It’s been a while since the long trip back from the Oulton Park race weekend. It’s unlike any other race meeting we do in that everything happens on Saturday. Due to noise restrictions, no racing is allowed on Sunday.
That, therefore, compresses all the Caterham championships qualifying and racing into one action packed, hectic, bonkers 9 hour period. It’s no small feet for the organisers, marshals, teams and competitors to make it through but everyone was on top form and the day passed without major drama.
The two Supersport races were absolute classics. Starting with qualification, where 3rd to 9th on the grid were split by a whisker over 1/10th of a second. That’s a serious clump of cars all recording the same time in quali and the race proved that nobody had an edge.
For the majority of both races, the top 12-16 cars all circulated nose to tail – and more often than not, side by side. That there were no major incidents is testament to some great driving. It’s not something that should be taken for granted though and everyone played their part.
For me, both races followed a similar pattern. Clinging on! At times, I thought I could hang onto the front pack but in both cases, when it got to battling, I dropped backwards somewhat into the secondary pack. The racing was fast, close and fair and although the finishing positions weren’t stellar, I came away feeling I’d at least had some good racing.
Next up is Croft – not too far away now. A track I enjoyed in Roadsport. Let’s see how things go in Supersport trim.
It’s been a short while since Snetterton. Certainly a little longer than it normally takes me to write up my report. I left after Saturday’s race feeling quite down and annoyed with my performance. Some of this eased after Sunday but it’s taken a little while to try and process and work out a plan of action for the rest of the season.
Testing had gone OK. My ultimate pace at the moment isn’t setting the track alight but the car was really balanced and I was feeling good that I could turn in a good lap quickly when it came to qualifying.
When qualifying arrived, the track temperatures had increased and the car was slightly less balanced as a result. Until the end of the qualifying session, I’d not got ‘one in the bag’ having made mistakes or getting caught up in traffic. However, my last lap all came together and I set my best lap time of the weekend by a margin.
Sadly, it was only good enough for 8th place on the grid. But given the time I was expecting, I considered this a bit of a rescue and actually higher than I would have expected.
Into race one, and the temperatures rose throughout the day. I made a great start to the race and was in 5th place a few corners in. However, I was immediately aware that the car balance was now way off. I struggled with oversteeer from the off and this only got worse as time went by.
This saw the gradual slip from 5th to 11th in a very frustrating 30mins of racing. I don’t care so much about position so long as I feel like the car and I are able to compete. Sadly, I was only able to hold onto the coat tails of people around me. It all left me feeling frustrated.
One of my bonnet catches also came undone part way into the race – which was distracting at times.
Sunday dawned hotter again that Saturday and I made a tweak to the setup to try and help with the oversteer I’d had on Saturday. I made another storming start and was again in 5th place by the end of the first lap.
I couldn’t keep hold of the front runners but this time, I was able to keep in the mix with others and the front of the race remained in sight.
The higher temperatures seemed to help as others started to suffer. I had a great battle with Dan Gore through the race. I expect Dan felt I was a nuisance to his progress to the front of the field, but the racing was close, fair and generally a pleasure to be part of.
I got close to the 3rd 4th battle but just wasn’t able to get on their pace once their battle settled down.
A mistake 1 lap from the finish left me across the grass at Brundle and stuck in 6th. After the frustration of Saturday, I was much more enthused by the performance. Still not quite where I want to be on ultimate position but closer again.
Zolder holds some great memories from my Roadsport year in 2014. It was a hot hot weekend but I also had one of the most hard fought races to date.
I was therefore looking forward to my return to this iconic Belgian track. With bad flooding all over Europe and with thunderstorms and heavy rain predicted all weekend, I wasn’t too sure what to expect out on track. But with 2 days of testing ahead of the weekend, there was going to be plenty of time to get to grips with the place once more.
As it transpired, the threat of rain disappeared over the weekend and we were left with a hot, sticky weekend on the continent. Unfortunately, hot and sticky seems to be the worst conditions for me and my car at the moment.
The tyres we run overheat and quickly cause the car to become unbalanced. Some drivers seem to cope with this OK but I find it doesn’t suit my driving style at all.
Qualification was damp to begin with but was always going to dry out by the end of the 20 minute session. I set a good banker time early on and had ‘the one that got away’ late on. However, 7th on the grid wasn’t too shabby and I matched my fastest testing times.
However, come race time, the temperatures had risen out on track and a fairly aggressive setup choice meant that as we got under way, it was only a couple of laps into the race before I started to suffer from the tyre related oversteer issues. About half way into the race, the car was also running hot and seemed to suffer with lack of eagerness in 4th gear.
All this saw a gradual slipping down the order throughout the race and an ultimately disappointing 12th place at the flag.
The second race took place in slightly cooler conditions and with a tweaked setup. This did see an improvement in the cars performance, and I was running well early on. However, the rot did eventually set in as the car got hot again and I made silly mistakes trying too hard to defend positions and push to maintain speed.
Again, this saw me dropping down the order and even say a high speed trip across the gravel at one point. Certainly not my finest hour.
I crossed the line a disappointed 11th place.
I said ahead of the year that there would be very little in it across the top 15 or so drivers in the championship this year. Being slightly off the pace means you inevitably finish down the order. Zolder was confirmation of this. Qualification saw the majority of the field covered by a second and in race 2, the top 11 cars were nose to tail at the flag after 30 minutes of frantic racing.
Being in such a competitive field is both a blessing and a curse.
I like Snetterton as a track and we’re headed there next. I’m really hoping that we get some cool weather – dare I even hope for wet conditions! Perhaps unlikely for our July event! But whatever happens, I’ll be out on track, pushing hard as ever.
There’s no denying that Anglesey is an awfully long way from most places. It took around 6 hours to get to the track for 2 days of testing ahead of the weekend. However, there’s also no doubt that the effort is worth it.
The track is perched right on the coast of the Irish Sea and it takes all the weather that is thrown at it. We experienced it all, from strong winds and heavy rain, through to barmy summer sun.
Testing highlighted how tricky the track was to master. With increasing temperatures, the times actually got slower on track as the weekend approached. I therefore set my best time on day 1 testing and didn’t match it again until race 1. That’s rather off putting and dispiriting. However, it all comes out in the wash in the end and I went into qualification with no knowledge of where I was going to end up.
It was raining right up until we left assembly in qualification. The track was therefore damp, but with much higher ambient temperatures, it quickly became obvious that my completely wet setup wasn’t ideal as the track dried within a few laps. Most others were in a similar situation though, so not all was lost.
As ever in Caterhams, the tow was extremely important for lap time. However, with a red flag interruption to the session, there were gaggles of cars all fighting to take – but not give – a tow. Several people backing out of laps mid corner, or making space for themselves at the end of the lap, meant that I didn’t have a good lap on the board as the clock approached zero. However, the final lap was a good one and I snuck 5th on the grid. Better than expected. It wasn’t a session without excitement though, with possibly my closest near miss to date taking place just after the restart after the red flag.
Boosted by a good performance. race 1 dawned and although the weather was changeable through the day, by the time our slot came up, it had dried out fully.
After a good start, the race settled in and I was following nose to tail with Andres Sinclair. I felt comfortable and fast and felt I had something in hand to go for 3rd at the end of the race.
However, a fast recovering Christian Szaruta put the pressure on as the clock counted down, and when I tried to make use of the additional pace I felt I had at the start of the race, it wasn’t there any more. On the second last lap, Christian took full advantage of a poor piece of track positioning by me to take away 4th. That left me in a comfortable 5th at the flag. Happy with the result but certainly feeling I’d left something on the table.
Sunday was a scorcher. This isn’t a good thing on the Avons we run on currently. They seem to have an ideal operating temperature, beyond which they lose grip and begin degrading really fast. In the car, the grip feels low and what can only be described as ‘squelchy’! (You never hear that said in F1!)
Still, conditions were the same for everyone and it all led to a pretty epic battle. Another reasonable start saw me in 4th. However, it wasn’t a lonely affair and I had battles with Andres, Christian, Tony Mingoia and Alastair Weaver variously through the course of the hot 30 mins.
I was relatively pleased to end up in 6th at the flag. That could easily have been 8-10th place if circumstances had played out even slightly differently.
It was a weekend of good points. But it was also one that I would have liked to have gone slightly better. The other lead rivals in the championship had brilliant weekends and so gaps are starting to appear in the points. With some others having had bad starts to the year, it’s also going to be important to make hay whilst the sun shines.
Next up on the calendar is Zolder in Belgium. I got on well with the track in Roadsport when we were last there and so I’m looking forward to returning. However, I’d also like it to be a few degrees cooler than last time.
Two days of testing and two days of race action draw to a close on the first weekends racing of the 2016 Caterham Supersport Championship.
It’s fair to say that my 2015 campaign didn’t exactly go without issue and so the first round was always going to be one of discovery. With 44 cars entered for the first event of the year, there were too many cars to run on a single grid. We therefore had to run a split grid format.
That’s never ideal and it’s a shame that we haven’t yet seen all the lead drivers together on track. From the four races that took place at Brands, that’s an extremely tasty proposition. Fingers crossed, Anglesey will see everyone together.
Qualification was fully wet and generally went to plan. There’s always ‘the lap that got away’ and this session was no different. However, 3rd fastest in session was a good result and with the combined qualification times and the way the grids were decided, I would start 2nd on the grid for race one.
I made a good, initial, start at the lights but second gear bounced out briefly, so I settled in behind Jack Brown and keeping an eye on the swarm of cars in the mirrors. The fairly traditional lap one safety car came out after Max Robinson was caught out by a spinning Andy West and left immobile in the gravel.
At the restart, Jack went almost as soon as the safety car lights went out. This was a stroke of genius as we pulled a huge gap on the whole field – with the exception of Richard Ainscough, who was slightly stuck in the middle ground. As I was clinging on to Jack Brown’s car for all I could, Richard slowly caught me and as soon as we started dicing for position, we gave Jack the perfect opportunity to tootle further up the road.
The rest of the race was a too and fro battle with Richard for 2nd place. Fantastic close racing. The back-markers certainly played their part in proceedings. One driver being lapped perhaps four times in a 20 minute period – the speed differential through the corners meant that it was hard to judge how and where to try and get by without compromising race position.
The final run to the flag was an equally tight affair, with Richard pulling alongside early on the straight and I wasn’t sure whether I’d managed to hold him off over the line. As it goes, I just managed it by a few thousandths. 2nd place. Back on the podium and back in contention.
It was a superb feeling and quite a relief after 2015.
Race 2 took place on the Sunday and was a much sunnier and far more blustery day. Half of the grid were made of new drivers compared to race 1 and all, as ever, eager for a good result.
I made a reasonable start, although a slightly cautious 2nd gear change meant I slipped to 3rd behind the fast starting Mike Evans by turn one. Christian Szaruta lead early doors as everyone else tussled for their running order behind.
It became quickly apparent in my car that the rear end grip wasn’t what it had been through the rest of the weekend and I struggled to get the power down and control the cars backside. This left me without much attack once things settled down as I was constantly having to defend along the back straight rather than move forward.
Ultimately, this saw me gently fall through the front pack as the race went along. I did briefly make it to the front of the field but it wasn’t to last.
To cut a long and extremely exciting, close and frantic story short, I ended up 5th over the line, with a missing rear wing, curtesy of Adam West – who clearly fancied a nibble of cheese on his way to 4th place! Sadly, it was one of my original Academy wings – so now I’m down to just one remaining!
For all the excitement that the races brought to the table, there was always a feeling of ‘what will it be like when we’re all together?’ That’s an extremely enticing prospect and one which we’ll hopefully get to see at Anglesey in May.
I’ll have just turned 38 by then…. I’m getting too old for all this!
So, we’re rapidly approaching the first race weekend of 2016 for Supersport. We’re heading to Brands Hatch on the 9th and 10th April for what’s surely going to be a fantastic and chaotic weekends racing.
The Supersport grid is over-subscribed for racing at Brands, so we’re having to run a split grid format. That means there will be plenty of Supersport action on track, with 2 qualification sessions and 4 races. Each driver will be part of one qualification session and one race on Saturday and one race on Sunday. The exact races I’ll be in will not be known until after quali and race 1.
Qualification: Sat 9th April 0950 – 1005 Race 1: Sat 9th April 12:00 – 12:30 / 13:45 – 14:15 Race 2: Sun 10th April 12:10 – 12:40 / 16:35 – 17:05
Finally got my first outing in the 2016 Supersport version of the Cheesemobile. It’s got a touch more power, a touch less flywheel and a good deal more sideways potential with the limited slip differential.
I got to try it out in all manner of different conditions through the day – which was ideal. No real setup work possible due to each session having completely different conditions but I loved how the car felt.
My neck and shoulders are killing me after such a long period of no driving – but hopefully they will all be fixed in time for the next outing at Snetterton.
Thank you to everyone who voted in the Downforce Radio awards. We have been crowned the 2015 One Make Series of the Year!
This is a great acknowledgement of a fantastic years racing by the whole of the class of 2015. Regularly having packs of 10 drivers competing for the race wins, never a dull moment anywhere up and down the grid.
Credit to all that go into putting this show on the road and here’s to more of the same in 2016 in the Supersport category.