2014 Caterham Roadsport Championship Season Review

Everything from the Academy year pointed to 2014 being an interesting and competitive season. A lot of the front running group 1 cars had decided not to make the step to Roadsport and with James Houston deciding that skiing would take preference over motorsport, it was left to myself and Henry Heaton to represent.

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From the off season testing sessions, it became clear that with the new car spec, including the far grippier Avon CR500 tyres, the whole field had closed up massively. I decided to go without instructor training this season. In many ways, that slowed my initial learning. However, overall, I’m glad I’ve been forced to find time on track by myself and really start to understand all the lessons learned from the Academy year. Ben Clucas’ instructions still very much ringing out in my imagination!

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The season proper started at Snetterton in April. Everything was new and shiny. New competitors, new track, new tyres. More racing and more time on track.  After a tricky damp qualification session, I was pleased to end up 3rd on the grid.  However, a terrible start to the race saw me fall down the field. This was something that would hinder my winning chances all season.

A spin, in sympathy with a 3 car accident, scuppered a good fight back and I could only manage 7th. However, a new lap record came my way and I was pleased to not have car damage as some others had suffered.

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Race 2 was a damp and a decision to keep the car on dry setup turned out to be inspired. I made my way up through the field and was looking good for a win. However, an on form Henry Heaton held me back and ultimately crossed the line first. However, Henry’s car failed post event scrutineering and I was awarded a win. After the dust settled, I left Snetterton in the lead of the championship.

Coming into Donington, I was reserved about my chances. It’s a great fun track to drive but the Academy race had left me with doubts about how well I could race the there. However, a pole in qualification  was a great start to the weekend.

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Race 1 was confirmation to all watching that the Roadsport season was set to be one of the most competitive in the paddock. The same gaggle of 10 cars from Snetterton were all in contention for a win and the number of lead changes was brilliant. In the race, I competed for the win but had to fight hard to hold back a fantastically feisty Lee Bristow. A lucky break at the end of the race saw my nick 2nd from Tim Dickens, trailing home Will Smith.

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Race 2 was a race of two halves for me. Early on I was right in contention. However, a combination of a muddy screen and a strong move down the inside of the Melbourne Loop saw me hit Henry on the exhaust. This compromised his race and left me de-spirited. I slipped to a lonely 4th at the flag. This was also the race that saw the resurgence of Jack sales. After an accident at Snetterton and a loss of confidence in the following 2 races, a talking to from his mum saw a miraculous turn around as he took the win. After Henry’s DQ at Snetterton and being compromised by myself and Dan at Donington, I think it was also here that he decided race wins were his aim for the season.

Round 3 was the European round of the Championship. Travelling abroad for racing is an awesome feeling – and Zolder was a brilliant venue for Caterham racing. The sun shone for the first 3 days. I was on the pace all weekend and 2nd on the grid was a good result.

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Race 1 was an absolute ding dong from the off. To the outsider, it looked like Will, mysqlf and Jack just pulled away from the opposition. However, in the car, all three of us were in an absolute war, pushing absolutely to the limit every single lap.

Will just had the pace to keep ahead and left myself and Jack to fight for 2nd. Positions changed several times and we crossed the finishing line absolutely side by side. I had no idea if I had got 3rd or 2nd until the podium. Luckily, it was 2nd.

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Race 2 was curtailed by a nasty fiery incident between Christina Maple and Tommo Readman. Both were OK but the race was limited to 4 laps at race pace with the remainder behind the safety car. A damp track saw me slip to 4th early on and as the track was getting drier under the safety car, my setup looked like it would have been correct had the race run to full time. 4th was another strong result.

Rockingham came next. Memories of the fateful Academy race still fresh in my mind! And even if it hadn’t been, my competitors weren’t going to let me forget it – nor was the official race programme!

The size of the Roadsport grid meant that we had to run as a split grid at this event. It was a real shame to split everyone up but with 12 podiums up for grabs over the weekend, it was vital to have a good weekend.

Qualification didn’t go well. However, the split grid rescued me somewhat and put me 3rd. The racing was probably the most straightforward of the year.

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In race 1, again, I was poor off the line and slipped to 4th. I got back past Max McDonagh for 3rd and then set about hunting down Dan Gore to take 2nd by the flag. Dan had had a great solid start to the season, but Rockingham was where it felt that things started to fall into place for him. Henry was out front in our race and pretty much untouchable.

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Race 2 was a damp track and I got a great start for once. However, turn one saw an impressive James Houston storming around the outside. By the time I’d got back passed, Jack Sales was storming back through the field and it didn’t take him long to pass me and disappear off into the distance. I was disappointed with my performance but a second was still welcome. However, my championship rivals had both out scored me so it was a little bitter sweet.

Over half way in the season now and it was becoming clear that the Championship was likely a battle between myself, Jack and Will.

Going into Brands Hatch, it was again looking like we would have to race with a split grid. However, circumstances meant that we just stayed under the track limit and we were able to race as one grid – just the way it should be.

Qualification was the closest of the season. Only 10 thousandths of a second between Henry on pole and myself in second. Jack was only a few thousandths back again.

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Come the racing, it was clear that Dan Gore had decided that he wanted more podiums to back up his performances and he was feisty from the off. Jack was again as fast as ever and a few safety car periods meant that it remained tight from start to finish. I led both races at points, however, I wasn’t able to hold onto Jack or hold off Dan. I was left in 3rd place.

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Race 2 was almost a repeat. Another safety car interrupted race and exactly the same podium. Both races were hard raced and there were plenty in contention. However, with Will having an off weekend, overall, it was actually a better result for me than Rockingham.

Still, Jack’s relentless progress and winning spirit was ominous. He was now looking like the favorite for the championship and I left feeling that I should have done slightly better.

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Croft would see the end of the season fast approaching and it turned out to be crucial for my own hopes. Qualification was absolutely sodden and I was extremely proud to put in a pole lap that was 0.6s faster than 2nd place. However, 2nd was held by Will Smith and he was desperate for a result after an off form couple of rounds.

Off the line, we remained side by side through the first 3 corners and I went around the outside into the Tower hairpin. However, Will wasn’t prepared to let that happen and I found myself squeezed out on to the mud and dropping down the order. I had a long hard fight back to get to 3rd, only to lose out in another fantastic battle between Lee Bristow. I made a mistake going into the penultimate corner and I slipped to 5th. I was hugely disappointed by the result.

I’d thrown away a podium and I had the speed to win. With Jack having a poor result, spinning out of the lead and with Will securing the win, the balance of the Championship was turning.

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Race 2 was always going to be a battle back. And it took a while to get going! For a long period I was circulating in 7th trying desperately to hold back a resurgent Jack. At about half distance, I got past Tim Dickens. Lee Bristow had an unfortunate incident with Henry Heaton and then everything happened quickly. Dan Gore had to abort a move on Henry and that left me with a little momentum and I was able to squeeze through at the esses. Henry then outbraked himself into Sunny In and I was free to attack Will for the lead. However, I was cautious not to lose out right at the end of the race again and ended up 2nd.

Will was now firmly in charge in the championship. And, although I was in second place going into the final weekend, Jack and I were neck and neck when you took drop scores into account.

Silverstone dawned far quicker than ever expected. Jack and myself were both still mathematically in with a chance of the championship… but that would involve cleaning up over the weekend and Will to be off form…

Another wet qualification, but this time, the stiff setup that had gone well at other tracks, was far from ideal at Silverstone. I pushed the car as far as I could and got in a good time, however, it was only good enough for 6th place.

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Come the race, the track was drying fast and being on the left side of the circuit saw me gain 3 places when the lights went out. A badly interrupted start to the race by yellow flags was frustrating, however, I was able to get to the head of the field at just the right moment and pull away into a slight lead. However, Jack also got past the pack and was able to use the ample tow at Silverstone to catch me up, get the fastest lap and just sit and wait for the last lap.

It was a game of chess on wheels and It was close! We pushed each other to the absolute limit and we crossed the line just a couple of 10ths apart. However, it was Jack who came out on top.

With Will in 7th place, the Championship was now split by just a few points. Will was still at the head, but Jack was now much closer when taking into account dropped scores.

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Race 2 was another drying track and another tricky start to the race. I dropped from 2nd to 5th by the first corner. To 7th by the second corner and by the second lap, I was down in 9th place. Jack was in a lead battle with Tim and a distant memory!

However, with the track drying out, my car started to gain pace and I managed to pull back through the field to 3rd and then break clear of Dan. There was no time left to catch the lead battle though.

Jack managed the situation well again and won. With Will managing 5h place, this actually left them tieing on dropped score points and Jack had won the championship on countback with the 6 wins to Will’s 5. I was just 4 points further back in 3rd.

It was a spectacular end to a brilliant seasons racing. A lot of people in the paddock have told me through the year that they have greatly enjoyed the Roadsport races. It was extremely competitive and the racing to incident ratio was probably the best of all the series.

I’m proud of the fact that I was the highest point scorer through the year. I need to learn to win! I didn’t cross the line first through the whole year. However, with 10 podiums out of a possible 14, 2 poles, 4 fastest laps and 2 lap records, it was a fantastic year and I take confidence from what I have achieved against extremely fast opposition.

Next year we are due to have a few new faces in the tracksport paddock and Will Smith is aiming to take a jump up to Supersport. The majority of this years grid are sticking around, so it’s going to be another huge grid and another year of ultra competitive racing.

Can’t wait.

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