a ferocity that is completely absent from, say, a PDK-equipped Porsche. You'll have to learn to trust the shift lights on the LCD instrument cluster because your ear will be telling you that no car can rev that high without blowing up. It's all a bit overwhelming at first.

Still, for the $115,000 our test car commanded, there are street-legal competitors that offer similar acceleration. A Viper or Corvette Z06 might even shade it in a drag race, as would an SRT Hellcat. The magic of the Radical doesn't truly happen until the first turn, which at TMP is a fast right-hander. Immediately you realize that this car's limits are well above those of anything with a license plate. Cornering speeds that seem death-defying in a traditional sportscar can be accomplished with zero effort in the Radical. And the faster you push past that starting point, the more the SR3's high-downforce package comes into play. There's a lot of pace there for the brave—but how brave are you?


When you finally reach the limits of the aero and the tires in a fast corner, the Radical responds with a gentle slide from the rear that can be caught with a brief flick of the wheel. Yes,the engine's behind you, where it should be, but it doesn't weigh much. Although there's no power assistance for steering or brakes, both efforts are low and of course the feedback is superlative. Which it needs to be, since there's no ESP or even ABS to save you from yourself.

If you have extensive experience in street cars on the track, it will take a few laps to have confidence in the SR3's ability to corner beyond what seems reasonable. Once you get that confidence, just about anything is possible. This is the unfiltered bliss of a proper racer, as sweet as Neil Young's needle and just as addictive.

No wonder, then, that Radical offers a variety of try-before-you-buy options, including a full race weekend in the Radical Cup for just $6,000. Our advice: Don't miss a chance to do it, but don't fool yourself. This isn't an experience you'll want to have just once. Radical, indeed.