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Some light reading #2...


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Thankyou for the previous responses and criticisms to my other article. For a bit of research I blagged a ride in an Ariel Atom so please find below the write up of my experience. Again, I would be grateful for any adive and pointers.


When the email came through confirming my drive in an Ariel Atom I came over all excited. Not least because I was going to be propelled around Bedford Aerodrome in anger but also my Atom owning friend was bringing his pal along. He too owned an Atom but his was the full on supercharged version. However, that night I allowed my excitement to get the better of me and indulged in a beer-fuelled trampoline rampage at a friend’s party. When I woke the next morning, the morning of my Atom drive, I was as stiff as a corpse.

Now I’m not opposed to Saturnalian style gatherings but, in hindsight, attending such a social post the night before being flung around a race track was most probably a bad idea. Nonetheless, following many expletives, moans and groans I hoiked myself out of bed and, after consuming a variety of energy supplements, headed down to Bedford.

I’m not a fan of Jonathan Palmer mainly because looks suspiciously like Meat Loaf in that stupidly lengthy music video about not doing something for love, but my god this man knows how to build a quality race track. At 4.2m long the full GT circuit is the longest in the UK. A 1km straight allows for some serious velocity with a mid-way chicane testing fear levels to the max. It’s fast, smooth and brutal.

Anyway, enough plugging for Bedford Aerodrome, onto the more important stuff. The first Atom at my service, courtesy of Mr David Trigg, is the 160bhp version. We begin with a limited 60mph installation lap which, in all honesty, was supremely terrifying. As I lowered myself into the plastic racing seats I couldn’t help but notice my right foot was resting on the steering rack and my left on a rather important looking piece of tubing. Before I had chance to question David as to where it was safe to place my shoe-bearers he booted the throttle.

Without any notification my head, under the weight of my helmet, snapped back and I rather embarrassingly let out some sort of spasmodic grunt. Within three seconds David is back on the brakes bringing the car, accompanied by another grunt, to a more moderate rate of travel. Even at such low speeds you can feel the Atom gripping the track. In front a BMW M3 tries to straight line a chicane but disappears in a cloud of tire smoke and squealing. The Atom, however, is utterly, utterly planted.

Instillation laps over we buckle in and this time attack the track with a little more vigour. A noticeable quality about the Atom is that it’s more of a living thing than a machine. It makes noises; strange rattles, clunks, clangs. The sounds and odours develop and alter the harder you push, it’s as though the car saying “Yeah, come one bring it”. “Bringing it” is something David is expelling a great amount of energy over.

Approaching the 1km straight David shifts up and, much like all the other shifts he has made up to press, it does so in rather vicious fashion. Approaching 120mph the mid-way chicane is now a matter of meters away and I begin to wonder if David has considered braking yet. Having just got over the shock of how fast this car accelerates I am then stunned again at the severity and power of its anchors. In literally under one second we are 40mph slower and turning it.

Having been shocked twice in the last two seconds I think it impossible to be shocked a third time but low and behold I am. The grip is just astonishing. Technically, as we clip the apex, we should be heading backwards in some sort of crocodile death role but no, it just hooks up and stays there.

As the tires and David overheat we make our way back to the pits, both clamber out and immediately head for a bottle of water and a seat in the sun. The thing with the Atom is it’s actually a very involving car to drive. Many years ago I did a spot of karting, I was utterly rubbish but really enjoyed the connection between man and machine The Atom seems to reflect a similar level of driver involvement. Ok, it will help you out with a bit of grip here and there and a nice shot of acceleration when you put pedal to metal but that aside it’s down to you the pilot navigate your way to a quick lap time.

During our cooling down break we are joined by a man I shall name Mr Blue as I have no idea what his real name actually is. It turns out Mr Blue is the owner of the 300bhp Atom I’ve also been signed up to. As we sit and chat he warns me that with over twice as much bhp and added supercharger it really is a totally different beast. Now I must confess that I was a little bit shaken by my previous experience but thought it best not to mention this to Mr Blue as his sunglasses suggested that he wasn’t a man to take wimps with a pinch of salt.

Once again I lowered myself into the plastic race seats but during my descent noticed a few subtle differences, not least the race-bred LED gear change indicator and smaller race-spec steering wheel. Uncontrollably I was overcome by a huge sense of discomfort and nervousness. As a result when I came to fasten my seatbelt I ended up pulling the wrong strap and sent the buckle up round my throat. Mr Blue didn’t look altogether impressed.

Before I closed my visor Mr Blue leaned across and instructed me to grab his right leg if at any point I want him to stop. This, I can assure you, was not in the slightest reassuring. Before I got the chance to say “ok” he pinned the throttle. The acceleration was similar to the other Atom in the same sense that Angelina Jolie is similar to Margaret Thatcher. Mr Blue was right; this thing is a totally different beast.

With the wind pushing away at my face I could feel my helmet trying to unclasp itself and make a break for it. This concerned my greatly, almost to the point where I considered grabbing Mr Blues’ leg. However, not only did this seem a tad homosexual but as I previously said, he didn’t appear to be the type of man to humour abjectival cowards such as myself. Instead I decided to hold on tighter and watch as the needle headed for 120mph and then continued its journey all the way to 140mph.

At this point the deafening air-raid siren shriek deposited by the supercharger became ever more apparent. Either that or I was screaming so loudly I was able to hear my own voice. Whichever way, the whole thing felt intense. A tight hairpin approaches and Mr Blue jumps on the stoppers. The power of the brakes is monumental. Although I was ratcheted in place by a three point harness I actually moved a good 30cm out of my seat.

As we exit the hairpin a Porsche 911 Turbo appears through the haze. In three corners time we are right behind him, the heat flowing off the back like a well aimed fart. Before I had chance to get a whiff of fried brakes and boiled clutch Mr Blue pips round the outside of him. That’s the truly astonishing thing about this car; it will scout any other car frequenting the track and within three corners and a short straight it will make a pass. It’s astonishing.

As we power-slide our way into the pit entrance I have time to reflect how amazing this car actually is. In many ways the Atom is like being drunk. You get the same world spinning sensations as you do after six pints and you wake up the next day feeling like a battered fridge door.

However, at least with the Atom you don’t spend the whole time laughing uncontrollably at door knobs and continually proclaiming love to the sofa.

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Hehe ,good write-up smile.gif I've decided to keep my 160 Atom until my new one arrive's, hopefully in March. It will be the new Atom 3, rumoured to have 320BHP even though its still badged a 300.

Not only are the cars amazing but the club is great too.

If you're looking for a completely mind-boggling experience go down to Somerset and get Tom to take you out for a spin in their demo, you will never look at performance car's in the same way again !

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Not bad!

Wish I'd tried as hard at age 17.

Keep it up.

For some reason the Ariel story reminded me of an email I sent my bro after our return from Tunisia in the prototype Grinnall Scorpion 3, in August 2003. As you probably know, the Scorpion is a 'Morgan layout' 3 wheeler with a BMW K series 4 cylinder bike engine, producing about 100bhp for 390kg.

A very stable machine with which I've trounced F3 cars in sprint/slalom in France.

Here's the email.

"The Tunis trip was pretty funny; we made Limoges to Toulon (700km) stopping only for fuel. The final part of this trip was grim, as the car's front wheels were absurdly out of balance, though I had just had them done; my buddies machine was obviously decalibrated.....with minutes to spare on the last day there, we found someone with a properly set up machine, and after that the front mudguards stopped trying to part company with the car, in the fashion of young Dumbo the elephant’s ears....truly spectacular flapping, and bad vibrations through the steering wheel.

We did in fact get to the Sahara in the Scorpion; en route we thought about going to see Ghaddafi, took a photo of Françoise in the car grinning in front of a sign 'xx miles to Tripoli,' where I had jumped out in heavy traffic on a major city intersection and started snapping away like a maniac with the Grinner blocking traffic and everyone honking in frenzy.....normal for Tunisia.

But we decided on reflection that the charms of the Colonel were frankly insufficient to lure us over the border.

We had to keep cool by soaking our t shirts in water...I rigged a system so by pressing a button on the dash, water was pumped from a 5 litre tank up rubber tubes fixed to the outer rollover bars, and thus onto the grateful pilot & navigatrix.....

Speaking of extreme feats of navigation, we arrived at our port of departure, Spezia, in Italy, which is about 120km south of Genoa, with about an hour to wait before the boarding deadline....time to find a nice Italian resto, I thought, so I could sample the local cuisine.

I had never been in Italy before, and had been really looking forward to sitting down and absorbing some ambiance, and some Italian cuisine.

All I had seen of the country was a sort of blur, mostly of the inside of a tunnel, as the road from Nice to Spezia is either bridge or tunnel, and we had been maintaining 115mph due to having lost time and starting ridiculously late.

It was great to have finally stopped in Spezia, so imagine my joy when Françoise took out the tickets and, face a real picture of horror and embarrassment, exclaimed in trembling voice, "Oh my Gaaaad, we should be in......Genoa!!!!!!" (Actually, she said "MERDE!!!!! Putain de Dieu, c'est pas vrai, mais c'est pas possible, cette connasse à bien dit plusiers fois 'Spezia' au telephone, cherie je suis vraiment desole......"etc etc.)


Imagine the pleasure with which we got back into that Grinner, and warped back up to Genoa, 120km in just under one hour...... sounds slow, but that is the average speed, remember, and there are city traffic jams en route.

We were hustling Porsche Boxters, inches from the Armco, flat out.....Françoise had her eyes shut most of the way, but didn't dare say anything, especially not "For ****s sake slow down, you mad bastard" because she KNEW we would miss the boat if we did.

She was most subdued. Said she was glad I had taken up racing, for gods sake!

I kept thinking about Lady Di, and the fabulously good taste computer game which was launched just following her demise, 'Lady Di, Tunnel Racer'.

This gave me a rather puckery feeling.....dicing with Italians in tunnels at nearly 200kph isn't really very relaxing. Specially with the Italians in big cars or bigger lorries, and us in a little plastic bathtub.........

I kept thinking....."Dogmeat....NO!!!!, STOP thinking that....." I also kept getting the hideous sensation that we were not actually in a tunnel on the horizontal, but were somehow plummeting down a vertical hole into the centre of the planet, and somehow the Grinner was sticking rather effectively to the side of the hole.....quite nasty, vertiginous stuff, and hard to shake off.

We had left the full face helmets and the spoiler in Toulon, where we had had very little sleep during a 4 day stopover, and this may go some way toward explaining the curious tunnel vertigo.....lack of sleep, no helmet, so max wind rush, and 500 mile non-stop (except for fuel) sprints in the worlds most rational transport system do have a combined effect on the brain which is less than entirely soothing.

It was 'with some relief' that my star navigatrix and my shattered and starving self staggered into the cabin we had had the sense to book for the 20 hour crossing to Tunis......I turned the blessed aircon up to max, and we went and sampled the not too bad italian menu in the Grimaldi line restaurant, before tuning out in airconditioned bliss till hitting Tunis."


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