Motoring journos tend to be suspicious types, and for good reason. Too often, the cheapo econoboxes, people-movers and dribblers of the Australian motoring marketplace are described as ‘sporty’, ‘stylish’ and ‘dynamic’. In reality, this can be wildly inaccurate, but unfortunately, there’s no law that says car companies must stay within the boundaries of objective truth.
So it’s refreshing – disconcerting, even – to stumble across a car maker whose vehicles do exactly what the tin says. I’m standing among a keen band of customers at Queensland’s Morgan Park Raceway for the launch of Skelta’s 2009 range of sports cars. And even after a cursory glance, the most cynical scribe would have to admit that there’s no arguing with its claim of “pure performance, no compromise”.
Pleasingly, the whole reason for the G-Force SC’s existence is to out-perform just about any production car you care to name. You see, Skelta’s founder, Ray Vandersee, wants victory in Targa Tasmania. Really, really badly. After winning the 1977 Queensland Rally Championship in his Torana XU-1, Vandersee was soon forced on a 15-year hiatus from motorsport, due to a lack of finances. However, he returned hungrier than ever and entered his own Lotus 7 Clubman prototype in the 1999 Targa Tasmania. Over the next few years, he developed it to a point where he was regularly competing with Porsche GT2s and Nissan GT-Rs.
But this wasn’t enough. So in 2002, he set about constructing his own car, the Skelta G-Force Mk I, to tackle Targa. Powering the car was a 2.0-litre four-potter lifted straight out of Honda’s S2000 roadster. Last year, it was good enough for Vandersee to place fourth overall in a 104-car field. A podium finish was within reach, but for a timing dispute with officials when Vandersee stopped to assist the crew of a crashed competitor.
This year, three Skelta G-Force Mk II SCs challenged for victory: one driven by Vandersee, the other pair by customers. In the SC, the same Honda FC20 S2000 is mated it to a Rotrex supercharger, lifting peak power to 230kW at 8500rpm. With only 725kg to haul, the G-Force SC boasts a terrifying power-to-weight figure of 317kW/tonne. That’s an extra 126kW/tonne over the Lotus Exige S PP and 65kW/tonne more than the track-only Lotus 2-Eleven. Sure, the G-Force SC costs a mighty $160,000, but it also has ADR compliance, so it can be road-registered.
Most of the running gear to transmit all this power to the road has also been nicked from the S2000, apart from brakes and suspension. The brakes are Wilwood 298mm ventilated discs front and rear and the suspension fitted is an optional WRC-spec MCA spring/shock set-up that’s adjustable for the desired track, camber, castor and toe settings.
Performance, then, isn’t a problem. But with all this firepower, you’d expect this wayward beast to fling you at the scenery the moment you turned the key, wouldn’t you? “As a driver, you want predictability in your handling,” says Vandersee. “You don’t want to be going into a corner, finding you’re going a little too fast, back off, and suddenly find yourself spinning.” This is where the Skelta’s dubious styling comes into play.
By any measure, the G-Force is an ugly car. The centre nose has receded into the bonnet in the Mark II, but the bulky front tusks either side of the front splitter remain. From a side-profile view, the 17-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels look puny, dwarfed by the various lumps that make up the rear bulkhead. And as for the rear – well, you be the judge. But there’s a reason for the car’s awkward appearance, and it’s all down to aerodynamics. Remember: pure performance, no compromise.
The G-Force’s aerodynamics were tweaked with the help of advanced Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software – the same tool designers use to sculpt the latest Formula One race cars (and let’s face it, the 2009 F1 cars aren’t pretty either). The end result is a carbonfibre/epoxy-glass composite bodyshell that maximises downforce, and is further aided by a huge rear wing. The G-Force also employs ‘ground effects’, which was famously outlawed in F1 in the early-80s. It requires a flat undertray, which commences at the front splitter and continues to the two venturi diffusers at the rear of the car, to create an area of low pressure. This effectively sucks the car to the road and affords huge grip levels while cornering. All of this painstaking aerodynamic work results in an incredible 200kg of downforce at a (relatively) mere 150km/h.
Eager to experience what all this grip feels like, I’m invited to climb into the G-Force and experience it first-hand. Luckily, our car only has a half roll-cage installed for easy entry. Lowering myself into the G-Force, I’m surprised by my surrounds. A Lotus Elise seems like a limousine in comparison – there’s absolutely nothing but the essentials. Air-con? Um, there’s not even a heater…
There’s no door trims or sound-deadening in the cabin, just the TIG-welded 25.4mm chrome-moly steel chassis, strengthened in the centre tunnel and sidepods by bonded carbonfibre and aluminium honeycomb. The chassis itself weighs just 80kg. Eek.
It’s impossible to forget that figure as the starter whirls and the engine fires. I recognise the flouro green digital dash as another lift from the Honda S2000, and prepare to move off. The racing clutch’s take-up is sudden, but it’s reasonably easy to modulate and, thankfully, I roll away in front of the attending crowd without kangarooing or stalling. I gently brake before I leave pitlane and even with my helmet on, I cringe at the piercing screech as cool brake pads clamp on even colder discs. But I quickly forget about it as soon as I power out onto the racetrack and snick easily though the short-throw S2000 gearbox. Before I know it, I’m approaching a blind sweeper I’ve never driven through before, far too fast. I gently squeeze the brakes and turn-in as softly as I can, not wanting the rear-end to break loose – there’s an uninviting concrete wall on outside of the corner. The Skelta laughs at me … it’s not even trying.
The steering is very heavy, due to the lack of power-assistance, the huge tyre grip and the amount of castor dialled into the front-end, but there’s plenty of feel. The stoppers are superb, with savage retardation and easy pedal modulation. Braking markers get deeper and deeper into the corner as I realise just how capable this car is. During my brief encounter with the Skelta, I find that while there’s enormous power on tap the engine is actually the most unremarkable part of the car. The mid- to high-speed grip and inherent balance of the G-Force (weight distribution is 50:50) is phenomenal. It’s no wonder Vandersee was confident about Targa.
“To win Targa Tasmania would give me a great deal of self-satisfaction,” says Vandersee. “Really, the last guy to have tasted international success in his own car was Sir Jack Brabham. We’re certainly not claiming the same level of success, but Sir Jack’s definitely been an inspiration.”
By the time you read this, the event will be over, and the results will show if Vandersee’s latest bid has been successful. No doubt, he’ll go close. After all, a Skelta is all about pure performance, no compromise.