High Octane HolidaySeat Time In The KZ1R PrototypeThe invitation sounded a bit too good to be true: a visit to Race Resort Ascari, just down the road from the glamorous Spanish holiday resort of Marbella, to drive the 527-bhp prototype KZ1R track car. Well sometimes it's a tough job, but indeed somebody had to do it.
It's a simple yet blisteringly effective idea, an oasis for the well-heeled to come and plough around in racecars before heading off to the bright lights and late nights of the Costa del Sol. They're selling 25-year memberships for about $180,000. There's a clubhouse serving gourmet food, a sun terrace and pool for the kids, and a luxury hotel, plus parking for 300 cars currently under construction. When it's finished, it will be an almighty proposition. The track itself is a 23-turn, four-mile amalgamation of Ascari boss Klaas Zwart's tour of the world's great racing circuits, from a homage to the infamous Corkscrew at Laguna Seca and the banked turn at Daytona through to the Parabolica at Monza. It's the longest track in Spain and the fourth longest in Europe, with several configurations on offer.
Klaas, who pilots old F1 cars when he isn't winning Spanish GT races in his own KZ1R, designed the place himself and was the first one at the helm of the bulldozer. He even built it in a conservation area, reportedly applying for permission for a service road to his house without telling them it would be race track shaped.
The only downside is that all the cars must be silenced to road car levels, even the World Championship-winning 1994 Benetton F1, now fitted with a Judd engine and silencers as big as petrol cans. The main driver in action on our day was the local BMW and Pagani dealer pounding around in his own Radical SR3. It looked a lonely day, but then some European trackdays are overloaded with plain dangerous drivers, and at the resort you choose your own pace without hassle from behind. Ascari also offers arrive-and-drive days for just over $2,300 that will let you play with an assortment of toys, including race-prepped BMWs, SEATs and the Radicals. Then there's the F1 Experience for proven drivers. There's a leaderboard for each car, incidentally, and naturally Zwart tops them all.
I was there to witness the resort behind the wheel of a rather special machine, the Ascari KZ1R prototype. I was installed behind the wheel of the most impressive machine at Race Resort Ascari and briefed by an Australian mechanic known to everyone as Goose. In typically laid-back style he said: "You've driven the road car, yeah? OK, you'll be fine. Just remember it's the only one in the world!"
And with that I was off, gunning the accelerator out of pit-lane and trying to take in the controls and the car. I'd indeed driven the roadgoing KZ1, but it was built for comfort, was relatively soft and its 500 bhp never felt threatening. This was a different animal. Gone were the comfortable Connolly leather seats, carpets, plush dashboard and even the windows, replaced with a full-on race seat, foam cladding, carbon weave, bare metal, Perspex windows and a digital readout. Things are pretty basic inside the car, except the temperature when it has been left out in the hot sun for most of the morning. Klaas once turned up to drive the KZ1R in the blistering midday sun and demanded air conditioning, until Goose informed him it would take its toll on the car's power output. The interior remains oven-ready to this day.
This machine is powered by a highly tweaked version of a perennial favorite, the E39 M5 engine that's visible through the rear screen Ferrari-style. The 527-bhp racecar hits peak power at 7250 rpm after Ascari fitted a new ECU, revised exhaust manifolds and different camshafts to the normally aspirated V8. They also removed all semblance of sound insulation and now every rev resonates through the cabin. Set free of the creature comforts, this is the purebred GT racing car the KZ1 always wanted to be and its carbon monocoque suddenly makes sense. It's even supported by a full FIA-spec roll cage, which makes this about the most rock solid car you can buy.
There are plenty of track cars, but this is a real GT racecar, and a reasonably competitive one at 225,000 ($390,000), which actually doesn't seem that bad. It's super loud and rumbles forward off the line and, while the original isn't tardy, the stripped out car will hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and 100 in 8.1. The KZ1R shares the 200-mph top speed of its roadgoing brethren, but with far more aerodynamic appendages it's a finely honed weapon in corners. Ascari's engineers shed more than 250 pounds off the KZ1 by ditching the comforts and chasing the weight to the Nth degree, despite the addition of the front splitter and major-league rear wing, even making thinner body panels.
The racecar obviously has a fully adjustable suspension, tuned to this particular track, so I was unlikely to find anything other than a perfectly balanced thrill machine. It's razor sharp and the rear will swing out under provocation at low speeds; there's no safety net on this car. It's definitely the KZ1's brother, but it was the one dumped in the jungle and raised by wolves. Braking comes from epic six-piston calipers on the front clamping onto racing stoppers; four-pots are at the back. With no pitch whatsoever, they're devastatingly effective and this car, predictably, will stop on a dime.
At high speeds, though, easily achieved on the lengthy straights and sweeping bends at the track, the car's skills are sublime. Its relatively narrow and short frame, compared to the slabs of supercar on offer from Porsche, Lamborghini and Pagani, makes it easy to place on the road, and it feels shrink-wrapped to the driver. I was limited on my run, as Klaas couldn't be with me, so to discuss in-depth the handling characteristics would be perhaps saved for the next trip, when I'll be given run of the track with the KZ1R, the Radicals and, hopefully, that Benetton.
Not a bad plan for my next summer holiday; you can actually do it, too.-Nick Hall