Supercars used to be savage, one-dimensional beasts that tore up the tarmac like a nuclear-powered drill. They were uncomfortable, hot and dangerous, but they were fast and that was all that mattered. Not anymore. Now even warp-speed weapons are expected to be iron fists wrapped in the softest velvet glove, hard thugs in touch with their feminine side. The Ascari KZ1 has the brief nailed.
It was never intended to be a pared-down racer, despite its final curb weight of 2,810 pounds. This is a luxury GT with comfy Connolly leather seats, a fully decked out interior and a setup geared as much for comfort through town as a committed assault on the apex. Considering the 5.0-liter BMW E39 M5 engine, tuned in house at Banbury and clearly visible through the rear window, delivers 500 bhp through the rear wheels, that's no mean feat. The engine is a pussycat beneath 4000 rpm; after that all hell breaks loose right up until the 8500-rpm redline and g-forces do strange things to your face.
This car races to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, to 100 mph in 8.3. It will stop pretty much as fast, too, thanks to AP Racing six-pot calipers on the front and four-pots on the rear clamping on drilled and ventilated discs. But far more important is the relatively civilized manner in which it gets there. Soft suspension helps transmit the power to the road, as well as stopping the car from spinning violently on every bend, and despite a lack of electronic traction taming measures the KZ1 rarely lights up those 19-inch rear wheels without serious provocation. You can do it, of course, but it takes a solid stamp on the right pedal.
Major ruts in the tarmac thump through the whole carbon-fiber monocoque, which tends to mark out a first-class hypercar these days. But the KZ1 can still soak up disastrous roads and there's no savage sting in the tail. The rear end simply didn't threaten to overtake the front at any point. This is not a car that intends to put the fear of God into its owner; it's there to catch you when, in an old-school F40 or even Porsche 911, you would fall. The steering feels alive from the moment you turn the key and the car jinks in response to the slightest movement at speed. It's not nervous, thanks to the natural tendency to push wide at the first sign of trouble or excessive input. Incidentally, the first sign of trouble was so far beyond the remit of a normal road car that, had the local police witnessed the test, I would now be on a career break.
It will mooch through town happy as your average saloon, though, and reversing and tight maneuvers, traumatic experiences in almost every other car of this ilk, become second nature in no time. It's only 8 inches shorter and narrower than the Lamborghini Murcielago, but it's like a rapier next to a broadsword at parking speeds, and those lithe dimensions make a world of difference when facing oncoming traffic. Barring a serious blind spot when the car lies at 45 degrees to the junction, necessitating neck craning or mirror adjustment to avoid pulling out in front of trucks and smashing this creation into so much carbon shrapnel, it's near perfect. It's a genuine go-anywhere supercar, which had no trouble with curbs, humps, ditches or countryside park roads. The manufacturers have awakened to the fact that most people that have the financial means to buy a machine like this don't necessarily have the ability or inclination to ride the ragged edge. For them, its ability to cruise past nightclubs is just as important as its talents at 200 mph or in off-camber bends.
When Klaas Zwart took the reigns of the company it was a traditional English sports car manufacturer, knocking out road rockets from what looked like an old greenhouse. Now Zwart has a glass-fronted workshop in Banbury, within spitting distance of BAR's headquarters, and a unique race resort near Marbella-read about it on the next page. His clientele expects creature comforts like air-con, sound insulation, a suspension that doesn't break newly purchased teeth on speed bumps, and a car that is safe to drive. This creates a much harder task, but Ascari has created a near masterpiece without going to ridiculous extremes like fitting an auto or nasty F1-style 'box.
The essence of driving remains, therefore, fun without the danger. Yes, a Porsche Carrera GT and Ferrari Enzo will be quicker, but how many owners are really going to test that out? The KZ1 is a hellishly beautiful machine, too, and every organic panel flows towards that rear end in a display of cohesive design missing from the Ferrari Enzo and Lamborghini Murcielago. Everything is carbon-fiber, from the monocoque that one man can lift to the swooping panels that are manufactured in sufficiently low numbers to not worry about simplification. There are mass-production components, including Peugeot headlights and a Vauxhall VX220 starter button, and those side mirrors look like they came off something far cheaper and nastier. But the money saved there has gone into race-bred suspension, brakes, a beast of an engine and more than three years of development.
There will never be lots of these cars around, as this is no common Ferrari, and that alone will be worth the price of admission to this exclusive club for some. Only 50 will ever be made, so get on the phone right now if you're one of the elite few that could even contemplate an impulse buy of this magnitude.
If you're rich, love looking tough and driving fast and never want to feel the indignity of spinning off the road then rejoice-your car has arrived.
DrivetrainLongitudinal mid-engine, rear wheel drive
Engine5.0-liter (4,941cc E39 BMW M5) V8, dohc, four valves per cylinderAscari ECU, camshafts, performance headers, exhaust
SuspensionUnequal length wishbones, coilover dampers, front anti-roll bar
BrakesFour-wheel AP discs, six-piston front calipers, four-piston rear
ChassisCarbon-fiber monocoque and body
PerformancePeak Power: 500 bhpPeak Torque: 368 lb-ft0-60 mph: 3.8 sec.Top Speed: 200 mph
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
Running The HillA Pinch Of Goodwood GloryThe Goodwood Festival of Speed has become one of the favorite events on the motorsport calendar. Everything from modern Formula One cars to Le Mans winners from decades past, World Rally machines, and Grand Prix cars going back to the turn of the last century attack the 1.16-mile hillclimb course in the hands of the world's best drivers. And me.
You see, alongside Stirling Moss, Jenson Button, Niki Lauda, Jochen Mass, Jean Ragnotti, Peter Brock, Fernando Alonso and John Surtees, I'd sneaked in to the supercar class behind the wheel of the Ascari KZ1. I even got to sign an autograph on my way into the swanky drivers' enclosure, a moment that will live far longer in my memory than that of the poor, defrauded young boy.
Most of the runs up the hill are untimed and merely an opportunity for the world's best to let it all hang out in the most famous racing and rally cars of all time. These included the Porsche 917 Le Mans winner, a selection of the current F1 grid, Audi's legendary Quattro rally and Pike's Peak winners, 1930s Bugatti Grand Prix cars, and stars on the American racing scene, too. The whole approach is to show the cars off in spectacular on-track action then let the crowds get close enough to see up close, touch and smell these spectacular machines.
Goodwood's huge crowds have drawn the manufacturers like moths to a flame, and the supercar class is now a huge marketing machine. Maserati bought its new Pininfarina Birdcage, which incidentally bump-started its way up the hill in a near embarrassing display on the first day; Mercedes bought the F1 Safety Car, the CLK DTM AMG and SLR; and Ferrari's Super America and F430 Spider also took the hill.
At the time, my car was the only one in existence. It's Ascari company boss Klaas Zwart's personal transport and demonstrator, so it's fair to say I was told to treat it with the love and respect I would afford my firstborn. With the responsibility for this unique, carbon-bodied vehicle in my hands and 500 bhp under my right foot, it was bound to be intense.
Sitting on the line under the gantry, though, watching the delicious Alfa Brera disappear into the first right-hander, the red mist that goes with any major track drive descended and my grip on the wheel tightened. I heaped on the revs, waited for the signal from the track marshal, sidestepped the clutch and squirmed down the road through a cloud of burning Pirelli P Zero.
The car was already heading past the 100 mph mark as I lifted for the first bend. A stab on the brake and I dived round the bend lined with those famous straw bales-and crowds of people. The hill opens up on the straightest part of the course, an uphill blast past Goodwood House that only required third gear on the KZ1, but it was deep into triple figures on a narrow piece of road that swung to the left and towards Molecomb-a treacherous, haybale-lined corner that claimed several victims that same day.
And it was finished as a real run. The Ascari was so devastatingly quick that I easily caught the Brera. Overtaking is forbidden and I could only kick back and soak up the atmosphere of Flint Wall, the quintessential Goodwood photo-op as cars pass at outrageous speeds through a tight chicane right next to the tall dry-stone wall.
The run was over in slightly more than one minute-for which I'd travelled hundreds of miles-but it will remain right up there with the best minutes of my career. I've done demo runs and even raced before, but never in front of a crowd like this, and never in the wheeltracks of legends.-Nick Hall