Caterham Superlight R400. DRIVEN. Arming the weapon

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Heading onto a busy six-lane motorway is not an experience I’d recommend for your first go in an already intimidating machine. I have no real idea what to expect in terms of the way the Caterham will drive and tentatively push on the throttle while glancing wildly about me to make sure I’m not about to gas it into an 18-wheeler. The response is instant, but thankfully not as snappy as I was worried about. Linear, intense acceleration rattles me up to speed as I try and keep a grip on my surroundings. With no roof or windscreen, visibility ahead is excellent, but as I’m wearing a full-face helmet and am wedged into my seat, glancing to the side isn’t so easy. There are small carbon-fibre mirrors fixed onto the cage, which give a vague idea of what’s left and right, but the central mirror mounted to the dashboard end of the bonnet vibrates so much that it’s virtually useless. Thankfully, the owner has installed an altogether more rigid mirror to the top of the roll cage, which gives pretty decent view behind. Still, I feel thoroughly exposed amid massive SUVs, trucks and swerving motorists trying to get a better look at this odd machine.

I’m under no illusions whatsoever that I’m a good enough driver to fully exploit the Caterham with just a few hours notice, so I’m not planning to do anything ludicrous with it. What I want to do is put on some kilometres and try to get to grips with the thing, so with my colleague James leading in a BMW 4 Series acting as a camera car, we head for the UAE’s east coast.

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So far, the weather has held firm, and sun shines overhead, although there appear to be clouds lurking on the horizon. I am glad, as I don’t really fancy a soaking. However, I am hot, so when we top up with fuel, I remove my jacket. We have to top up a lot over the course of the day – the tank is small, and empties quickly, which means I stop every time I see a station, just in case.

Halfway across the Arabian Peninsula the desert meets mountains, and the road changes from ramrod straight to lazy sweepers heading high into the hills. There are also fewer speed cameras. I’m slowly adapting to my new surroundings, and decide to poke the beast. The transmission is a stupendously short-throw six-speed manual, and with a flick of the wrist I change from sixth to fourth and push harder on the throttle, inwardly wincing at the expectation of an instant 180 spin. It doesn’t come. Instead the Duratec roars and the Seven piles on speed. The feeling of acceleration isn’t as insane as I expected on reading the technical specifications. Perhaps it’s because I’m already exposed to the elements, and 100kph already feels like 200, so when the speed increases the change from loud and vibratey to even louder and more vibratey isn’t such a big step. But there’s no denying how quickly this thing gains velocity. As the roads get ever twistier the higher into the mountains we rise, I grow in confidence and use more of the available performance. The pedals are perfectly matched for heel and toe – as long as you have small feet. I’ve swapped out my usual clumpy sneakers for my race boots – otherwise I suspect it would be entirely possible to mash all three pedals at once.

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The brakes are stiff and take a lot of leg pressure to work, so I’m cautious on entry to corners, but the steering is full of feel and texture, the distant front end biting into the tarmac, and the grip from the rear tyres under my seat is prodigious. The delivery of power is such that there’s not mountains of torque threatening to instantly send the back skittering away, which means that I can get on the gas early and then wait for the real grunt to kick in higher up the rev range, the sound amplifying as the gas pedal gets closer to the bare floor pan, like jazz trumpeters emptying their lungs. I’m getting more comfortable the further we go, but even by the end of the day I feel like I’ve barely scratched the levels of grip through the bends. Cornering speeds increase as the sun travels across the sky, but it’s on the long straights where I can really open the throttle, feel the ever-increasing squeeze of the Gs and rattling my helmet off the top of the roll cage. The revs rise so fast that I’m shifting every second – with a top speed of only 238kph, the ratios are close for maximum acceleration.

Is it comfortable? Not really – I’m getting a headache from the vibrations and even though clouds are now threatening the dry conditions, I’ve managed to sunburn my arms without realising it – the wind swirling around me has cooled my skin, and only when we stop for static photos do I see how red they are.

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Having reached Kalba and stopped for food, we start on the way back home, and although the rain holds off, a dust storm is gathering, and I’m thankful for the decision to wear a helmet rather than mere goggles. Besides, goggles wouldn’t protect my face from grit thrown through the non-existent windscreen by the occasional truck we see crossing the country.

The Caterham is one of the purest forms of driving pleasure I’ve had in a long time. It’s as far away from modern sports cars as it’s possible to get, a real foot in the past of mechanical sympathy and visceral enjoyment of piloting a machine, uninterrupted by electrical assistance. It’s exhausting, and when I eventually reach Dubai, I’m shattered from the experience and spent a good 10 minutes cleaning sand from my ears. But by gum, it’s been fun.



Awesome selection of wallpapers HERE – CLICK –

Caterham Superlight R400
Engine: Inline 4-cyl / 1999cc
Power: 263bhp @ 8500rpm (estimated)
Torque: 177lb ft @ 200rpm (estimated)
Transmission: Six-speed manual / rear-wheel drive
Front suspension: Double wishbone / Nitron dampers
Rear suspension: De Dion tube / Watts linkage / Nitron dampers
Brakes: Vented discs / 274mm (front)
Wheels: 13 x 6in (front) / 13 x 8in (rear)
Tyres: 185/60 R13 (front) / 205/60 R13 (rear) / Yokohama Advan
Weight (kerb): 530kg
0-100kph: 2.9sec (claimed)
Top speed: 238kph (claimed)
Price: c$65,000

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