It’s time to refresh the financial batteries. It’s time to call an end to Part A of my race driver adventure.
Whilst it’s not a decision I have taken lightly, it feels like the right one to make at this point. 6 years have taken their toll on my bank balance (or rather, debt levels) and I need some time to get back on a level playing field again.
I’ve got the London Marathon to concentrate on in the short term and whilst I won’t be putting together a full championship campaign in 2019, I do think that I’ll be out racing something through the year as one off arrive and drive type affairs.
Who knows, I may even try something that’s not a Caterham!
I’m keen to still be a part of the Caterham paddock and am investigating options here and, whatever happens, I look forward to following along with everyone else’s highs and lows in 2019.
In the lead up to the Championship finale weekend at Silverstone, storm Ali and storm Bronagh were playing their parts in what was already a turbulent and delicately balanced set of variables.
It was apt that the weather was as unsettled and unpredictable as the Championship leaderboard and the lack of certainty was doing nothing to settle the nerves!
You tell yourself, and others, “it’s just another race weekend”. But you know that’s not true. On the cosmological scale, the Caterham Seven 310R Championship is an insignificant blip. But for the competitive spirits that are part of the whole Caterham Motorsport family, it means a lot.
We went into the weekend with three DPR drivers heading the points. Myself, Christian Szaruta and Gordon Sawyer all separated by a few points. With drop scores taken into account, just 2 points split us.
Lee Bristow was the only other driver in the field to be able to take the top spot, but that would require a perfect weekend for his orange machine (certainly not impossible given his speed and consistency), and a disaster to hit in both races for all the DPR drivers (again, not impossible given what was at stake).
Qualification was scheduled for late morning, at about the same time as the storm rain was due to hit. Spits of rain were in the air as we got into assembly and it really wasn’t clear how many laps would be possible before the rain affected grip. As it turns out, it was around 3 laps. Andy Perry managed to ping in a lap for 4th on the grid before spinning into the gravel at Vale. That brought out the yellow flags and effectively ended qualification at that point.
I’d grabbed a 6th place, with just 2/10ths covering the top 6, there’s always the feeling that more was possible! But given the conditions, it was an OK result. Gordon managed a great lap to bag him 2nd on the grid but Christian missed out on a crucial tow in the dry laps at the beginning of the session and ended up 13th.
The weather set in for the afternoon and constant rain made sure the track was absolutely soaked. Not having turned any wet laps at Silverstone all weekend did little to settle the nerves. Neither did the memory of Castle Combe, where Christian and Gordon both out-classed me in the wet. Being in 6th also meant being right in the middle of all the action at the start. To keep the championship alive, I needed to make sure Gordon didn’t get a break off the front of the group.
My clutch foot was doing a nervous jig as we waited for the lights and it was quite amazing that I managed to hook up a great launch. With a little manoeuvring, I got to turn 2 in 2nd place with Gordon out front. Andy Perry briefly managed to get ahead with a very brave move into Stowe on lap 1 but he couldn’t quite hold it together and I managed to regain 2nd by Vale.
There was then a settling in period where I could tell Gordon and myself were pulling clear of the chase pack and I was gradually learning where all the grip was. Gordon did start to pull a gap, but whereas at Castle Combe, this was due to a lack of pace on my part, here I knew I was comfortable and happy to wait.
On more than one occasion, the marshals put their own lives on the line to push cars out of dangerous positions in the gravel. On many other weekends, there would have been multiple safety car periods in the race and it’s only down to those brave men and women in orange that we were able to fight out the championship with no interruptions and no reduction in the lead gap over the pack.
Around 10 minutes into the race, the gap back to the chase pack had grown a lot and I felt more at home in the soaked conditions, so I pushed on and fairly quickly closed the gap to Gordon. However, closing was easy compared to getting by. There was a ‘slightly less wet’ line around most of the track which was giving up all the grip. Off this line, there were puddles and a lower level of grip. Therefore, Gordon just had to remain on line and an overtake would be all but impossible.
I managed to get briefly in front going down hanger straight but was left on the wet track and Gordon took the lead back again comfortably. I almost went to the outside of Gordon when pulling out of the slip stream as there was JUST a cars width available. That could well have got me the place, but it would have been highly risky and I think caution was probably the correct approach.
I was also getting a little frustrated at track limits around this time. In the morning briefing, we had been told that they would be enforcing track limits on the corner out onto hanger straight. There’s a curb out in the middle of the track, put there for the MotoGP racers, and we were told that we weren’t allowed to go over the green part of that curb. Gordon had consistently taken a wide line over the curb and I was trying my best to keep it all inside, which was costing me time onto hanger straight. However, no warnings were issued and no penalties given.
It wasn’t then long before the back markers came into play. With visibility virtually zero at times, it was always going to be hard to check they had seen you coming through and also that they had clocked it wasn’t one of their own rivals. A little caution on my part and catching some tail enders in bad places meant I dropped away from Gordon and didn’t have any time to pull it back for a last lap attempt for the win.
So, 2nd place over the line and a fastest lap by 0.6s meant that I had a 1 point lead over Gordon going into the final race. Christian had made an absolutely epic comeback drive to make it to 4th place (see previous comments about how impossible it was to overtake…) and with Alan Cooper sticking it in 3rd place, that was a 1,2,3,4 for DPR Motorsport. Amazing result.
Sunday dawned and the weather looked like more of the same, with constant rain and overcast skies. However, the forecast had changed over night and the rain was due to fade by lunchtime. With our race due on track at 14:30, it was going to be a nail biter on whether the circuit would dry and therefore what tyres / setup to apply to the car.
Changes were being made right up until the cars left for the formation lap. I’d chosen dry tyres but softened the car off one step all round. Going to the grid, I could tell that the fully dry setup would have been the way to go, but there’s nothing that could be done about it and the car was still in a good spot.
To make what was already a nerve racking start to begin with even more so… the lights failed. After a couple of attempts to get them working, we were sent on another green flag lap. We were then started using the drop of the Union Flag… that’s another first for me! 6 years into this hobby and still new things are thrown at you every time.
Being on the dry side of the circuit meant I got a flying start compared to Gordon. I even pulled a gap to the chasing field. However, it was always going to be an impossible task to keep the gap far enough to break any tow and, sure enough, down Hanger Straight, Christian had passed me by the time we reached Stowe corner.
It wasn’t in his best interest to try and break away from the field, and so from that moment on, I knew it was going to be a long hard race.
Not too long into the race, Gordon had caught and passed me as well an we traded places a few times. Again, there was a small chance we were going to break away from the chase group but Lee Bristow and Tom Grensinger continued their end season charge to the front and it was a pack of 4 changing spots.
Around 1/3 of the way into the race, a change of places let Gordon slip the group very slightly. This gap then began to slowly grow. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have quite the speed to make any impact when it was my time at the front to try and claw back Gordon and Lee and Tom were not necessarily as interested in doing that as I was!
It was a race long battle between the three of us. Hard and epically close as ever around this fast track. As the race was drawing to its conclusion, I briefly took 2nd place and promptly tried too hard to make up time on Gordon, actually costing myself and slipping to a very disappointing 4th place when the flag waved.
It was such a disappointing end to the weekend for me. I’d been properly beaten by Gordon on both days. He’d pulled it out the bag and shown a clean pair of heals when he needed to.
Heading into Parc Ferme though, everything changed. It transpired that Gordon had received a 5 second penalty for track limits infringement. And that had slipped his position behind me. I’d got a 3rd place and 4th place for Gordon meant I’d won then Championship!
Utter, utter, disbelief ensued. I hadn’t spotted the warnings / penalty notice for Gordon and what I thought was Lee / Tom settling for 2nd was actually them knowing that Gordon wasn’t a factor in the race so long as they kept within 5 seconds.
I can’t explain the feelings. I’m still trying to process them. There was a tidal wave of congratulations from so many people in the pit lane that I still can’t take it all in. Wow. Just wow.
I can now say that I am 2018 Caterham Seven 310R Champion and, boy, does that feel good.
It’s been another ridiculously close year of racing. Remaining friends with the people you race so hard against isn’t overly common in such a competitive environment. However, I think we’ve done it. One last hoorah at the awards evening in a months time to really let the hair down and enjoy the moment.
I may be the one that is lucky enough to drive the car when the racing starts but even at this level, there’s a whole army of people that are right there, helping me do that to the best of my ability.
DPR Motorsport have been by my side since the very start of my Caterham racing experience. They have gone so far beyond the call on so many occasions that I just can’t thank them all enough. It’s a debt I hope has been helped by finally bringing home the big trophy 6 years after we started. Ben Clucas, Darren Burke and Dave Robinson have all helped my point the car in the right direction at one time or another.
The people I race against month on month change occasionally, but they all share the same passion and the same drive. And the whole year has gone by with so little friction that it’s testimony to the respect that everyone has for each other.
There are too many people to mention from the Caterham team individually but Simon, Abi, Lucy, Kirsty, Darren and crew make the paddock and the racing experience better and better year on year.
In how may other motorsport paddocks around the world does the championship photographer play such a pivotal part in so many drivers weekends? Jon Bryant (SnappyRacers) is motivator, friend, bloody good at photography and not a shabby racer himself.
Friends and family, who support me, pick me up, dust me off and kick me up the butt to get out there again. Thank you! Hanging around in car parks over a weekend where you could be doing something far more productive is dedication and forever appreciated.
Finally, Mum and Dad. My chief mechanics; pit crew; sounding boards; administration team. My rocks. They are the engine that’s helped me to this win. I can’t thank them enough.
I’m so happy we could all bring this one home together and so many people got to share this dream that’s been 6 long years in the making.
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.