Adaptability. If there’s one skill prized above all others in the World Rally Championship, it’s surely that.
The 2021 World Rally Championship is comprised of 12 rallies in as many countries, starting in the wintery Alps above Monte Carlo, and taking in everything from the smooth tarmac of Belgium to the rutted dirt tracks of Kenya, before concluding in the forests of the Aichi and Gifu districts in Japan.
With drivers routinely accustomed to such extremes, it would be easy to expect them to find circuit racing a walk in the park. But each discipline has its own intricacies, and thanks to Red Bull Motorsports and Toyota Gazoo Racing, Welsh WRC sensation Elfyn Evans had the opportunity to find out when he took the wheel of the Radical SR3XX.
Launched in 2020, the Radical SR3XX is the latest evolution of the world’s most popular sports racing car. Powered by a 1500cc RPE-Suzuki four-cylinder engine producing 226bhp, the featherweight 620kg machine is a true ‘wings and slicks’ racing car. The high-downforce composite body and Hankook racing slicks allow it to generate 2.3g of lateral cornering force, and it will reach 60-mph in a scant 3.1 seconds. The latest in data acquisition technology from AiM is fitted, allowing racers to hunt out those final few tenths like never before.
The world of sports prototype-style racing is a new one for the Welshman, who experienced the Radical SR3XX at the undulating Anglesey Circuit (Trac Mon), situated on a peninsula on the Isle of Anglesey in Northern Wales, United Kingdom.
In 2017 the three-times WRC rally winner taught Red Bull Motorsports presenter Mike Chen how to drive his WRC car, and four years later, it was time for the long-time Radical racer Chen to return the favour.
After a handful of sessions, despite ambient temperatures hovering in the low single-digits and with intermittent snow flurries blowing across the track, Evans was building pace and beginning to explore the capabilities of the Radical SR3XX. However, he was quick to note that it is a whole new thing compared to his Toyota Yaris WRC.
“It’s a completely different world, even having the air blowing in your face is the first thing that struck me as soon as I got in the car,” he noted.
“And of course, everything is very stiff feeling, everything in the Radical is much more consistent and controlled. In the rally car we’re used to pitch and yaw and the car moving about, but in the Radical it’s planted and the grip level is even higher than what we experience on a tarmac stage.”
“And then there’s the aero. Obviously, with the modern World Rally car we’re used to working with some degree of aero these days, but this is another level again, which makes it really quite exciting to drive on a circuit like Trac Mon. It takes you a while to get used to pushing hard enough to get the aero working, but as soon as you get comfortable with it, then you can really start pushing.”
The one area where there is no comparison is the element of unpredictability found on the special stage, where conditions don’t just change from event to event or stage to stage, but from corner to corner.
“In rallying you have to anticipate a little bit more for what might be around the next corner, whereas here it’s all fairly consistent and you can really focus on getting as much performance from the car as you can.”
The Radical SR3XX is the newest evolution in a long line of highly successful SR3 models, and the data acquisition and real-time telemetry made possible by the latest generation of CAN-linked wiring and telemetry from AiM gave Evans the upper-edge in this first test scenario.
“At Toyota Gazoo Racing we use data quite a lot more now in rally than we ever have, and my Yaris WRC is incredibly advanced in this field. But the difficulty we always have in rally is that there’s just so many more variables, so it’s quite difficult to accurately compare one set of data to another.
“But in a situation like today where I’m perhaps a little bit less experienced in this field, when you’ve got someone alongside of you like Chenny who’s more experienced, you can look at his data and pick off straight away what he’s doing and use that to improve your own performance. I’d probably need a full weekend of testing to get properly up to speed, to get that confidence in the chassis to start leaning hard on it.”
Fresh off the back of a highly successful 2020 season, where only a single small mishap during the final event of the year stood between him and his first ever World Championship, Evans is looking forward to going one better and taking the crown in 2021. With second place finishes in Monte Carlo and Croatia, and a breakthrough win in Portugal to date, the year is off to a good start.
Unsurprisingly, there’s little chance of a discipline switch in the near future.
“The SR3XX was really impressive, it’s a different thing to what we’re used to, that’s for sure. Experiencing the aero grip was great fun and it’s been good to open my eyes to the circuit side of things, but for me I’m still fairly well stuck in the rallying world!”
Images: Radical Sportscars / Andrew Coles