APR 04th 2013

Caterham SP.300/R: A Caterham with no '50s pretense

SP.300/R takes Caterham to another level

All Caterhams are lightweight, making the most of their power, but the SP/300.R takes that to an altogether new level. At just 545kg and with 330bhp with the “push to pass” enabled (300bhp without) this Caterham is mightier than most. Conceived entirely as a track car it’s a machine for those who take their track days seriously. Very seriously.

Looking like it should be sitting in a pit garage at La Sarthe, the SP/300.R is pure prototype racer in its design. There’s a Lola designed aluminium honeycomb monocoque chassis, on to which a seven-piece lightweight body is attached. This body houses an aero package, also developed by Lola, using a three-stage downforce configuration.

Reading the specification underlines its racing car roots. There are AP racing brakes, adjustable pushrod coil-over spring dampers, adjustable front and rear anti-roll bars, a 6-speed Hewland FTR sequential gearbox mated to a Shiftec paddle-shift, an FIA approved fuel cell, limited slip differential, a 2.0-litre Duratec engine and a Rotrex supercharger with charge air cooling.

Senior stuff. Enough to ensure that, short of someone rocking up to a track day in an old F1 car, you’ll never be passed.

LMP_9674

The car is elevated on its on-board jack system, naked of bodywork, when I first encounter it. The sight is entirely familiar if you’ve ever been in a pit garage, the difference being that there’s no young hotshot ready to slip behind the wheel. Today it’s me.

I’ve driven plenty of tracks in all sorts of cars, but seeing this slick-shod Le Mans refugee fills me with a good deal of trepidation. The cockpit is tight for a start, though adjustable to suit – Caterham realising that in many cases it won’t just be the owner’s wallets that are fat. Race suit and helmet on, I squeeze in before being given a quick run down of the controls and read outs that dominate the removable twin grip steering wheel.

Reclined as if in a bathtub to keep low out of the airflow, that little wheel close and the engine both an aural and physical presence behind, the clutch is pushed and the right paddle pulled. Feathering the clutch to exit the pitlane – the only time it’s needed -my left foot takes up position over the brake pedal and the SP/300.R pulls out onto Rockingham Raceway – rather fittingly Europe’s fastest racing circuit.

Like any track car the SP/300.R is less recalcitrant at the speeds it’s designed to achieve. Sighting laps in a regular Caterham are no preparation for the intensity of the SP/300.R experience; its acceleration is ferocious, the immediacy of its controls incredible.

There’s masses of grip from the slick tyres, while the SP/300.R’s aero means there’s around 450kg of downforce at 155mph. The steering is heavy, making it a physical car, but the rewards are worth the effort behind the wheel.

It keeps on giving

Push it ever harder and the SP/300.R keeps giving more, braking harder, gripping more and carrying ever greater speed. Those brakes are mighty, but what’s really remarkable is how adjustable it is in the bends. Caterham has deliberately set it up so it’ll slide a bit, rather than give up its grip in one go and spit you off into the scenery.

Smoothness is key to speed though; the SP/300.R rewarding precise, considered driving, it is hugely entertaining to eke out ever quicker times lap after lap, exploring new lines, braking later and getting back on the accelerator quicker. The gearshift is whip-crack quick, the engine devouring gears as quickly as the SP/300.R tears down the track.

Hardly surprising then that my allocation of laps is quickly over, the SP/300.R more than anything I’ve ever driven being something I want to get back in for some more.

Massively quick, surprisingly friendly and exceptional fun, the SP/300.R, along with a trailer and something to tow it, makes more sense than any supercar. It will make you the envy of any pitlane and virtually untouchable when out on track.

Top speed: 180mph
0-62mph: 2.8sec
Engine: 2.0-litre supercharged 4-cylinder
Power/weight: 605bhp/tonne
Transmission: 6-speed Hewland paddle shift sequential, rwd 
Wheels: ATS centre-lock F3, 9×13 front, 10.5×13 rear  
Tyres: Cooper F3 slicks 
Power: 330bhp
Torque: 213lb ft
Economy: n/a
CO2: n/a
Price: £81,000
On sale date: Now

Share this