My Ariel Atom experience!

Steve Levin

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Since I've been pondering getting a pure track car (instead of using my Chrysler 300) I decided to take the opportunity afford by the Ariel Atom Experience (http://www.arielatomexperience.com/) to actually drive one at a track I'm fairly familiar with, Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California (http://www.thunderhill.com/). Sadly, (or perhaps not) they put a chicane in right at start/finish to keep the entry speeds into Turn 1 down. We ran the older 'front half' of the course but (http://www.thunderhill.com/html/trackmap.html) turned in just after Turn 7. Still, you can take the sequence from Turn 2 down to 7 at full chat without any other obstructions.

There were two groups, one of 7 people and one of 6, and we alternated in the cars.

The first part of the day consisted of two lead/follow sessions (with instructors in the car), with the second one at a quicker but still fairly mellow pace. One thing that didn't thrill me is that I saw many of the instructors (which had not been to Thunderhill before) not quite showing the right lines in a couple of places, most critically the entry into Turn 3, which is a reducing radius -- and more importantly, VERY off camber -- turn. A couple of people would end up spinning there during the course of the day.

The third and last morning session was a lead/follow/passby. However, since I ended up as the last car in the 'train' I only got one open lap after being waved by the lead car, and then it was time for lunch.

After lunch it was three sessions of open lapping (no lead/follow). With just 7 cars on the track, even with some disparity of speed, there was plenty of open track for the most part. After the first open session, one of the instuctors had to leave, and so I got to run the last two sessions of the day solo! Which was definitely cool. While I don't mind getting instruction, still, there's something neat about being out there on your own.

The car itself? We were running the track spec, short fendered cars with the base 245hp Ecotec engine. Still, even without the full-chat 300hp Honda mill, holy cow do these things accelerate. And far more impressive, to me, was the braking forces. I kept going deeper and deeper, and it just worked. No power brakes, of course, so you get a lot of feedback, and it takes a bit of pressure. Unlike the throttle, which is very sensitive and much more like an on/off switch.

I drove the track primarily in 3rd gear, except on the straight, where I'd shift into 4th for a bit and then back to 3rd at the chicane. If I were going for every ounce of speed I might have used 4th exiting Turn 1, but it would have been tenths of a second at most before you would be back down to 3rd for Turn 2, and it seemed foolish to make myself that busy in the cockpit (as compared to just deathering the throttle at redline in 3rd for a moment before the braking point to Turn 2.

It's a heck of a track car, that's all I can say. My friend is taking delivery of a Lotus 2-eleven in January and I'm looking forward to trying that out as well; I suspect the big difference will be aero on high speed corners.

I'll have some other pics and stuff up shortly, but for now, here's a brief youtube clip (note my spiffy helmet :) :)

[youtube]eqmBfb2_LHg[/youtube]

Questions?

Steve
 

Ottobon

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Just from going to trackdays for as long as i have, i'm going to make a recommendation that you don't pounce on the idea of a track-day specific car just yet. I came to this realization at my last track-day when i had more fun in a 08 R32 Golf then i had in a Lotus Elise (and i'm usually a mid-engine, lightweight car guy.)

Furthermore, i have read alot of bad impressions about the Ariel on further review, its a good idea, but bits of the execution are lacking. Topgear Magazine went over this in their Isle of Man GP http://www.topgear.com/blogs/isleofman/003-ariel-atom/

Anyways, if i could recommend anything, don't look for a car thats fast, look for one that is both charming and fun. More important then anything though, don't rush to your own conclusions, finding the right car takes time. I know for me it took a few years just to get any real solid ideas down. Ride and drive in everything! And don't ignore it when something strange tugs at your heart, you just might find something you have always been looking for, even though you didn't think it exsisted.


PS: Thunderhill looks pretty cool!
 
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Steve Levin

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Here's the best of the paddock pics:

main.php


The others, which are all pretty similar, are at:

http://photos.interceptor.com/main.php?g2_itemId=7639

Steve
 

watto

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Brilliant Steve, thanks for the write up. Looks like you had a blast!
 

Redliner

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Thanks for taking the time to tell us about it! It looks so much fun...
 

Steve Levin

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I should have mentioned that they had built in car intercom/radio systems; we had to pull out the wiring from one of their silver helmets to tape it into my Bell; I was unwilling to spend the money on this and NOT wear my helmet instead of one of their stock silver helmets. They couldn't understand that, but I figured, hey, I want it clear it's ME driving and not just some generic nerd :)

Steve
 

Sony

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Wow, interesting, that is a crazy car. thx for sharing.
 

Uwe

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Just from going to trackdays for as long as i have, i'm going to make a recommendation that you don't pounce on the idea of a track-day specific car just yet. I came to this realization at my last track-day when i had more fun in a 08 R32 Golf then i had in a Lotus Elise (and i'm usually a mid-engine, lightweight car guy.)
I never drove an Elise so I can't figure out why you prefer a Golf as your track tool (even though I am rather puzzled :? ).

But I know one thing - I would never, ever in my life exchange my Caterham for a Golf as a trackday car. And I'm not only talking in terms of speed, I'm talking in terms of fun, excitement and sheer driving experience.
 

Steve Levin

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I definitely want to tr several cars before making a decision. It's a tough one with several options...but one of the things that does appeal to me is the full roll cage. My wife certainly would be happier if I had one.

Also, I just can't see myself getting anything that weighs more than 2500 pounds. And even at that, I'd prefer under 2000 pounds if possible.

At 2500 would be the ex-Panox school GT-RA...which has the advantage of being $22,000 (so a lot cheaper). But it's not clear what resale market will exist down the road for the Panoz.

Steve
 

Uwe

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I definitely want to tr several cars before making a decision. It's a tough one with several options...but one of the things that does appeal to me is the full roll cage. My wife certainly would be happier if I had one.

Also, I just can't see myself getting anything that weighs more than 2500 pounds. And even at that, I'd prefer under 2000 pounds if possible.

At 2500 would be the ex-Panox school GT-RA...which has the advantage of being $22,000 (so a lot cheaper). But it's not clear what resale market will exist down the road for the Panoz.

Steve
If you are prepared to spend something in the region of 20-30K I really suggest a used Caterham, for the following reasons:
- you can have it street approved
- roll cage is no big deal (is a factory option which can be installed subsequently)
- brake wear is very low due to low weight of the car (1100-1200 lbs)
- tires are cheap, especially with 13" wheels which are the best option for track use (low unsprung weight)
- it will keep its value. You buy it for, say, 25k and sell it 10 yrs later for the same money, plus inflation!

You can PM me if you want some further information.

Uwe
 

Ottobon

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I never drove an Elise so I can't figure out why you prefer a Golf as your track tool (even though I am rather puzzled :? ).

But I know one thing - I would never, ever in my life exchange my Caterham for a Golf as a trackday car. And I'm not only talking in terms of speed, I'm talking in terms of fun, excitement and sheer driving experience.

thanks for actually repleying, the last few days i haven't even been sure if anybody read anything i write anymore :mrgreen:. I think the first thing to explain is that i was riding in the cars, not driving them, but even so thats worth something.

I think the main thing was the way the cars felt, the Golf :rolleyes: was much more progressive then the Elise for one, it let go just when you expected it to, the Elise just kind of snaps, and to be honest i've had enough with snappy cars after driving a MR2 for almost 3 years. Secondly the seats were both more comfortable and more supportive in the R32, and i was warmer. I think the final straw was just the way the engine felt, the R32 actually made a really satisfying sound, whereas the Elise just didn't. I know it sounds like none-sense but my own conclusion me worries me as well. The Elise may have also been a let-down as i had just stepped out of a NASA (racing organization, not the space dorks) winning C4 Corvette, which completely ate everything else on the track.

With that said there aren't many cars i would choose over a original Lotus Elan for something like a tight auto-cross course, those cars are freaky fun! Like being in a over caffeinated clown car, i really do love those!

I think the Elise might be better then i could tell from riding in it. I mean it was much more impressive as far as track prowess went, i just genuinely felt more involved and determined in the R32, it was somehow more cinematic feeling.



All i can say for sure is that if the Ariel is genuinely keeping Steve up at night then it probably is the car for him. And it would be cool to have a Atom driver on the boards, so whatever happens ee-rr.
 
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Steve Levin

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If you want sound, you'd love my 300. Sound is a serious forte!

I grew up in the V8 era, so I just love that mean rumble.

Steve
 

Uwe

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I think the main thing was the way the cars felt, the Golf :rolleyes: was much more progressive then the Elise for one, it let go just when you expected it to, the Elise just kind of snaps, and to be honest i've had enough with snappy cars after driving a MR2 for almost 3 years. Secondly the seats were both more comfortable and more supportive in the R32, and i was warmer. I think the final straw was just the way the engine felt, the R32 actually made a really satisfying sound, whereas the Elise just didn't. I know it sounds like none-sense but my own conclusion me worries me as well. The Elise may have also been a let-down as i had just stepped out of a NASA (racing organization, not the space dorks) winning C4 Corvette, which completely ate everything else on the track.
I suppose it was a Rover powered Elise then. The Rover K engines are lightweight and "revvhappy" but they sound like sewing machines and they don't have much torque. Plus the Elise in its standard outfit has only around 120 bhp which is not very much. Of course, with its mid-engined layout the Elise is supposed to be on the snappy side (the Cat isn't).

Concerning the sound: I know you Americans are attracted to the typical V8 rumble, nevertheless I would love to see if an aggressively barking four-pot could convince you. Anyhow, the Vauxhall engine in my car makes my eyes water when it goes beyond 4000 rpm (and up to 7000).

EDIT: Steve, I see on your last pic that your Atom had a bullet cam installed. Any chance we'll get a nice clip to watch?
 
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Steve Levin

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I haven't added more video because it has the glitches in it -- almost like frame drops. My camera is actually in HD and I was trying it in 'max quality' which appears to have been a mistake :(

However, if you look at my clip again, you'll see now there's a comment from one of the other guys that was there that day who did a walkaround and then held the camera while being taken around on a hot lap by an instructor.

And then from a 'driving the lap' standpoint I'll be getting one of those videos with telemetry in a couple of weeks and I'll definitely put that online!

Steve
 

Ottobon

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Concerning the sound: I know you Americans are attracted to the typical V8 rumble, nevertheless I would love to see if an aggressively barking four-pot could convince you. Anyhow, the Vauxhall engine in my car makes my eyes water when it goes beyond 4000 rpm (and up to 7000).

No it was a 2zz, and my boredom may have come from the fact that i drove a car with they exact same engine (except ECU) and gearbox as the Elise all the way up to the track, so its not like i hadn't had enough of the engine.

As for 4 pots, Old Mercedes DTMs are great, and so are Alfa Romeos (the original GTA!!!!!!!!!11!!! OMG!!!11!) The part at about 6:00 to 6:25, in particular the free revving part at about 6:20 is what i'm talking about, yummy!
[YOUTUBE]http://youtube.com/watch?v=av_M-WTYN0g[/YOUTUBE]


but most just sound less like a engine and more like a noise.

aka
[YOUTUBE]http://youtube.com/watch?v=xX4YvAELFfA[/YOUTUBE]

Anyways, what type of vauxhall engine do you have if its so good it makes your eyes water? I'd love to hear it :p
 
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