Caterham 7 Superlight: Travel at the speed of light

With telepathic steering and frantic acceleration, the Caterham Superlight is not a car to be taken lightly, reports Linda Taylor
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SPECIFICATIONS

Model: Caterham 7 Superlight
Price: £22,495 (factory built)
Engine: 1.8 litre, 4 cylinder X-power
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox
Performance: Top speed 130mph, 0-62 in 4.7sec, 140bhp
Fuel:37mpg

I'm addicted to speed. I admit it. So what better fix than a run around Brands Hatch - with its undulating drags and jaw-dropping chicanes - in a Caterham 7 Superlight.

Today's Caterham is a direct descendent of the Lotus Seven, a sports car designed by the legendary Colin Chapman in the 1950s, and which went on to star in the cult classic television drama The Prisoner.

Much has changed since those days, and now Caterham uses Toyota and the ultra-light (formerly MG Rover) K-series rather than the old Ford Consul units. But the Caterham's charming looks remain.

Under Chapman, Lotus Engineering was committed to minimalist design. Like most of the great automotive visionaries, Chapman was obsessed with the power to weight ratio, and the Superlight sticks faithfully to his original philosophy. Fresh from the factory, it is a no-frills, no-nonsense car that offers the ultimate driving experience. Stripped of all but the essentials - windscreen, heater, and carpets are all options - it delivers telepathic steering, slick gear change (the bespoke six-speed close-ratio box is deliciously tight) and frantic acceleration. The Superlight is supplied fully road legal, but this model contains many track options. The stripped-out interior with carbon-fibre dashboard, four-point strap and lap belt, composite race bucket seats and wind deflector in lieu of a windscreen are fitted as standard.

So how light is the Superlight? This sleek little number weighs in at just 495kg, about 50kg lighter than the Caterham 7 Roadsport - compare this with the new Mini Cooper, a hefty 1,050kg. And with 140bhp under the bonnet, it offers a power to weight ratio of almost astonishing potency.

To put it into perspective, a Porsche 911 Turbo generates a comparatively piddling 272bhp per tonne, while the Ferrari 360 Spider has a more respectable power to weight ratio of 280bhp per tonne. But, at 283bhp per tonne, the Caterham 7 Superlight is not a vehicle to be taken lightly.

It takes a couple of rather ungainly minutes to squeeze into the bucket seat and a couple more to adjust the four-point race harness, but then it's foot down for the winding lanes of the Kent countryside. The Superlight's power and the phenomenal growl from the engine completely magnify the experience of driving a sports car. Heads turn and cars toot as I race along, and even though I'm driving within the speed limit it's a heady rush. Through the thin layer of gently vibrating carbon-fibre, barely separating me from the tarmac, I can sense every line, arch and curve in the road, which is hardly surprising: the suspension is double wishbone at the front and De Dion at the rear, with Bilstein dampers. The dampers can be adjusted to alter the ride height, which means owners can tailor the handling of the car to their liking and the set up can be changed depending on use.

Track days at Brands are breathtaking. It's a free-for-all. Alongside the usual array of high performance cars, there is an eclectic mix that includes 4x4s, Peugeots, a 2CV and even a Clio. Helmet on, I clamber into the passenger seat beside Rob, my instructor. Above the din I can just about make out what he's saying. Like deep sea diving, a lot of instruction comes down to hand signals. After a couple of laps, we're back at the pits, and it's time to get behind the wheel. Again, I am shoe-horned into the car - an event made more embarrassing as it must be performed in front of several seasoned male drivers.

Like joining a motorway, I have to accelerate hard out of the pits and on to the track, while avoiding the drivers bombing past at 130mph. Not only that, the first bend is the infamous Paddock Hill, a rising blind bend that descends sharply right (though I didn't know this at the time). Remarkably, I manage it with all the cool and confidence of a veteran, which sort of makes up for my inability to get in and out of the car.

In no time at all, and with Rob's invaluable instruction, I am carving up bends at ridiculously serious speeds. The Superlight can slingshot its driver from 0-62mph in just 4.7 seconds, and out on the track it seems so much faster. After a couple of laps, I'm holding my own with the rest of the racers. I'm in fifth gear, and have been since Paddock Hill, and that, according to Rob, is precisely where I should be. That's the beauty of this beast: it can handle the whole circuit in fifth. And then, all too soon, it's over. And all I want is to go out and do it again.

The Caterham Motorsport Club offers track days to anyone with a license. The fun starts at 9am with a briefing on safety and protocol. You are then allocated a car and instructor, who will talk you through the intricacies of the circuit. Thereafter, it's a day of driving: learning about car control, circuit lapping, and on-the-limit handling.

The club also stages slalom days for individuals or groups. The slalom challenge is an against-the-clock time trial event that takes place on large areas of open tarmac. Participants battle to get around a cone course in the fastest possible time. Drivers are encouraged to spin the wheels. They also learn how to do a tyre smoking donut turn around a cone to complete the course more quickly. Is there a better Christmas gift?

For more information on Caterham track days go to www.caterham.co.uk/ trackdays/index.htm

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