My first foray into motorsport came in the form of a social track-day with the Honda S2000. It was timed and I was hooked. Time became my arch nemesis. Money was spent on brake pads, semi-slicks, three way adjustable shocks and I slashed four seconds from my first attempt. Then I sold the Honda, bought a Lotus Exige, took it to the same track and on the first run out I was a further four seconds slower. Brakes upgraded, gearbox lowered and cooling sorted and I took my time down by a further two full seconds. Time has been a particular enemy to have. Constant, inflexible and with an annoying tick. But something inside me feels the need for a new challenge. I want sharks breathing down my neck and I want to bet with myself on how late the car in front of me will brake. I want to enter circuit racing, give it a shot, and I want to enjoy it.
So I bought a Radical.
It’s a 2012 SR4 1500. I haven’t driven it yet. But the buying experience has been unique. From extensive research to scouring forums, posting in forums and phoning dealers, race teams, and race-drivers who were willing to chat I decided to go for the SR4. It is lighter than the SR3, is less of a ‘down-force’ car and is therefore more adapted to the smaller tracks I intend racing it on. And should I wish to eventually enter hill-climbs then the SR4 is apparently ideal.
I called Radical, and I spoke to Jamie, the sales-director. A very informal chat and my budget and preferred model were made clear at the out-start. Nothing was available at the time but after the race season cars would ‘definitely be available’. A few months after the first phone call, and a car in line with my preference was available, spec for spec. I negotiated a price on the condition that I placed the deposit on the same day and the car was mine. ‘You drive a hard bargain’ goes Jamie. Well that’s Maltese blood Jamie. We expect to be paid to walk off with something.
Jamie put me in touch with Ben (the engineer) and things progressed so smoothly that within a few weeks my car was prepared, engine refreshed (part of the deal) and ready to be shipped. Ben had put the car together when it was originally built less than a year before and he knew the car inside out. Every time I called he would take the call and give me as much time as was required. No frustration. No delay. No avoiding me. It was Ben who actually suggested that I should go over to see the car before actually shipping it.
So in the last week of February I went to see the car with my friend/engineer/mechanic/ Chris (Stivvy Customs) who is the only person I trust on my Lotus and who shall be the only one on my Radical.
We drove into the unassuming car park in Peterborough – late due to a navigator glitch and the lovely lady at the reception goes ‘Oh Adrian – Ben is running late and he asked to tell you that he’ll join you tomorrow. Jamie sends his regards. Let me get someone to take you to your car. You must be dying to see it’. I was.
We walked through a corridor. On the left, people were still at their desks, white lights revealing black patches of fatigue under their eyes. The first race of the season in Portugal was coming up on the weekend and apparently most of the factory was working flat out to sort out the logistics.
Out of the corridor, we turn to the right and we see two rows of cars on either side of the warehouse resting on dedicated, tailor made stands. I look at Chris and like me his knees had gone week. I tried to explain the feeling I got later on in the evening to my wife on the phone: ‘it’s like you walking into a room of Hugh Jackmans ‘. She understood.
A young mechanic passed by, wheeling a V8 to its place at the back of a new SR8. His non-chalance was exacerbated by our jaw dropped fascination. We drooled. Our day job sucks.
Time to leave for the evening. We headed to the White Hart Inn, ten minutes drive away for dinner, a pint and an early night. Turned out to be a fantastic place to crash out and we sipped on an ale by the fire place in silence as we let the images from the day soak in. Without a word we walked to the room and were asleep by 9.
The following day we arrived at 9:30am sharp – everyone was in ‘the morning meeting’. At 10:03 Ben and Jamie walk in. I expected a sales director to be somewhat formal. He turned out to be so down to earth. So mundane. This is a factory that has a fantastic reputation for making record-breaking cars. In the Radical waiting room there’s a stack of the latest car magazines with tens of blue sticky notes indicating where Radical was mentioned. And each one waxed lyrical. And here I was, being welcomed by the sales director feeling as though I’ve known him for ages, and being shown to the boardroom, which has a carbon fibre touch to it. Even the presentation flat screen has been clad in carbon fibre.
Josh is assigned with taking care of us for the day, doing the final touches and corner weighting the car with my weight. He must be barely 20 years old yet the self-confidence with which he works on the car is impressive. The cars are relatively easy to work on, as the removal of the front and rear clams (a 30 second job) make all parts of the car very accessible. Toe, camber, ride height etc can all be adjusted without taking the wheels off.
Josh goes through all aspects of the car with us. Engine temperatures, oil, water, gearbox, data etc etc. He patiently waits for me to take notes before skipping from one step to another. His patience seemed to be infinite. All day he stayed with us ensuring that we had understood all we had been told. I had to tell him to join his friends for lunch.
I haven’t been to too many car factories but I’m sure that this is quite unique in many aspects. The camaraderie between the Radical employees is surely the envy and should be the aim of most employers. Lunch comes in the form of packed sandwiches which were lovingly made by wives and mothers and which are eaten right next to the cars as jokes are shared and legs are rested.
Back to work. My car is finished, loaded on the trailer and tightly strapped. It’s time to leave and I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to live a day in the life of a Radical employee.
Jamie and Ben join us again towards the end of the day to make sure everything is as we expected it. We had been pampered, cared for, and made to feel like part of the project.
I’m sure not many companies offer such a personal experience to their customers. This company has survived the worst of the financial crisis by providing highly dedicated weapons to very discerning customers. Stick to the knitting Radical please. And we’ll keep buying your woolies.