Video: The Demands Of A Nervous 365-Horsepower Ariel Atom 3S

The Ariel Atom has had a colorful past, but few reviews have given it as clear a description as this. Some have said that the car is all hysterics — not a super accurate racing car — and more a hooligan than some might want to believe. Others think of it as a racing car for the road.

With all these opinions on the Atom, getting the astute Dave Pratte of Speed Academy to give a candid review is relieving. Chock-full of insane cackling, Dave gets across the specific appeal of this Atom and makes every viewer giddy with excitement — which isn’t something many YouTube videos can do.

Compared to the production cars usually featured on this channel, this is an unpleasant, unrefined, and brutal car. Mark, better known as savagegeese, describes the type of immersive experience it offers. In comparison, a Corvette Z06 is a much tamer animal that makes its performance available to the decent driver. “I don’t have to have a full night’s sleep; I don’t have to be completely fed, [or] in shape, it’s just fast,” he adds. The Ariel, on the other hand, demands much more from the driver, and that changes the feel of the track day completely.

“You better be ahead of the car, or you’re going be off the track, hurt somebody, or yourself,” Mark (R) warns Dave (L).

A Straightforward Character

Mark likens the Atom to a Rotax or a TAG kart. The saying “handles like a go-kart” gets bandied around regularly, but most suspended cars fall short of that description. However, in this case, it’s a fair comparison with the way the Atom skips, hops, rotates, and abuses the driver. Due to the demands that the Atom 3S puts on its driver, getting a good night’s sleep and a decent meal in the morning are needed to get anywhere near the machine’s potential — driving one is a physical experience.

Riding on Toyo R888 tires and very stiff suspension, the car regularly edges towards oversteer and is always somewhat nervous at higher speeds. When one has to deal with manual brakes and steering, in addition to this twitchy handling, the adrenaline flows by the bucketful. While we have to watch this intense experience filtered through a computer screen, we can still enjoy some of this excitement through Dave’s manic cackling. Listen to how he hoots after the car goes sideways into Toronto Motorsports Park’s Turn 1 (5:08, 6:20) — any driver who’s been in this sort of situation can relate.

Therefore, it requires some caution on those first tentative laps. The level of steering weight — evidenced by Dave’s sore hands after three laps — helps the driver place the Atom precisely, but it also requires some restraint. Too much input there and the fidgety Atom will rotate like a top. Braking too hard provokes these sorts of sketchy situations, too. However, its power-down characteristics have to be credited. The Atom puts down its 365 horsepower easily, in all sorts of corners. All in all, it’s undeniably fun, but largely because the threat of an accident is there.

Under braking and through faster corners, the Atom is far from stable.

Wisely, Dave decides to abort after three nervous laps as the rear tires begin to grow greasy, and it begins to slide more than he’s willing to risk. Despite its impressive stats, the lightweight Atom does not top the timesheets in these semi-tentative laps, and Dave admits to being “behind” the machine at this stage.

With more seat time, a set of Hoosier slicks, and some slight damper softening, he feels there are another five seconds left in this monster. But, it will require a level of commitment that few road-legal cars do. Until he reaches that point, he can still get his thrills well below the limit of this four-wheeled syringe — nothing delivers adrenaline quite like it.

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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