JCR Buggy Track Test- with Barry Rabbitt.
September 19, 2013 by Barry Rabbitt
‘You busy tomorrow?’ said the text message, not an altogether unusual message to receive but when it comes from Motorsport.ie chief Leo Nulty it normally leads to something interesting. Sure enough the follow up message asked could I get myself to a secret location in the midlands to test one of Joe Cullen Racing’s new for 2013 Buggies. Less than 24 hours later I was on the road and looking forward to what was waiting for me at the other end. I had seen the JCR guys in action recently at the Irish Festival of Speed and was very impressed not just with the cars but also the professionalism of their pits and set up in general. So, when I arrived at the test location I was not at all surprised to see a brace of immaculately turned out cars but also a fully kitted out covered awning and two mechanics in full clean team wear. It makes an enormous impression and is great to see such professionalism in Irish motorsport.
Joe himself was on hand to show me around the bespoke racing machines which he has had specially designed and built for the team by a manufacturer in Portugal. The car I was to drive was fresh out of the box and beautifully prepared. It is a tubular space frame chassis with a mid mounted seat sitting just infront of a Suzuki GSXR 600cc Motorbike engine. Power – 140 horses worth – is transmitted through the standard 6 speed sequential gearbox and on through a chain to the solid rear axle. Independent suspension all round with adjustable dampers looks after keeping the small, knobbly tyres on the ground, well most of the time, while a solid brake disc per corner sorts out the retardation.
Settling into the buggy the team go about moving the pedal box to suit my height (or rather lack of) and a large dished steering wheel sits square in front of you behind a mesh screen. To your left is a pair of vertical levers, the one closer to the wheel is for gear selection while the other is a rally style hydraulic handbrake.
After a quick run through of the basic controls and switch gear I set off for some exploratory laps. The first thing you notice is the very sharp clutch which is to be expected from a bike engined machine, however it’s much more user friendly than other similar setups I’ve driven and causes no real problems pulling away. This ease of getaway is also probably down to the incredible low weight of the buggy, which comes in at just 310kgs! The course laid out for me is one of loose gravel and in places, some pretty large rocks. Immediately you can feel the directness of the machine and within seconds you are dialing in large doses of opposite lock to tame the lively rear end. Its not at all daunting though and the buggy does exactly what you want of it, never feeling like its going to spit you out of a nice controlled slide. Handling the loose gravel was fine but heading onto the heavy,large rocks was a real eye opener for me, a roundy rounder used to smooth asphalt! The JCR machine seems to glide over these large stones and takes it all in its stride. A few laps in now and I can push on a little bit, there is a small crest on the track and as you hit in flat in 3rd gear the buggy leaps into the air but the dampers do a very good job bringing you back to terra firma. There is no wild bump steer or anything of that nature, just a steering wheel feeding you back pages of feedback each second. Others who tested the car on the day felt that maybe the steering was too sensative to inputs but I have to say I found it ideal, you can go from lock to lock with crossed arms meaning you never need to let go of the wheel other than to pull or push on the gearlever to select your next ratio.
Back to the pits for a quick cool down and debrief before I once again settled myself in for a run on some closed tarmac roads. Up until now I had enjoyed the steering and handling of the buggy but on such loose surfaces it was hard to get a feel for what was beneath your right foot. It didn’t take long to realise that there is a lot beneath that right foot. As mentioned earlier, the 600cc bike motor creates 140bhp which, combined with the light kerb weight, means a power to weight ratio headed towards 400bhp/tonne with a small guy like me onboard. You select first gear by pushing forward on the gearlever and then everything else is a more conventional pull towards you. I get the car rolling in first and then nail the throttle, watching the perfectly placed rev counter dead ahead you see the needle spin to 16,000rpm and pull back for another cog, its not my car so I opt to clutch and lift on the upshift though I’m fully sure your left foot could sit idly by as you scream though each gear. It just keeps pulling and pulling and on my first run a quick glimpse at the digital speedo gave me a bit of a shock before I realised it was obviously still calibrated for the much larger diameter bike wheels. Nonetheless the speed is immense and is only matched by the sound which is nothing short of sensational. A couple of runs up the tarmac road and I’m blown away. Put a set of road tyres on this machine and you would have a very potent hill climb or sprint car, which shows just how versatile this little pocket rocket is. Joe Cullen Racing runs these machines in all sorts of disciplines and for value for money its hard to see how they can be beat if you want a versatile race machine. Me, I’m now pricing fields near where I live….