New Supra, new TG TV, plus a drive of the brand-new Porsche 911. This week...in cars
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Dallara… where do I know that name? Well, from roughly everywhere. Dallara is, or has been, intimately involved in Formula One, Two, Three and E, IndyCar, DTM, WEC, IMSA… Wow. That’s quite the CV. And then some – on any given weekend, about 300 Dallara race cars take to circuits around the world. It’s safe to say they know what they’re up to when it comes to building and setting up a car. So why am I only hearing about Dallara road cars now?
Well, that’s because Dallara’s never made a road car before – at least, none bearing the Dallara name. They’ve collaborated with KTM on the X-Bow, with Bugatti on the Veyron and Chiron and with Alfa Romeo on the 4C and 8C, to name just a fraction. But this, apparently, was not enough to scratch Giampaolo Dallara’s road-car itch. He asked CEO Andrea Pontremoli to build him a car with his name on it, one that used all of Dallara’s expertise and one that was unerringly true to his goal of lightness and simplicity, as per Colin Chapman’s famous mantra. As such, the Dallara has no doors – that’d make it heavier and interfere with the downforce-inducing aero. The seat doesn’t move either – that’d mess up the weight distribution. The entire monocoque and all of the bodywork are made from carbon fibre, and what’s left is made from aluminium. In all, the Stradale weighs just 855kg. The steering wheel is proper race-spec too, as are the digital racing displays and racing harnesses. It feels properly focused from the moment you get in. What’s the effect of all of this expertise and focus? It’s an absolute revelation. If you’ve never experienced what the combination of light weight, incredible rigidity and 820kg of downforce can do to a car’s handling (and your internal organs in the process), it’ll take time to adjust. Can you actually feel downforce? Not so much as a primary function, if that makes sense. In all the speed and ferocity that comes with driving an open-topped car with more than 640bhp per tonne, the sensation of actually being sucked to the road gets pushed to the margins somewhat. But when you get to a high-speed corner – when the aero is in full effect – you can turn in such a way that defies any sort of road-car logic. Turn 1 at Nardò’s handling circuit – a fast, open left-hander that rolls off a 1km straight – becomes a physics lesson. You turn the wheel in the slightest manner and then marvel as the Stradale shoots through at a frankly ridiculous speed and with a minimum of fuss. And then marvel again as the Stradale summarily dismisses the next 15 corners without ever feeling like you’re anywhere near its dynamic limits. Probably because you’re not. But is all of this actually… fun? That really depends on how you derive enjoyment. If you love sliding about the place, balancing a rear-drive car on the throttle or flinging a hot hatch around for some lift-off oversteer, the Stradale might not really be up your, er… strada. The Stradale isn’t a car you get in and appreciate straight away; there’s a depth of ability and engineering that means it’s possible to dig deeper and deeper and still find more ability in the car, more speed. Case in point: it’s entirely possible, with the requisite talent and bravery, to generate more than 2g in a high-speed corner. So, remember to take your Quells. As an amateur, the first thing you’d need after buying a Stradale is track time. Lots and lots of track time. The second thing you’d need is professional instruction. And, over time, as your technique improves and you come to terms with the astonishingly high limits of the car, there’d be the satisfaction of mastery, of achievement. So, it’s more lasting satisfaction than immediate fun. But it’s wrong to expect the Stradale to deliver laugh-out-loud loutishness like you’d find in something like a Caterham. It’s not a car to have a few laughs in at a track day. It’s a car to turn up with, obliterate everyone and then blithely trundle home in. Is the rest of the car as fearsome as its handling? The brakes are – they’re so incredibly powerful and immediate in their action that, during your first few applications, they’ll do their best to detach your retinas. It takes real time to learn how to modulate the pedal for smooth stops. The suspension, on the other hand, is supple and incredibly well damped over even truly awful roads. No, really – we drove through enough potholes in southern Italy to snap a Radical in half, but the Stradale just loped along, terminally unfazed. The engine’s exceptionally friendly, too – it’s based on Ford’s 2.3-litre EcoBoost, tuned by Bosch for 395bhp and an incredibly flat torque curve. It’s supremely easy to pootle around a winding road in third gear, relying on the 369lb ft that’s available from 3,000 to 5,000rpm. And, when the road straightens out, the pull, even in sixth gear, is phenomenal. Yes, there’s no more power than an Audi RS3, but we’re talking about a car that’s half the weight. So it’ll be exceptionally fast when you want it to be, but docile and tractable when you’re just trying to cruise. You can also select a 296bhp mode from the steering-wheel controls for maximum waftability. And, with a full ABS/stability control setup by Bosch (you can switch it all the way off, but you don’t need to – it never intrudes), you’re safe from most indiscretions. I think I might want one. What are my chances? Well, that depends. Do you have €155,000 sitting idle for a base-spec one, or closer to €190,000 for the full cannelloni? Then not so bad – you can buy one of the 600 examples Dallara’s making. If that feels like a lot of money for what’s essentially a road-legal track toy, consider this: previously, to buy a Dallara generally meant you were about to mount a campaign to win the Indy 500, but now it’s possible to get all of Dallara’s experience, skill and single-minded dedication, distilled into a car that your average, if incredibly minted, individual can buy. So perhaps the most important thing isn’t that Dallara has built a road car; it’s that Dallara has built a car that it’s possible to buy without buying Team Penske first.