Everyone wants to be a race car driver. It is the reason why we like loud engines and fast cars, and also why we end up driving like maniacs in open traffic; whether we are behind the wheel of a brand new hot hatch, or a 20 year old luxury sedan. However, it is imperative to keep in mind that neither these cars are made to handle such type of spirited driving, and nor is it safe to perform high-risk manoeuvres on open roads, where you invariably put other people’s lives at risk. To discourage this type of rash behaviour, and safely nurture the speed demon inside us all, auto enthusiasts all over the globe often come together to take over private race tracks, where they can experience the fun of fast paced driving without becoming a liability on the public. This is quite an old tradition, which initially started with small and zippy go-karts that soon evolved into complex, custom racing machines, with purpose-based engineering and design, and insane power-to-weight ratios.
Since these machines are built solely for track driving, and don’t have to pass a lot of safety and emissions norms, manufacturers have had a lot more freedom over the years, to boil down the formula of speed to the basics, and refine it for a superior performance. This single-minded focus on being the best makes this segment of super lightweight sports cars, some of the best vehicles to drive, period. Interestingly, the addition of a stripped down body and aerodynamic design makes them some of the leanest and meanest machines, in terms of looks as well. It goes without saying, that these mini race cars are the best toys any driving enthusiast would love to own. Even if you don’t have the budget for them, we can still enjoy learning about the top options in this niche market, as presented below.
- KTM X-Bow RR
This is a relatively new product in this segment, from a company that is better known for their motorcycles. Just like their existing line-up, this offering also embraces the over-the-top design philosophy that makes KTM such an attractive brand to the youth. But, at the same time, the vehicle also brings a strong performance pedigree, with a throaty 2.0-litre engine that makes 295BHP of power and 406Nm of torque. Sadly though, despite featuring a carbon-fibre tub and specially tuned suspension, this vehicle is also the heaviest at a base weight of around 810kgs. This really impacts the experience, as the 0-100kmph time gets pushed to around 3.9 seconds, which is still fast, even if not in comparison to the competition. Even though haggling over a few milliseconds might not seem worth it, but it certainly does pinch when you are paying close to ₹71 lakh for the vehicle.
- BAC Mono
With a 2.5-litre engine that produces 305BHP power and 308Nm of torque, and a 0-100kmph time of 2.8 seconds, this car doesn’t seem much special amongst its competition. But what really sets it apart is the unique one-seat body cab, and a design that is inspired by the F-22 Raptor jet. The seating position also greatly affects the way it feels to drive the vehicle, even though you have to live with the compromise of never looking over your shoulders. This is as close as you can get to feeling what an F1 car feels like, complete with oodles of carbon-fibre parts, which even include the wheels amongst other things. It is a testament to how complicated the construction is, that despite all this weight saving, the vehicle still comes close to 580kgs. Sadly though, the addition of all these high-end components and custom body panels has pushed the price of the car beyond the stratosphere, with a base variant costing around ₹1.5 crore, making it easily one of the most expensive super lightweight sports car out there.
- Ariel Atom 4
This model is perhaps the oldest and best known competitor of the Caterham, but with an entirely unique look and style. In its current generation, it carries forth a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine which makes a comparable 320BHP and around 420Nm of torque. The extra torque helps ignore the extra weight of the steel chassis, when you are pushing the healthy weight of 595kg, from 0-100kmph in barely 2.8 seconds. Even though these figures match the Caterham, the driving experience is quite different, with the engine placed behind the driver and a bit more sophisticated steering response. Even the build quality has been upped to make the car feel more settled, with less vibrations coming through the engine and the body itself; which is the least we can expect from a car that starts at around ₹37 lakh.
- Caterham 620R
In this segment, Caterham is an old and respected name, with what might easily be the most recognisable design in sports car history. Even though the current model still carries over the same outer feel of the original Lotus Seven, the modern 620R variant made by Caterham is still leaps and bounds ahead in terms of engineering, with a supercharged 2.0-litre engine that churns out 310BHP of power and around 295Nm of torque. While the numbers might not seem enough according to today’s standards, what really seals the deal is the use of a lightweight gunmetal chassis and lots of carbon fibre parts that keep the weight down to a mere 545kgs, allowing this cute little machine to cross 0-100kmph in barely 2.9 seconds. You can get this fun to drive machine for a price tag of around ₹48 lakh.