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Romain Grosjean on the exciting new Praga Bohema


Article taken from Magneto issue 17

“If I hadn’t looked down and seen that I was wearing jeans, I wouldn’t have remembered I was in a road car, because it really behaves like a race car; more like a single-seater in fact, because there’s the aero and the downforce,” says IndyCar and former F1 racer Romain Grosjean, as he pulls up in the Bohema.

“I was driving it thinking, ‘this could be a prototype, I could actually be testing to go to Le Mans’. And then you come into the pitlane and drive it away on the road. Amazing!”

Grosjean has been testing the prototype Praga Bohema at Slovakia Ring, with me sat alongside him for some of the time. It’s the company’s brand-new, road-legal, track-biased supercar, an all-new design based around a composite monocoque, modified Nissan GT-R engine and Hewland sequential transmission. It’s quite a thing.

The company, named after – and traditionally based around – Prague, has its roots in a heavy-engineering firm of the late 1800s. It built its first cars in 1907, initially as licenced copies of Isotta Fraschinis, before developing its own models.

After difficult times during the communist era of Czechoslovakia, the company started to recover – first in motocross, then karting and Dakar Rally trucks, and since 2012 in sportscar racing around the world with the championship-winning R1.

Praga tried converting the R1 race car to road spec, resulting in the 2016 R1R, but the team wasn’t happy with the compromises needed. As a result, Praga’s small crew of engineers and designers have been working on its replacement, the Bohema, for the past five years.

The newcomer is a composite monocoque, which has been designed with aerodynamics and light weight foremost in priority – it weighs a mere 982kg. Suspension all round is by race-style pushrod-operated horizontal dampers, braking is by carbon-ceramic discs and six-piston calipers, and the engine is a Nissan PL38DETT twin-turbo V6, as used in all GT-R models since 2007.

Praga buys the motors new from Nissan – in a unique deal – and ships them to the renowned Litchfield Motors in the UK to be rebuilt with a dry-sump system, stronger turbos and other mods that are expected to unleash 700bhp. A rainy day in May 2022, was my first experience of the then- camouflaged Bohema prototype at Praga’s UK HQ. A brief test on wet, bumpy local roads revealed its startling performance, a lot of mechanical noise from the famously tough Hewland sequential trans and a remarkably good ride – not merely by usual track-car standards, but compared against any modern performance machine.

It was clear that the light weight was complicit in the surprising ride quality and the ballistic acceleration. If there was anything that gave away the track focus, it was the paddle-shift gearchanges, which felt violent under hard acceleration.

Praga had realised from its R1 experiences that some of the brand’s customers wanted track cars, but felt daunted by the basic, aggressive feel of pure racers. The Bohema manages to keep on the just-civilised side of competition-car manners, despite the compromises brought about by the dedication to extreme weight saving and aerodynamics.

To climb into the cabin, you swing up a tiny lightweight door, sit on the wide side pod and swing your feet into the footwell, using neat steps moulded into the carbonfibre tub to ease yourself down into the seat. The steering wheel is removable to ease the task – it’s tiny but weighty, with full digital display, indicator and wiper switches, and neat mode-selection dials all built in.

As Romain pointed out later: “A steering wheel is one of the hardest parts to design in a race car. Everyone has different hands – and mine are burned! – but the ergonomics of this are really good.”

There are various clever pockets and storage cubbies inside, plus luggage areas in the exterior pods, and the trimming in Alcantara and leather is to a high standard. The same goes for all the neat cast and 3D-printed metal components, such as the sprung cradle that holds a smartphone for use as sat-nav or data-logger. Air-con controls are in a tiny roof console, and the doors are opened using an electronic button, although there’s also a mechanical release in the roof in case of failure.

On that first experience, it was clear that two adults can sit in the Bohema without feeling cramped, thanks to the long footwells and sculpted cut-outs for the passenger’s elbows and forearms. For the driver, the positions for the seat angle as well as the pedal box and steering wheel are all adjustable. Even at speed it’s possible to talk normally, although the sharp exhaust and throaty intake soundtracks intrude under heavy acceleration – this isn’t a quiet car, but it’s not uncomfortable.

On my second visit, this time to Prague, I got to see the more finished version of the Bohema, resplendent in blue metallic, and hear more about the history of the brand from lead engineer and Praga authority Jan Martinek, who grew up in the shadow of one of the mighty Praga truck factories. The decision has been made to offer 89 examples of the newcomer, each made to customer specifications, for £1.1m (€1.28m) each. Why 89? Because at the Bohema’s late-2022 launch, it was 89 years since the historic, marque-defining victory in the 1933 1000 Miles of Czechoslovakia race.

It was apparent on this second visit that the levels of finish are high, a result of final assembly and set-up being the responsibility of former WRC rally driver Roman Kresta at his obsessively neat Kresta Racing HQ, following development work there of the R1 race cars.

My third visit is to Slovakia Ring, where Romain Grosjean has been busy on-track in one of the prototypes. Time is tight, and I have to choose between driving a couple of warm-up laps or getting the full flat-out testing experience with Romain. What would you do? I opt to passenger, and Grosjean is off, the smile gone, concentrating hard as he powers around the twisty circuit.

At these speeds, the aero comes into play – up to 900kg of downforce at 250km/h. As with any aero car, this makes for otherworldly cornering speeds, but Romain is able to slide the car, catch it quickly, accelerate hard out of every corner and brake heavily into the next, time after time.

“It’s really balanced on entry of the corner, then a bit understeery mid-corner,” says Grosjean. This corresponds with Praga development driver (former F2 and F3 racer) Josef Král’s policy of setting up the car to be exciting but safe.

“There isn’t 1000bhp, yet on exit it’s good because of the power-to- weight ratio,” continues Romain. “It’s got good traction, but you need to manage your throttle, otherwise the traction control comes in, although it’s very subtle. It [the traction control] is quite late; I like it. It’s not like it stops you. We’re discussing different traction-control maps and how many maps they want to use. Maybe two… Race and Race!

“Braking has been really good. There was a bit of vibration, but this is a car that’s been pushed to the limit. I was out for six, seven, eight laps at a time, really pushing it, so I was amazed at the brakes; the pedal doesn’t go, and that’s the first thing that goes in many cars when you’re on track.

“Maybe the gearbox on the road could be smoother. On the circuit it’s really good, but it needs a map for the road. It’s just a question of the ramp and the cuts to the ignition before it re-engages the clutch. These are the fine details that they are going to get onto.”

A couple of weeks later the prototypes are back in the UK, this time in the hands of the former Stig, Ben Collins, at the Dunsfold aerodrome, better known as the Top Gear test track. Ben carries out a full assessment of the Bohema, which he summarises with this: “Fabulous car! I’m actually missing it. Overall, the Praga is really addictive to drive fast. I don’t know of any other super/ hypercar that you drive relentlessly, without any mercy, until you run out of fuel, and then do it again.”

Article taken from Magneto issue 17

For more information on the Praga Bohema, click here.

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