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New Caterham a Lola?

2011-01-17 07:00

SPEED RACER: Only Caterham’s third new car in five decades, the SP/300R is aimed at wealthy enthusiasts who like to spend their weekends at trackdays.

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Caterham
Model SP/300R
Engine 2l supercharged
Power 220kW
Transmission Six-speed sequential
Zero To Hundred 2.5 sec
Weight 600kg
Tyres Cooper Avon
Front Suspension Double wishbone, pushrod damper
Rear Suspension Double wishbone, pushrod damper
British niche brand – and custodian of the legendary Lotus 7’s heritage – Caterham, has unveiled only the third new model line in its history, the SP/300R.

Although the late Graham Nearn’s company has proven remarkably successful for over five decades by building, essentially, only one car (the Caterham 7) it announced late last year that a new model was under development. Many thought this new car would be a more road-friendly (and element-proof) alternative to the 7. Not quite.

Caterham’s new SP/300R is a dedicated track car, set to rival such machines as the Radical. Designed in partnership with renowned British circuit racing specialist constructor Lola, Caterham plans to build only 25 SP/300Rs per year, retailing for around R600 000.


Technically the Caterham SP/300R draws on Lola’s (considerable) endurance and open-wheeled racing heritage.

The car’s styling is clearly influenced by Lola’s experience at Le Mans, with the SP/300R having the proportions and structure of a miniaturised Le Mans prototype racer.

A raised front splitter and elaborate rear wing manage the airflow characteristics when travelling at racing speeds (to reduce lift), whilst the SP/300R’s flat underbody aerodynamics ensure optimal stability. Caterham purists may be a trifle upset by something wearing the brand's legendary nameplate and featuring such outlandish aerodynamic aids, considering the 7 does without any wings, but the SP/300R's airflow management adornments are a necessity.

The SP/300R’s chassis technology is thoroughly advanced, using a Lola fashioned aluminium tub as opposed to traditional tubular frame construction. Hinged onto (and inside) the aluminium tub is an array of top-notch performance components.

Long standing Caterham engine supplier Ford provides a supercharged version of its 2-litre Duratec powerplant. The engine is longitudinally mounted amidships and drives the SP/300R’s rear-wheels via a Hewland sequential transmission, the latter being part of the stress-bearing transaxle set-up.

Harmonising this new Caterham’s dynamics is an all wheel double-wishbone suspension set-up, with adjustable pushrod dampers controlling individual wheel oscillation. As befits its circuit-use billing the SP/300R’s dampers allow for a wide range of adjustability, allowing potential owners to tailor ride height and wheel castor/camber characteristics of their SP/300Rs for specific circuits. The rear suspension architecture is, in fact, a copy of Lola’s F3 open-wheel racers.


With a kerb weight of under 600kg and 220kW of peak power, Caterham claims the SP/300R should be good for a 0-100km/h benchmark sprint time of 2.5 seconds. To rein in the car’s impressive kinetics are brakes supplied by AP Racing.

Rolling in the wheel arches are bespoke tyres specifically developed for the SP/300R by Cooper Avon. Measuring 180mm at the front and 250mm at the rear, the Cooper Avon tyres are configured to enable razor sharp turn-in characteristics. The SP/300R’s wheels are 13-inches in diameter, the same size in use for years now by F1 teams.

Despite the SP/300R’s uncompromising circuit-biased design and configuration, Caterham aims to reduce the frustration of ownership commonly associated with production competition cars in private use. Consequently the SP/300R’s surface panels and access points to crucial ancillaries have been shaped and placed to allow a single person to easily set-up – or adjust – the car for circuit use.

NIGHT RIDER?: Most new circuit cars have LEDs of some sort. The Caterham SP/300R’s U-shaped LEDs are the best illumination configuration we’ve seen on a competition car yet…

Caterham’s previous supporting line to the company’s mainstay 7 product offering was an abject failure.

The oft forgotten 21 was a more finessed car than Caterham’s 7, but nobody bought into it.

In fact, production only lasted for all of 48 units in the 1990s before the 21 was discontinued.

Hardly keen on repeating its 21-series mistake, Caterham has gone back to its minimalist high-performance roots with the new SP/300R.

"Motorsport is not only part of the history of Caterham, it's been the lifeblood running through the character of our vehicles – race cars for the road," says Ansar Ali, managing director of Caterham Cars.

The first cars are expected to be delivered to customers at the start of 2012.


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