Thursday, May 26, 2011

Caparo T1 2011

I’ve never felt quite like this before. My torso is taking an absolute battering; it’s a brutal, physical assault – the closest I hope I ever come to receiving multiple stab wounds. Each and every time I squeeze the throttle, whichever gear this car is in, the forces acting upon me feel unstoppable, malevolent, evil. I’m exposed to the elements so need the visor of my helmet to prevent airborne insects from becoming deadly missiles and every tug of the transmission paddles sends the most violent shock through my body, while a press on the brakes sees every internal organ shifted forward, trying to find a way out.
Just three weeks ago I was left reeling in shock from a day behind the wheel of the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport but this… this is something else. The Veyron SS may well be the fastest production car in the world, this car, the Caparo T1, is the quickest. It certainly feels it from where I’m sitting because, while the Veyron is undoubtedly stunning in its power delivery, it also feels safe inside, ensconced in a luxurious cabin. This thing doesn’t even possess a windscreen. When cornering and braking it can pull up to 3.5g, which is normally the preserve of aerobatic pilots. It’s sensational. It’s like nothing else out there.
If, like me, you’re tired of hearing about the latest sports car being referred to as ‘an F1 car for the road’ then accept my apologies. Because the T1 is exactly that. This is the real deal. And you’ve probably read about it before now because the Caparo T1 was first handed over to a handful of journalists three years ago, which turned out to be three years too soon. Clarkson sent it up on Top Gear, with ambulances and fire engines waiting for him to be seriously injured on track, such was the reputation of the T1. Nobody called into question its formidable pace in a straight line but its handling was another matter. It was just too powerful for its own good – completely undriveable in the real world.
But now it’s my turn and I’m enjoying the benefits of three years worth of research and development rather than looking for the Grim Reaper in my rearview mirrors. That’s not to say this isn’t the greatest adrenaline rush I’ve ever had on four wheels – for once the marketing blurb is on the money: “Nothing can prepare you for the take off speed of the Caparo T1,” says the sales brochure. “All aspects of the car’s performance are instantaneous, acceleration, cornering, braking. But especially the acceleration. It distorts your perception of time and distance.” If anything that’s an understatement.
Key to the T1’s shocking performance is its power-to-weight ratio. Its normally-aspirated V8 engine produces 428.7Kw, which is pretty average for a supercar these days, but it tips the scales at just 550kg. Which means its power-to-weight ratio is more than double that of the Veyron and this means driving it is the ultimate white knuckle ride. There’s even a passenger seat in its cramped cockpit, slightly aft of the driver’s, so you can share the terror with a hapless passenger if you’re feeling particularly evil. Hell, there’s so much downforce that, at 240km/h you could drive this thing through a tunnel. Upside down.
Never heard of Caparo? It’s a colossus of a company that made its money in steel. That patio furniture you have outside? If it has steel components they could well have come from them. Ten million nuts and bolts required for that skyscraper you’re building? Give Caparo a ring and they’ll arrange delivery. Like many huge corporations, it has many different divisions and when it got to hear about a project being run by two of the engineers that brought the McLaren F1 to fruition (Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead), they decided to back it and Caparo the supercar manufacturer was born.
They like to keep as much as possible in house at Caparo, so they bought the design rights to an engine initially developed by Menard for IndyCar racing. Then they bought AP, the brake manufacturer too. So obviously money wasn’t really an object when developing the T1 and the car’s design is a result of some of the greatest thinking in the business. There’s no pretence about it being a ‘normal’ car – everything is about unrelenting speed.
While it makes no sense whatsoever as a daily driver, it makes the ultimate track day toy. It’s just that you won’t need to transport it to the circuit on a trailer, because the T1 is completely road legal. There’s no dashboard – just a row of switches. The steering wheel is a bespoke racing item that has to be removed just to climb aboard and it displays essential information like the gear you’re in, revs, speed, whatever you want it to. Behind it are the two paddles that operate the sequential gearbox.

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