Oval Teeny

Britain might not need further supplements to its racing calendar, but Legends Racing Europe promises to be different. Simon Arron tried it

On first acquaintance, it looks like a cross between a Scalextric car and something that used to thrash along the beach at Daytona, in the formative years of NASCAR. And that is pretty much what it's supposed to look like.

The item in question is a Legends racing car, currently going down a storm in the United States, and soon to join the confusing labyrinth that is the British national racing calendar.

Conceived in 1992 by the charismatically handled HA 'Humpy Wheeler, promoter at Charlotte Speedway, the growth of Legends Cars can be gauged from sales which have topped 1300 in the first three years of their existence America, naturally, has attracted the bulk of this custom so far, though the idea has also caught on in Canada, Mexico and Australia Last year, there were over 800 races in all.

The purpose of Legends was to provide a cheap, robust and appealing competition car. Ready to race, the European version costs £9995 plus VAT. Beyond that, it all depends on how fancy a paint job you want. There are adjustable parameters within the car (camber, castor, spring rates, gear ratios, weight distribution), but that's your lot. Modifications are strictly forbidden.

Running costs for the year, including insurance and transport, should be around £4500, and as the regulations are designed to be as stable as they are simple, the car should still be worth a few bob come the autumn.

The bodies are five-eighths scale fibreglass replicas of pre-war Fords and Chevrolets, and you can choose any one of five styles. Beneath these charming, curvaceous and - let's be honest - microscopic baubles lie identical chassis, featuring stout tubular steel rollcages mounted atop rigid frame rails. The whole lot weighs around 1000 lb, and with the compulsory Yamaha FJ1200 motorcycle engine pumping out around 125 bhp, the power to weight ratio equates to around 270 bhp-per-ton.

Repeat after me that's two-hundred-and seventy...

Unsurprisingly, initial acceleration is startling, always assuming that you can actually get in the thing.

At a national average 5ft 9in-and-a-bit, I found it a bit of a squeeze. The single, centrally-located seat is linked to an American style harness and buckle. The perch can be adjusted fore and aft. but it's not the work of a moment, and moments were all we had.

The cockpit is minimalist. The bare metal interior surfaces are broken up only by a sprung bolt, which secures the door in place, a lever (to the driver's right) with which to operate the sequential five-speed transmission, an ignition switch, a starter button and a witness light which glows green whenever neutral is engaged.

Some of them are also equipped with tachometers, against the stop of which the needle receives a constant battering. It is calibrated to 10,000 rpm, the limiter is set at 11,000 and you barely have to do any more than look at the throttle than the engine spins freely towards its stratospheric limit.

This is noisy, vibrant and undeniably fun, if a mildly overgrown kart with lashings of low-down torque. Instant power.

If you cant take the thing seriously when first you look at it, you'll change your tune long before you've reached the throttle stop. Legends racers are designed for short-term speed. Their ultimate performance may not be that startling (and nobody in Europe has bothered calculating the figures, for that would be to miss the point), it s the pace with which they reach their peak that captures the attention.

It is estimated that they will reach 60 mph from rest in four-five seconds, given a circuit long enough to stretch their legs. World stock rod champion Tick Steward, who has purchased one of the dozen or so cars sold thus far, has hit the rev limiter in top when testing on the Mallory Park oval.

At a shorter venue, such as the makeshift indoor oval at the Birmingham NEC, you'll need nothing as fancy as fifth gear, though the engine has such prodigious torque that it would probably drag you around without complaint if you should ever become confused by the push-forward-for-first, pull-back-for-everything else sequential change system.

Slip the clutch and feed in a little power to get going just enough to avoid stalling, just insufficient to send it into a rage. Wait until you're moving oh-so-gently, nudge the gear lever back a notch and then plant your foot as hard as you like.

Rage time

It doesn't matter too much how brutal you are with the power. In a straight line, the car fizzes, twitches and generally misbehaves mildly. There's so much torque that acceleration is near as dammit as violent in third gear as it is in second, and within the miserly confines of the NEC the higher gear actually proves to be a better bet. You still have to wait until you are two-thirds of the way through either of the left-hand hairpins before you can re-apply full throttle, but it's more progressive in third.

It's easy to get into a routine. Full throttle, count to three, dab the brakes (a two-prong pedal is provided, one either side of the steering column, to facilitate left-foot braking), aim left (the steering is almost kart-positive), a couple of stabs at the throttle (each accompanied by a lively reaction from the rear axle), full power, count to three and so it goes.

Helpful tip. don't spin. Reverse gear is not fitted as standard. nor is it available as an option.

All the way around the lap, the car bristles and bounces. The steering wheel is simply never still. When you're not turning it, it's trying to turn you. You don't actually have time to contemplate how uncomfortable your legs ought to be. That comes later, when you attempt to disembark.

Which is when you remember what good stuff adrenaline can be.

So, the bottom line. What is the point of Legends Racing Europe? Is it lust another statistic to add to the world's most overcrowded racing calendar?

Most European countries with a healthy motorsport industry can count the sum total of their national championships on a full set of fingers and toes. In the UK, you'd need the digits of an army platoon.

This is back-to-basics racing. It doesn't offer much scope for ingenuity, or development. A bare minimum of inter-race servicing will be necessary. Change the oil, clean the filters, that's your lot. Tyre wear? A set of the compulsory Goodrich rubber is designed to last a season. At least.

In theory, it's non-contact (I was only clobbered once in the race I contested, but that wasn't until the first corner... ). Should theory not be practised, the bumpers are durable, and easy to repair.

It's practical. It's charismatic. It's devoid of nonsense. Its accessible. It's fun.

It's recommended