Reading back through my blog about driving the Praga R1S, it strikes me that I missed some important stuff about the experience!
Part of the blame was that it hadn’t really sunk in, but part was also that the blog was already far too long to be adding more in. So now, four months after I wrote this, and with zero motorsport happening around the world, I thought it might be a good time to post the blog!
I did a bit of research into the Praga before my drive, watching a few onboard videos and reading/watching reviews for the road version.
A term that cropped up a few times was that the car is “motorcycle fast” – as in the way it moves is more like the sort of speed you get from riding a superbike than a car.
I’ve ridden sportsbikes almost every day of my life for the past 20 years, so I’m very used to 0-60 in under 3 seconds, 85mph in first gear, and top speeds approaching 200mph. That sort of performance literally gets me to the office (admittedly with a grin, most days), so it takes a lot to phase me. Plus throw in a bit of driving and instructing in supercars…
The Praga R1 looks like an absolute beast, with wings and diffusers all over the place, and it’s a tiny car so you’re almost wearing it when you slide in through the window. And it’s clearly a very fast car around a race track.
To be honest, though, at no point did I ever find it intimidating. I’m not saying it felt slow (far from it!), but it was very… user friendly.
The cockpit is far more comfortable than you’d ever imagine from a very basic carbon fibre seat – if cradles you well, and there are headrests to help you cope with cornering if 3g’s gets too much for your neck to take. Everything in there is within easy reach, feels pretty natural, and visibility is much better than you’d think – a great testament to the designers.
There was no speedometer, so I have no clue what speeds I was hitting, but can say that mashing the throttle didn’t elicit fear – in fact my heart rate monitor shows I only got up to 115bpm (in Formula Vee I’ll normally be around 130-140bpm in the wet and 140-160bpm in the dry). I should note here that I was in the normally aspirated R1S with about 260hp – the turbo powered R1T has around 460hp, so I’m sure that would pick up its petticoat and go a fair bit faster!
From the onboard video I’d seen from Donington, I noticed that the braking points were about the same as I’d use in the Vee, so used the same thinking for my Silverstone drive. I’ve got no doubt that the Praga was massively faster than the Vee, but it didn’t really feel it in terms of driving.
I was in 6th gear for a long time down the straight, so was seeing a bit of the top end, although I’m sure I’d be able to get another 20 seconds per lap out of the car with a bit more time to feel things out in the corners.
I mentioned that the mechanical grip in the corners was very good – the Praga feels and drives like a single seater. Very stiff but still compliant, and it just goes instantly wherever you want it to. Obviously it has much better, wider tyres than a Formula Vee, plus about 40 more years of suspension development. It soaks up all the bumps without ever getting skittish, and whilst it’s a bit of a cliché to say it felt like it was on rails, it was – except you could seemingly change the line at will, too.
Which brings me nicely onto the biggest unknown for me: downforce.
I don’t know what speed is needed for the diffuser and stuff to do their thing, so that may well still help in the slower corners, but then once the speed gets up things move from pure mechanical grip into the physics of downforce created by the wings etc.
Whilst I didn’t feel like The Hand Of God was pushing me down into the track, it was very clear that grip had increased – especially through Stowe and Abbey. Going through Farm in a Vee you’re pretty much hanging on and fighting the car drifting to the outside on the exit, but in the Praga it still felt like you could turn in hard and hug the inside curb.
I’m sure you can dial out any smidgeon of under or oversteer quite easily in the car using set-up, but the impression I got was very neutral and balanced with maybe a slight hint of understeer.
It really is a beautiful car to drive on a track, and if I ever got the budget to race more than Vee, the Praga would be at the top of the list. I think it’s the kind of car that would teach you a huge amount because it just does everything – it’s a bit like a blank canvas inviting you to do what you want with it.
Whilst I’ve always loved ‘tin top’ cars, I’ve had the impression that they’re not as ‘pure’ as single-seaters.
Maybe that’s true for the GT cars, but the prototype-style racers are just a single seater with a roof – and driving the Praga showed me that it’s every bit as pure and exciting as a single seater.
And You get to stay dry.
A small Lottery win or a big promotion at work, and I will be having a serious chat with Vincent Randall again…
**As a bonus – check out the new liveries for whenever things get going again!