Group tests

Caterham Levante v Caparo T1

Head to head for the outright title of most extreme road car. Will it be the Caterhan Levante or the Caparo T1?

It’s Moss versus Schumacher, badger versus panda, Peter Griffin versus Homer Simpson. It’s the fight you all want to see, the head to head for the outright title and several overtly ornate belts that clearly won’t fit your trousers. These are the two most extreme road cars we have ever tested.

In the corner representing aerodynamics and F1 technology we have the Caparo T1: 610bhp at 10,500rpm, 310lb ft at 9000rpm and 689kg split 40:60 front to rear. And in the corner representing barn doors and one man’s dream we have the Caterham Levante: 550bhp at 10,000rpm and 300lb ft at 8500rpm pushing 652kg split exactly 50:50.

The first round is on Millbrook’s mile straight, where the Levante has to try and match the figures we set in the Caparo last year (evo 123). I wasn’t scared of driving any of the other cars today, but walking up to the carbonfibre Caterham there is a nasty echoey feeling where my internal organs should be. Since the last time we got behind its wheel, Russell Savory has added a paddleshift to the car. It’s a pneumatic system and the flat-shifts in the sequential ’box are twice the speed of a Ferrari Scuderia’s…

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Getting the car off the line hasn’t got any easier, though. Imagine trying to tread on an ant attached to the clutch pedal without squashing it and you get the idea of how delicate you need to be with your left foot. In order not to stall, you need to do a granny start then feed in 550bhp without lighting up the rear Avons. Circumstances beyond our control mean I only get one go at this, and the result is a yawning 0-30mph time of 2.9sec, although the T1 was no startled rabbit, taking 2.2sec. The fiddle to deploy the Caterham’s power means another three tenths have been eked out by the Caparo by 60mph, but the best indication of the two car’s capabilities are the 60-100mph times. The Caterham takes just 3.4sec to cover the 40mph gap (some 1.2sec quicker than the LP640), but the Caparo is simply mind-blowing, taking just 2.4sec. From there on up, aerodynamic drag starts to sink its invisible claws into the cars’ profiles and the Caterham suffers as the Caparo storms to 140mph in 10.1sec.

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Time for some fuel. Negotiating a roundabout I catch sight of John Barker in the Caterham up ahead and momentarily think what an extraordinary sight the Levante is amongst humdrum traffic. Then I remember I’m in the Caparo. Lying back in the seat, feet up in the air, shoulders cocooned in the bodywork and eyes on a level with other cars’ exhaust pipes and wheel nuts, the T1 gives you an ankle-high view of the world. Tight turns are to be avoided, because the steering’s lock is so shallow you might reasonably assume it’s broken. The clutch is meatier than the Caterham’s but feels more judderingly brutal as it tries to mesh.

Tanks brimmed, we swap four-point harnesses. The Levante is more practical to drive, yet because you sit upright, chest to the breeze, the speed it makes is arguably even more shocking. Where the Caparo feels secure and builds its speed to a frantic crescendo, the Caterham’s supercharger gives instant-hit blurring when you light the touchpaper. You never feel quite sure if the rear wheels will contain the fury or if you’ll need to snap-correct with the featherlight Reverie wheel. It can be a slightly tense, edgy experience, like stroking a sleeping Doberman that someone has assured you is friendly.

For consistency, John has set all the lap times and I’ve been passenger. I trust him implicitly but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a whiter shade of pale when I slid into the Caparo’s passenger seat. Racer and T1 development driver Phil Bennett locked himself in the loo last time we had the Caparo and passengering duties were required, hence why our current lap time for the car is unofficial. Not for much longer…

First lap and I’m having to concentrate on breathing. We haven’t got long on the circuit for John to get dialled in and I add a massive 10 per cent to the car’s weight, so a lap time of 1min 14.8sec is awesome. Context? More than ten seconds quicker over one single lap than the LP640 or SL Black. A few more laps, even later on the brakes and who knows…

It’s a testament to the essential rightness of the Caterham formula that a 550bhp version still handles. The tyres need heat, but John’s instantly pushing the Levante and the supercharged hit out of the corners is sensational. It’s balanced too, and I’m genuinely wondering if it can beat the T1. And then disaster strikes through the Palmer Curves. I instantly know all’s not well as the ceaseless noise inside my helmet falters and the car slows mid-flow. We’re stuck in third gear. Despite only one flying lap, the VBOX shows a 1:19.6 and we know there’s more to come. The promoters are already circling. A rematch is due…

Lap Times

THE FACTSCaparo T1Caterham Levante
LayoutMid engine,Front engine,
EngineV8, 3499ccV8, 2398cc, supercharger
Max power610bhp @ 10,500rpm550bhp @ 10,000rpm
Max torque310lb ft @ 9000rpm300lb ft @ 8500rpm
Actual weight689kg652kg
Power to weight899bhp/ton857bhp/ton
Weight distribution40:60 front:rear50:50 front:rear
Basic pricec£225,500£115,000
1/4 mile secs1112.7
1/4 mile mph143129
Top speed mph205 (claimed)150 (limited)

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