Instead of scaling down a street car into a track-day ride, the Caparo engineers started with a racing car and scaled it up.
By Simon Green, Contributor
Date posted: 10-09-2007
575 hp at 10,000 rpm - 1,213 pounds - Six-speed automated sequential transmission - 3 Gs of cornering force
All of us have had to face up to the fact that our schoolboy dreams of glory as a Formula 1 driver will never come true. But thanks to the 2007 Caparo T1, we don’t have to make do with video beamed back from some McLaren’s in-car camera.
The Caparo T1 isn’t an F1 car, but it’s about as close as you can get while still displaying a set of license plates. It’s the fastest-accelerating production car in the world. Straight or twisty, whatever the road ahead, the T1 will annihilate any car in its path.
Another McLaren F1?
The combination of 575 hp and 1,213 pounds adds up to force vectors strong enough to blur the landscape.
The T1 started off in 2005 as the Freestream, the brainchild of Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead, two engineers known for their work on the 1994 McLaren F1 supercar. They were intent on showing the world what could be achieved with lightweight materials by building the T1, a formula-style racing car with street-legal equipment.
The T1 generated huge interest, and Freestream was gobbled up in March 2006 by a diversified Indian company led by CEO Angad Paul with interests in automotive manufacturing, notably brake components, body panels and castings. At an elaborate presentation in Monaco in April 2006, the Freestream became the Caparo T1.
To be honest, it’s stretching the truth to call the T1 a road car. It might be street legal, but it has more in common with a real F1 car than something as ordinary as a Lamborghini. An exotic monocoque chassis of carbon and aluminum honeycomb is clothed in carbon-fiber bodywork. Menard supplies the engine, a DOHC 3.5-liter V8 that began life as a Nissan-designed unit for Infiniti’s IRL IndyCar racing program. It’s calibrated to deliver 575 horsepower and it screams to 10,500 rpm to do it.
The Caparo T1 weighs 1,213 pounds (165 pounds heavier than its target weight), and it has an incredible power-to-weight ratio, twice as good as that of the Bugatti Veyron.
Sit Down, Strap In, Hang On
Offset seats provide enough room for a dedicated pilot and one very brave passenger.
Although the T1 looks like a single-seat racing car, there’s room for two. You actually sit slightly to the right of the cockpit centerline, leaving enough room to your left for the legs of the passenger slightly behind you. It’s a pretty friendly space, but not very glamorous. Let’s just say that your wife isn’t going to be suggesting you nip out together on a Sunday once she’s sampled life squashed in the second chair.
Apart from some quilted leather on the seat and the sides of the cockpit, there’s not much in the way of luxury. The dashboard is a simple row of buttons and toggle switches; the steering wheel incorporates an electronic display for the instrument readouts. You can’t see much of the road ahead, just the tops of the front wheels.
All of which maintains that F1 feel. As does the need to wear a helmet. The full canopy fitted to the car in the pictures isn’t ready yet and won’t be available until Caparo sorts out an electric air-conditioning system to cool what would otherwise be an unbearably hot cabin. So we drove with the top removed and a helmet firmly in place.
Like Acceleration, Only Faster
The Caparo project began as an attempt by ex-McLaren engineers to minimize weight in order to maximize performance.
This is purportedly the world’s fastest production supercar. Not in terms of its absolute maximum speed (which Caparo estimates at between 190 and 220 mph, depending on the amount of downforce the various aerodynamic appendages are configured to produce), but certainly in terms of acceleration and cornering speed.
Actually the term “accelerate” just doesn’t do the Caparo justice. It doesn’t gain speed when you hammer the right pedal; it simply teleports from where you started to where you’re going. Even the mighty Veyron would struggle to keep the T1 in its sights. Zero to 60 mph takes 2.5 seconds as you bang the Hewland-designed, non-synchromesh sequential-shift six-speed transmission through the gears with the shift paddles located on the steering column. By the time 5 seconds have elapsed, the T1 has demolished the 100-mph barrier and is spearing off into the distance.
Unless you run an F1 car on the weekend, the action of opening the taps on the 575-hp V8 can feel pretty surreal. Once you’re rolling there’s no need to use the clutch or even lift off the throttle to shift among the six gears. Just grit your teeth, wait for the blue sparkle of the last of the shift lights to illuminate on the steering wheel display and then tug on the little carbon-fiber shift paddle.
Since the Caparo T1 weighs so little, it never feels sluggish, even though the V8 doesn’t have its 310 pound-feet of torque on hand until there’s 9,000 rpm on the tachometer. So the T1 feels fast at any speed. But it’s from the point at which most road car engines are starting to expire that things really begin to happen.
The Caparo T1 redefines the whole man/machine interface.
Just as you’ve about recalibrated your brain to the forward thrust available, a corner looms into view and your mind is scrambled all over again.
Luckily the T1’s braking power is incredible and the pedal is really easy to modulate, although you never need to shed anywhere near as much speed as you think. Even on these Pirelli P Zero street tires, the grip is staggering, as if there were racing slicks on each corner instead.
The same goes for the steering response. The Caparo engineers say the T1 will pull 3 Gs of lateral acceleration given the right setup. Since an F1 racing car generates 4 Gs, this is a remarkable feat, a measure of the 1,929 pounds of aerodynamic downforce this car can muster.
Whether the driver is up to 3 G loads is another matter, as this is foreign territory for most of us. It takes a bull-like neck and Popeye-size forearms to withstand the gravity-warping force of fast corners. Of course, the T1 also rewards you at lower speeds. The steering is quick but not nervous, and your hands are constantly being updated with data from the front tires.
The T1’s long 114.2-inch wheelbase ensures the car’s stability, but a little clumsiness with the throttle will set the rear tires free. And with so little steering lock to work with, you’d better be swift with your correction.
Not for the Road
As with any racing car, the exercise of packaging components and integrating functions is the key to success.
It’s pretty clear that while you can use the T1 on the road, you wouldn’t really want to. Even at moderate speeds it’s a physical car to drive. The clutch is snappy, the turning circle is gigantic and the visibility is terrible. And you’d never get the opportunity to do more than even scratch the surface of its dynamic talents, at least not without putting the safety of yourself and everyone within a hundred miles in jeopardy.
But given the space and freedom of a dedicated racing circuit, the T1 is incredible. And the fact that you can legally drive to that circuit, know that when you get there you’re going to be quicker than anything else that turns up unless you’ve stumbled into an F1 testing session, and then drive home again, easily justifies the $380,000. While that’s a whole lot of money for a car that’s near useless on the road, nothing comes close to the Caparo T1.
It’s possible to drive the Caparo T1 to the track, but you might attract unwanted attention along the way.
First Impressions: The ultimate track-day adventure.