I hope you agree it sounds like a fun day and it truly is all in aid of vital research so it’s win win! There are only a few pairs of tickets available so if you’re interested, please call to secure your spot ASAP.
I don’t think I’ve ever been at a race weekend that could be described as boring, however, Thruxton was the complete opposite. An absolute roller coaster of a weekend with high highs and low lows.
Due to noise limits, the race ‘weekend’ actually started on Wednesday with an early track day, so I was stationed in Andover for an extended period of time.
The Championship was very tightly poised going into the weekend and so the pressure was on to produce a strong set of results to keep in the running for the overall Championship trophy.
DPR Motorsport had a different driving coach on the truck this weekend as Darren Burke was racing at Silverstone. It’s always interesting having a new view of your racing style and I spent the majority of Friday testing tweaking my technique, trying new things as well as resurrecting techniques that I’ve lost over time. It all came together, just in time, during the last session of testing.
Could I put it all together in qualification the following morning? Well, ‘not really’ was the answer. It was a pretty diabolical qualification session to be honest. An early lap wasn’t anything particularly special but unfortunately, with a whole lot of drivers abandoning laps, parking on apexes and generally easing back to create gaps, I never got another lap together and it was only good enough for 9th on the grid. My worst performance ever I think.
With Christian and Gordon on the front row, I was left with a lot to do in race 1 to keep the championship alive. However, the huge tow on offer at Thruxton meant that it wasn’t the end of the world.
I held position early in the race. Roughly 8 laps passed before I began to make progress above 8th place. However, through the middle part of the race I did start ticking off places to move into the top 4.
There was a settling in period where positions for the top five cars regularly changed lap by lap. This routine was broken with around 4 laps to go, when Gordon out braked himself going into the last chicane and span. This also compromised Christian and the chasing pack and so Lee Bristow and myself pulled clear. It looked like it could be enough of a gap but unfortunately, the chase pack did get back in contention with a lap to go.
It was therefore a fight with five cars on the final lap of the race. It was always going to be a lottery and on the way through the final chicane I found myself in 2nd place, just behind Christian. However, the race wasn’t quite over as Christian made the dreaded 2nd to 5th gear mis-change on the way out of the chicane. I JUST squeezed past the slowing car and took the win, ahead of David Yates, with Christian coming home in 3rd.
I couldn’t believe it. It’s not over until the fat lady sings – and Christian was singing merrily away out of the final corner. I did feel a BIT bad but, heck, that gear change mistake has cost me a lot this year as well.
It was brilliant to see David Yates on the podium. I’ve been racing David for 6 years and this was his first podium. He’s threatened many times and has been getting closer and closer this year. So it’s great that he finally made it all stick and held it together.
I had lots of friends and family down for the weekend, so it was another amazing post race feeling sharing the win with everyone. I really don’t do this alone and it’s so rewarding to be able to reward all the help and support from friends, family and DPR Motorsport.
Half the race weekend done then and a fantastic start. But there was still half a job to do.
I got a good enough blast off the line in race 2, enough to be leading around the first part of the lap. And the early part of the race went largely to plan. The standard drop of places every other lap at the chicane, then picking them back again a lap later.
It looked as though things had settled a bit in the race and there was even a chance that the front pack of four were slightly pulling clear of the chasing pack. Certainly, the chicane started to calm down and was generally under control, rather than a complete madhouse.
However, any hopes that this would continue was scuppered by contact lower down in the field, causing big car damage and enough carnage to require a safety car. At the time, I was in second place behind Christian and at the restart, things got going again and, of course, the chicane turned into a madhouse once more.
With only 5 minutes remaining the tactics of where to be in the queue of cars started. I managed to get to 4th place on the final lap, which is where I was aiming for to get the super tow. However, everyone did a good job of getting themselves in a position where they could win the race and at the chicane, the pack went in 6 wide.
It was never likely to come off without a hitch and sadly, I had contact with Tom Grensinger, who had slightly outbraked himself and his recovery line through the chicane clashed with my more natural line. It resulted in a spin for me and by the time I’d fired up the engine once more, I was left down in 15th place over the line.
Really not the end to the race I’d hoped for and also one that uses up a ‘get out of jail free’ card with the drop scores we have in the championship. I could really have done with a podium to make things slightly more comfortable going into the final round at Silverstone.
That being said, once drop scores are taken into account, I actually go into the final meeting ahead by 1 point to Christian and 2 points ahead of Gordon.
It’s always been heading towards a crichendo and it’s only fitting that we won’t have an outcome until the last lap of the last race of the season. I am extremely hopeful that we can get this whole thing sorted out with some brilliant racing at Silverstone. It’s what this season deserves.
The last time Caterham were at Castle Combe was in 2015 and I was racing in the Tracksport Championship. It coincided with the height of my car problems I suffered from at the time and I have some fairly poor memories of two races where all I could do was hang on to top 10 places.
Castle Combe is also a track where the event team run things their own way and very differently from all the other tracks we visit. Frankly, their communication on testing and track day organisation was downright poor this year, not helped by very difficult conditions out on track and drivers failing to keep away from the famously unforgiving Castle Doom barriers.
Thankfully, the race weekend organisation was faultless and all the frustrations of testing melted away once the real action got under way.
I got a good lap in early in qualification but never bettered it and it was only good enough for 4th on the grid. The correct end of the grid but the first time I’ve been off the front row since the opening round of the year. More frustratingly, looking back at the data, I gave up my first flying lap of th session and that could well have been good enough for a higher spot. My DPR Motorsport team mates, and championship rivals, were first and second on the grid so there was everything to play for.
Whilst the rain did threaten before the start of race 1, it never materialised fully. I got a brilliant initial start, but in the excitement of thinking I was going to come out of turn 1 in the lead, I managed to do the dreaded 2nd-5th gear change once more. It seems I can’t do a race weekend without at least one of these mistakes and it’s becoming increasingly irksome.
So, I ended in 4th through the first lap. I felt strong, like I could make up spaces. However, an over exuberant throttle application down at tower on lap two saw me slide wide and onto the damp grass. The dirt on the tyres then meant I locked up and wasn’t able to make the next corner.
A bouncy trip across the grass dropped me down to 12th in the queue. Memories of 2015 came flooding back! However, my DPR Motorsport car this year is top notch and I immediately got my head down and started to make up spaces.
The 30 minute race went by in a bit of a blur and I slowly clawed my way back up through the field. A small gap had appeared to get back to the top 6 and it took several laps to make up the distance. Was there enough time left to get back through the front of the field? JUST was the answer. Although Gordon Sawyer had a gap out in the lead, some exciting dicing with Christian Szaruta and Tom Grensinger eventually bagged me 2nd place in the race to the flag.
The fight for 2nd with Tom was extremely tight but ultimately very fair and all the more fun for that fact. Tom has jumped straight from Academy to 310R and he raced like someone with far more experience.
Whilst closing the gap to the lead group, I also set the fastest lap of the race, bagging the additional point and dropping the advantage of Gordon’s win to just a single point.
It was a great result from what could have been a championship changer after the mistake early on and it’s a result I am proud of.
Sunday was always forecast to be a wet race and it delivered on that promise. Initially, I felt strong in the soaking conditions and held onto 2nd place for a couple of laps. However, I was never able to maximise my braking and I lost a spaces, initially to Christian Szaruta and, after a mistake which dropped me back from the lead battle, I also lost out to Nathan Bell.
A safety car intervention brought everything back together but even that stroke of luck wasn’t able to move me forward. I was relatively safe from the attack from behind, so it looked like 4th would be the end result.
However, incidents with cars ending in the barrier caused yellow flags and eventually the chequered flag was thrown 5 minutes early, crucially, just after Christian had spun at the second chicane and fallen back behind.
A very sad / sore end to his race was a gift of a podium for me. A lucky result indeed but one that also means the championship battle is ridiculously close going into the final 2 events of the year.
Just two point separate the top 3 positions in the championship.
Next up is Thruxton, a track that is famously fast. It only has 2 braking points and will be the ultimate game of chess as the tow will play an incredible part in the racing.
The season is getting closer to its conclusion and it’s building very nicely to a climax. It really is anyone’s to win at the moment and you can be sure that it will be as hard fought as ever for the podium spots.
Every year, we get the opportunity to travel to Europe and race on some of the best circuits the continent has to offer. This year, we returned to the Zandvoort circuit in Holland. I had mixed results here in 2015 when the Caterham’s were last here.
Struggling in the dry with a slow engine and rescuing the weekend in the damp on Sunday with a 2nd place from deep in the pack.
This weekend was anything from damp, with scorching temperatures. So it was going to be down to me, DPR Motorsport and my support crew (parents) to get on the pace.
After a nervous first day of testing on less than ideal tyres, I had a restless night knowing that if the pace wasn’t there in the morning, I was going to be mid pack once more.
However, come Friday morning, the race tyres went on and I was immediately out in front on the timing sheets. I nearly threw all that away with a spin in a very tight section of the track which could easily have ended in the barriers and with significant damage. But something was keeping the luck on my side this weekend and I missed hitting anything but my pride.
I made the decision to go it alone in qualification. However, I didn’t string a good lap together and a wind direction change meant that the tow was going to be vital. I returned to the pits and rejoined when I saw a gaggle of cars.
The clock was running down fast and it was all going to come down to one last lap effort. I got pole by 3/10ths of a second and rescued what could have been a start from low down the top 10.
Race 1 started well, with a good get away and a fairly good lead going around the first lap. However, I didn’t quite manage to break away fully before the pack had sorted themselves into their early order. They gradually pulled me back in with the tow.
I happily traded some places with the lead group at the front until a missed braking point by Alan Cooper meant I had to take avoiding action and this let Lee Bristow pull a slight gap in the lead before I could get up to speed again.
At the same time, my DPR teamate Christian Szaruta had finally made his way through the pack from a lowly qualifying position and took away my 2nd place. However, after his epic comeback drive, he was fast and hungry and we both pulled Lee back in together.
On the last lap, Christian moved to the lead and I was left waiting in 3rd place. However, all weekend I had been fast out of the final turn and with the tow being so large, I felt comfortable that I was in the best position possible.
I got a double slingshot out of the final bend and JUST managed to cross the line in 1st place. 0.014s was the winning margin and the top 3 were covered by 0.064s.
It’s such an amazing feeling for me when I win a race. It may be only amateur motorsport at the end of the day but the whole of the grid work extremely hard to race hard and fast. To come out on top is both unfathomable and unbelievably rewarding.
A fun evening of drinks and food with friends and family; watching a beautiful sunset over the ocean topped off what was a brilliant day,
Back to reality and time to do it all again on Sunday. Nerves jangling, I managed to fluff my start somewhat, with too much wheel spin. However, a bit of late braking into turn one saw me regain the lead. A slight clip to the rear from a Bristow lockup could have been worse (and probably would have been if it hadn’t been Lee) and only saw me lose a bit of my rear wing.
It also gave me a very small gap back to the pack and today I was in no mood to give up the lead. I raced absolutely flat out for 15 minutes. Qualifying lap after qualifying lap. It’s not often in a Caterham race that you get to race for so many laps absolutely flat out. With the ambient temperatures so high, it was energy sapping.
All the DPR motorsport squad were once again right at the front of the pack and, in my mirrors, I noticed Christian had once again managed to make his way though and clear of the chase pack.
It took him a while, but he did eventually catch up. A few cautious periods through yellow flag zones and a botched gear change eventually saw to that. But we then worked together to make sure the gap to the chase group never reduced.
With just over 2 laps to go, Christian took the lead coming into the chicane. At other tracks, this would have been a worry but he was not able to pull away and it was my turn to patiently follow along.
He tried hard to prevent the inevitable tow to the line but, ultimately, it was too strong and I managed to draft by to a relatively comfortable win (0.054s).
It was my dad’s 71st birthday and I was able to gift him an absolutely well deserved trophy for all his efforts.
For the DPR Motorsport team, it was also a brilliant weekend. But for a track limits infringement, Gordon Sawyer would have made it a top 3 lockout in the 310Rs and Will Smith managed the double in 420Rs. Testament to the whole team’s hard work.
We move on to Castle Combe next. A track with mixed memories again for me but one I’m really looking forward to.
Brands Hatch holds my best and worst memories of my racing career. It’s been the scene of my best wins and it’s been the scene of a season ending accident.
As my most local track, it’s never dull though and, as ever, I had friends and family on hand to cheer me on all the way.
I only did Friday testing this year, so some of my competitors had a bit of a head start on me. However, I managed to put in a quick time in the first session out and I felt comfortable that I had some raw speed for the weekend.
In qualification, my VBOX decided it wouldn’t pick up any satellites for the GPS, I was therefore left blind, not knowing if I was putting in good laps or not. It was actually quite refreshing to just go fast, look for tows and keep pushing on as much as I could right until the flag came out.
The result was a pole lap of 51.7s. Well under lap record pace and a 10th clear of my closest rival. A nice way to start the weekend then.
It was an important weekend as well. With the race entries being over subscribed, we ran a 3 race format. There were therefore lots of points on offer and, theoretically, one third less competition for the top spots in each of the races.
Race 1 was a normal hectic Brands Hatch slug fest. The main straight always giving a restorative tow to anyone dropping back and action a plenty with overtakes into all the corners on the track.
I lead for the first 10 minutes or so of the race, before starting to trade places with Alan Cooper and Lee Bristow. Track temperatures were high and, as the race went on, our little trio pulled clear of the chasing pack. However, my tyres were also beginning to complain and a general imbalance in the car crept in during the closing stages. This lead to some small mistakes and I fell back from the lead pair by about a second. Third was therefore the end result.
Whilst this is a good result, I was left feeling disappointed with my performance and wanted more. We were on track again at 10am on Sunday morning. I fully expected that we would see lower track temperatures this early on and, hopefully, this would keep the tyres in good shape. However, it was already over 23 degrees by the time the lights went out and the lack of cloud cover made it feel hotter still.
I got the best start of my career to date. Everything just hooked up and the car absolutely flew away off the line. This meant I could take the standard line through the whole first lap, something which is pretty unheard of in Caterham Racing.
I kept the pressure on the chasing pack, turning in quick and consistent laps. And it worked. I broke clear of the chasing cars and managed to build over a second lead on the second placed car of Chris Rankin. This lead gap varied a little over the opening 20 minutes of racing but never felt uncomfortable. And with Chris also well clear of the battle for 3rd / 4th and 5th, we were away and gone.
However, all this hard work was rendered pointless after a very late safety car saw the gap evaporate. Although I got a small jump at the restart, I missed gear coming out of Druids (missed gears are my nemesis this year it seems) and fell back into the clutches of the pack. After some frantic, hard but ultimately fair racing, I was left ‘hung out to dry’ on the outside of Graham Hill bend and I dropped to 4th place. With no time left on the clock to fight back, it was a really sad way to end the race and I was gutted.
I felt I’d done everything I could to win at Brands and it had been taken away. But, that’s the way things go in racing. I was glad that the demons had been cast aside from last year and I’d more than proved to myself that I could still race as hard and close as ever into paddock bend.
3rd and 4th doesn’t sound too bad but unfortunately, I lost points to all my main rivals over the weekend. Everything is extremely close in the Championship now and I hope that these lost points don’t haunt me too much.
Knockhill, Scotland, is a long way to travel for a race weekend. In fact, it takes longer than our annual European trip to get to! However, the Circuit has an absolutely stunning location with a backdrop to rival Mugello in Italy.
The forecast for the weekend was mixed and we arrived in miserable rainy conditions on Wednesday. It looked like it would be more of the same throughout the 4 days but come Thursday morning, the sun was out and the temperatures were rising.
I would go so far as to say it got positively balmy in the sun on Friday and was tropical by Saturday.
Testing had gone well. I’m running with DPR Motorsport this season and the team sorted me out a good setup and I’d gradually found good speed over the Thursday and Friday test sessions. Championship leader and DPR teammate Gordon Sawyer was running exceptionally well all weekend but I wasn’t far behind.
Knockhill is only 1.3 miles long and with 34 runners over the weekend in the Caterham 310R Championship , the track was extremely busy. It was hard to string the perfect lap together but I got a couple of reasonable bankers in place before saving the best for a last lap wonder. 2nd on the grid, a couple of 10ths behind Gordon was the end result.
Even though the Race didn’t start until after 5pm, temperatures were still very high. A reasonable get away was a bit scuppered by an absolutely lightening start from Alan Cooper from 3rd on the grid. I had to yield to him as he shot up the inside of turn 1. I slotted into 3rd place. A massive lockup going into turn 1 on the second lap saw Alan slide down the order but I god distracted by the massive plumes of smoke and also missed my apex. That let Lee Bristow onto my tail and we had a few laps of close battling before Alan recovered from his earlier issues and came back to join in the fun.
Gordon Sawyer had checkout out ahead and was pulling away. A combination of raw pace and the fact that Alan, Lee and myself were battling hard. We all shared out the places over the coming laps but I made a mistake coming out of the last corner at a critical point and Alan and Lee pulled away gradually.
Back markers made things highly fraught in the second half of the race but I just wasn’t able to make a significant impact on Lee and Alan. 4th was the result over the line. Whilst that’s not bad thing, I have to say I was a touch disappointed that silverware wasn’t possible.
The morning of Sunday was absolutely soaking wet. Heavy rain over night had lingered on and so the track was soaked as we drove across the hillside roads to the track.
However, our race was not until lunchtime so there was plenty of time for things to get sunnier, warmer an drier. And indeed, this happened.
As race time arrived, the track was bone dry and we at least had the consistency of knowing what to expect rather than the proposition of learning a track in the wet whist trying to race.
Off the line, I made a great getaway. This time, Alan Cooper was boxed in and so had nowhere to take his super speed. The result was getting from 4th to 2nd off the line. A quick peek in the mirrors saw that Christian Szaruta had made an epic start from 7th to 3rd. I stuck with Gordon through the early parts of the race and working together, it looked like we were going to get a gap. Indeed, to nearly everyone we dod. However, Alan Cooper made his way past Szaruta and then bridged the gap to Gordon and myself over a number of laps.
As soon as Alan arrived, I had to start defending and this let Gordon pull another race winning gap. I stuck with Alan for the majority of the race, although he had a touch more speed than me. A missed gear by him later in the race left me thinking that 2nd was possible, but then some unfortunate back marker encounters meant I dropped back once more.
Lee Bristow was looming ominously in my mirrors. However, I saw him coming and by the time I’d put a few more back markers between us and got my head down for some fast laps, that threat faded.
Into Parcferme in 3rd place then. However, track limits infringements against Alan Cooper saw him receive a 15 second penalty and 3rd changed to 2nd. I feel bad for Alan on losing a well earned 2nd place but I’m not giving it back, that’s for sure!
After the slight disappointment of 4th in race 1, 2nd was a brilliant result.
Gordon is on fire over the opening part of the season and is the man to catch. 2nd in the Championship is all to play for. I expected nothing less than close, competitive racing and that’s what we’ve got.
Next up is Brands Hatch in June. A scene of highs and lows for me! Looking forward to it though and maybe I can sneak another step up the podium for the next one.
A new season starting is always an exciting proposition. For me, it’s the first time that I’ve started a race weekend in another car from the one I built back in 2012.
The Caterham 310R is not a radically different animal from the Supersport we waved goodbye to in 2017 but additional engine grunt and a different gearbox mean that things feel subtly different.
I would normally settle for a single day testing at a track I am as familiar with as Snetterton, however with only one shake down run in the new car in the off season, I decided to go for 2 days testing ahead of the racing. I’m glad I did as a gearbox issue on the first day of testing meant that I didn’t get track time on Friday morning whilst a new one was slotted in.
Qualification was a reasonable affair but the vital nature of a tow around the track and my relative lack of knowledge on competitors and their speed meant that it took a while to put a whole lap together correctly. The end result was sixth. Far from shabby, especially given that the 310R grid is stacked with race and championship winning talent. However, it would have been nice to be just a touch higher up the order, especially given my two DPR teammates were on the front row together.
On the first race start, I went from 2nd gear to 5th gear accidentally. That robbed me of momentum and I slipped a little down the order. However, the first attempted start didn’t last long and a red flag meant a full restart.
On the restart I hooked everything up well and after a couple of bungles starts by other front runners, I found myself following Gordon Sawyer and Christian Szaruta out front.
Their pace had been good all weekend and I clung onto their coat tails for all I was worth in the early stages and we eventually pulled out a comfortable gap back to 4th place.
I was happy to sit in tow for the majority of the race keeping everything under control and maintaining the tyres as best I could in hot weather. Come the last 5 minutes the racing got a touch more frantic and come the last corner, I was right on the tail of the leaders with a great run up towards the line. However, another bungled 2nd to 5th gear change saw me drop off and have to watch as they crossed the line ahead.
A podium is a great finish to any race, especially the first one of the season and even more so when in a new car. It was also a fantastic result for the DPR team with a 1,2,3 so a great job by everyone to start the season in the best possible way. There was also the tantalising prospect of higher steps of the podium had I not made some errors along the way.
Race 2 the following day and at the start, the dreaded 2nd to 5th gear cockup happened again. The new gearbox has a subtly different action from the old one Supersport one and under pressure situations, where the mind is pre-occupied with many other factors – I reverted back to the old style and fumbled. Again, this saw me drop places and I was in 5th place around the first lap.
It wasn’t long before this slipped again to 6th place. I wasn’t able to properly attack the group but hung on well and the 6 cars all moved away from the following pack quite comfortably.
At the end of the race, I made a strong push to gain a couple of placed but sadly, the race was cut short by a red flag and so I crossed the line in 6th.
Whilst I was firmly with the front pack and had a podium the day before, I still wanted more from this opening round. With other, unfamiliar, tracks on the calendar this year, it was always going to be important to make hay while the Norfolk sun shone. Having said that, the points were good and other Championship hopefuls suffered far worse.
Next up is Knockhill in Scotland. My first trip up across the border and one I am looking forward to.