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Driven: Caterham R600 Superlight
What is it?
The Superlight R600 is the fastest Caterham Seven yet. This from the firm whose back catalogue includes the insanely rapid R500 and R400…
First, some caveats, though. For the time being, the R600 is only available as a racing car. It’s been designed to compete in the one-make R600 championship, competing at various circuits around the UK next year, and will sit at the top of the Caterham racing hierarchy.
Note the phrase: ‘for the time being’. Caterham admits that a road car is possible (and likely) in the future, so stand well back.
I imagine this racing R600 is quick?
Just a tad. It’s got a supercharged, 275bhp 2.0-litre Ford Duratec engine, which in a car as light as the Seven, is good for a 0-60mph time of 2.6 seconds. That’s just 0.1 seconds off a Bugatti Veyron Supersport and 0.3 seconds quicker than an R500 - neither of which is exactly a slouch.
This is the first time that Caterham has built a forced-induction engine, and it works superbly well. It’s not quite as manic as the R500 because the power delivery is less peaky, but it’s still tear-your-head-off-your-shoulders fast. In fact, there weren’t many experiences in the world more brutal than a hot Caterham accelerating hard, but this latest R is on another level. And then you have to take into account that I was driving it on a damp track with full wet tyres. What it must be like on slicks and in the dry doesn’t bear thinking about.
But here’s an odd thing - it’s not scary.
Sorry. Did you say it isn’t scary?
Well, put it this way, it’s not as completely and utterly terrifying as you’d imagine it would be. The chassis is actually quite benign, mainly because it’s so well set-up. Of course it’s easy to go sideways, but if you’re gentle with the R600 it will reward you rather than bite your ego off for the fun of it. It’s effortless to balance it on the throttle, and because you’re so hard-wired into the chassis and steering, it’s a doddle to feel what’s going on, and therefore manage the results.
It’s still physically hard work to drive, mind you. Tiring simply because you’re subjected to such brutal forces. This is a whole-body work out: your left arm needs to yank hard on the six-speed sequential gearbox, neck braced against the g-forces. Right hand gripping the steering wheel hard when you’re snapping through the gears. Legs wedged against the sides of the chassis. Just for the record, the brave souls racing this thing for half an hour will need to be fit.
OK, you’ve convinced me. How much is it?
The R600 is £44,995, but the car comes un-painted to let owners decorate it with sponsors’ logos. It does, however, come with a season-long warranty on the powertrain (engine and gearbox), which is pretty-much unheard of in racing circles. Just goes to show how much confidence Caterham has in this car.