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.
The long off season is finally drawing to a close and everyone is busy carrying out final preparations and emerging out on track for the new 2018 Caterham Motorsport season.
The new Cheesemobile has also had a full health check over the winter and has already ventured out on track earlier in the year for its first shake down and my first outing in the new 310R specification car.
This final period before the races get under way always seems to fly by and it won’t be long before I’m back to taking a deep breath and strapping in at Snetterton for the first of the 14 races.
I’m looking forward to seeing old faces and new. As well as racing against a new crop of racers, there are also some familiar names who’ve made the same transition from Supersport to 310R. So the theme for the year is very much ‘same, but different’.
For everyone at the Academy Seminar in Crawley over the weekend, the 2018 season must be becoming more of a reality after the long months of waiting and anticipation.
It’s been a bit like that for me as well. Since June, I have’t been racing and I’ve missed it. I now have a Caterham 310R in the garage and it won’t be long before I get out on track again, ready to make a return for the 2018 season.
It was great to meet the class of 2018 and to talk to some of the new intake and it was gratifying to hear that people still read this blog and that it’s a great source of information and motivation for those looking to get into racing.
People were asking if the site will continue to be updated as it’s all gone rather quiet since the accident. And the answer is – of course! The entry fees, testing fees, licence renewals, testing dates and hotel bookings are all starting to come in now, so the financial commitment is already well under way.
Next up for me is the 2017 end of year Awards Dinner. A chance to see the year off in style and say goodbye to those heading off for new adventures and to get the banter going with those who will be my new found frenemies on track.
Stay tuned to the blog and the YouTube channel. There’s certainly more to come and, for those who love to follow along with my races, normal service will be resumed shortly.