Category Archives: Caterham Academy

Information and resources for people looking to enter the Caterham Academy race series.

No fairytale ending – but an epic year

Sadly, I don’t get a fairytale ending to my Academy year. I couldn’t beat an on form Henry Heaton and so, ended up coming second in the championship. I have to say though, that I’m not half as disappointed as I thought I would be! And there’s good reason for that…

My weekend started on Thursday, with two days testing ahead of qualification on Saturday. All my testing went well and I got to play with tyres and made sure I pushed hard and found the limits wherever possible. I set some great times and I knew I’d be on the pace.

Come qualification, we had extremely mixed conditions. The track was very damp after overnight rain, although there was a drying line. I chose to go out on dry tyres and this proved to be the correct choice. However, I didn’t manage the traffic well and with such a wide spread of speeds on track (20 seconds difference in lap time from front to back of grid) that ended up being crucial. Fortunately, I found half a gap right at the end of qualification and managed to put a safe lap together. This put me second on the grid behind Henry.

Our race was due off late in the day and clouds were building as we set off. The track was dry and my grid position meant I had the dryer line. I took the lead early but made silly mistakes through the first couple of laps and that dropped me to 5th and meant I was having to battle hard.

This is where things changed for me… I could see Henry moving away as we all fought for 2nd to 5th tooth and nail. I desperately wanted to be there fighting for the lead but I also had one of the most fun and enjoyable times on track racing for second. Regularly going three abreast into and around corners, being nose to tail as close as I’ve ever been. Fighting for the slipstream and jostling for position was just the best fun. After the absolute disappointment of Rockingham, I remembered that I absolutely love racing.

I’m definitely not saying that I didn’t want to win the championship. I wanted that hugely. But given that it wasn’t to be, I am extremely glad that I got to share some brilliant track time with Dan Livingstone, James Houston and Nick Horton. You have to trust the guys you’re racing against and at Silverstone, they were epic.

As the race drew to a close, the weather had one last ace up its sleeve. It rained a wall of rain, turning the track from dry to flooded in the space of 5 seconds. Dry tyres were now definitely not the correct choice! And the car was aquaplaning everywhere. However, with only one lap to go, the race wasn’t stopped prematurely. I am not exaggerating when I say you couldn’t see anything. With the bad light and the fact that the car was covered in rain on the inside and the outside of every surface, sitting in the cockpit was not a pleasant experience. You couldn’t even see the light pods at the end of the bonnet.

Driving at 100mph down hanger straight, with the car twitching and with no visibility isn’t something I want to try again in a hurry but I had managed to get past Dan as the rain fell and so I finished the race in second place.

Another podium to finish the year off, and this one was earned. I feel extremely honoured to be able to step up there and celebrate. I know that the vast majority of the field don’t get to experience that. Next year I’m under no illusions that getting up on the rostrum is going to be extremely hard with at least 9 drivers all in a position to be challenging – and that’s not taking into account those drivers who have surged forward as the season has come to a close.

Everything’s pointing to another brilliant year next year and I just hope I can keep my budget on track and keep on racing.

As for this year, I remain extremely proud of what I have achieved. I went into the season hoping to be top half of the grid but I surprised myself with my pace and I’m over the moon that I not only got to achieve a childhood ambition of going racing but also got to experience the emotional highs of winning and the lows of losing everything in a barrier.

And what of the people that I’ve shared the front of the grid with? I’ve made friends with all of them and look forward to spending more time with them over the coming years.

James’ never give up attitude is a thing to behold! He’s as competitive as they come and over the past few races, he’s absolutely kicked himself and his car into submission and found the last few tenths he needed to be on the ultimate Academy pace. Those 10ths are not easy to come by and I know he’s going to find a few more by the start of year 2.

Dan’s a racing natural and where he doesn’t always have the ultimate pace at the moment, he has race craft and his car is always in the right place at the right time. He always races hard and doesn’t give an inch. That being said, there are very few people I’d go round Stowe with absolutely side by side, inches apart, and I did it 3 times with him. It’s a real shame he’s not going to be with us next year in Roadsports. There will be a hole in the grid for that fact.

Nick Horton is opposite to Dan. He doesn’t learn a track so much as feel his way around. He has a natural speed that’s arguably the fastest of both groups. However, he’s ragged at the moment and lacks consistency. As you hear in commentary all the time, you can teach someone not to spin, you can’t teach them to be a rocket ship… I think Nick is going to be a rocket ship in the years to come. Again, he’s not due to be on the Roadsport grid but I’m sure he will make a suitable impression higher up the ladder.

And then there’s Henry. What can I say? I guess I should start by saying that I lost to someone who has all the qualities you’d want in a racer. He’s extremely quick, has car control that makes his car dance, he races hard and has craft to match. Crucially for him, he also makes his mistakes in practice and testing. I’ve made too many mistakes in the races and he hasn’t… that was the ultimate difference. That I got so close to winning gives me heart.

Henry Heaton, 2013 Caterham Academy Champion. Well done!

Video Diaries, Episode 4 – Final Race Prep & Maintenance…

Build Diary: Race PreparationI’ve put together the final video diary for the my Academy year. It covers the final bits and pieces I’ve done to get the car race ready and also looks at what I do for basic maintenance. It’s a bit longer than I wanted, but I didn’t want to make another one!

As ever, if there are any bits I’m wrong on, please do correct via comments!

Nose job

I tentatively rolled the car back off the trailer for the first time since loading at the end of the Rockingham weekend to assess the damage. The nose cone is shattered down the right side, where it had an unwanted meeting with a tyre barrier. Other than the nose, the right headlamp is also out of shape where it was pushed back. As this attaches to the upper wishbone mount, I’m going to double check that once I get everything back into the garage this weekend.

On the face of it though, other than the mess of a nose and front wing, everything else appears in good shape. The radiator does have a mark on it where the nose was pushed up against it, but is hasn’t ruptured anything. There were no signs of drips where it’s been sat on the trailer.

So, this evening, I took to the highly important task of re-cheesifying the newly ordered nose cone and wheel arch. Fingers crossed, after some time in the garage, everything will be back looking the way it should ready for Silverstone.

I’m also hoping to do one final episode of my video diary series which should complete all those little things that have been done to the car since the last episode ahead of the season proper.

A calm sea does not make a skillful sailor…

Such a shame. The highs and lows of motorsport! Prep for Rockingham had been great. I like the track and I’m quick around it. I turned lap after lap of consistent times, right on the pace, throughout testing. The good news continued into qualification, with a lap which put me on pole fairly comfortably. After the mega weekend at Brands, this was looking awesome!

Moving to the grid, we had another delayed start – enough time to get the adrenalin all over the place. As the lights eventually went out, I made a good start. Henry made a stormer from 3rd on the grid and was alongside going around the banking. It’s then that it all started going wrong. I was on a tight line and braked far too late for my position. I completely lost site of the fact that this was turn one, lap one and not only that, I was in a great position after a good start.

I didn’t quite get to scrub off enough speed on approach and turning in caused the back end to break away. Sadly, I caught the slide rather too well and this straightened up the car directly towards the small tyre barrier. Had I left the slide, I would have been better off. Unfortunately though, I had the sickening feeling of knowing I was going into the barrier.

I don’t have any experience of hitting a barrier – so I didn’t know what damage I’d done. I sit very low in the car so couldn’t see but did know that I’d broken the nose and the front right looked at a very strange angle. I tentatively pulled away from the barrier.

Unfortunately, at the previous weekend at Brands, one of the Roadsports guys smashed his radiator and carried on driving – meaning his engine was a write off and he was left with a massive repair bill. The newsletter also warned of the dangers of this type of damage and I made the decision to go slowly back to the pits to have it checked out.

There was nobody from Caterham in sight, so I asked the marshal at pit exit if he could see any leaks from the radiator. He said no and I blasted onwards – always with one eye on the temp gauge! I was almost a lap down now but decided to try as hard as I could for the fastest lap. I turned in extremely consistent fast laps but at the end of the race, I found out the I’d not managed to beat Henry’s time.

So, stone cold last was the end result and I felt pretty down to be honest. It’s turned the championship on its head and instead of the cards stacked in my favour, I am left with an uphill task and also relying on bad results for others. After a day of sulking and ‘what ifs’ I’ve pulled a lot of lessons from it all and am focussing forwards!

After the race, the car was taken to the support guys and they checked over everything. No component damage! There was a 5 inch damage line on the radiator where the nose had contacted it – this was as close to a radiator puncture as you can get! No steering arm damage or suspension problems! A quick straighten of the radiator mounts and I was all clear. I will have to put in an order for a new nose and wing though.

I was genuinely happy for Henry to get his race win. 3 races and a different winner at each! Shows how competitive things are at the top. I was also happy for Jack sales in group 2 who finally got his win over Will Smith. But Will got his well deserved championship sewn up. Seemed like it was everyone elses turn to have a good day 🙂

Looking forward to Silverstone now but have no idea how I’m going to be able to cope with a 6 week gap! Hopefully things will go slightly better than the Rock!

Spa GP Paddock – With Caterham

0.002s was all it took to top off the best weekend ever! That was how close I got to predicting my Brands Hatch qualifying time. Mine was the closest prediction across all the Caterham championships at Brands and so I won the competition for Caterham F1 paddock and hospitality passes for the Spa F1 GP…

Race win, fastest lap and competition winner… The competition was designed to offer something for everyone to shoot for, so winning the race and the competition was greedy to say the least. Coincidentally 0.002s was roughly how long I felt guilty for when Jen rang me up to let me know.

Rob Clay, Academy Group 2, had won the competition at our Donington weekend and we arranged to stay together as near the circuit as we could. Rob was accompanied by Laura and I had dad in tow. Laura and Dad did all the hard work getting arrangements sorted. After all, the drivers had done all the hard work up to that point. I almost got a blister writing the qualifying guess onto a piece of paper.

After a LONG journey across Europe, through Brussels rush hour(s) we eventually arrived at the accommodation. A great challet style house in the Belgian Ardennes.

There was no time to rest though, as we needed to pick up the passes for the weekend. Dad and I drove over to the Caterham team hotel (Mercedes were also staying there) and we met Cyril for the first time. Cyril is in charge of looking after all of Caterhams guests over race weekends and he made us feel right at home from the off. We had a great chat over a couple of beers. We also met Fatna for the first time. She heads up the front of house inside the hospitality ‘truck’. We spent a good 40 mins chatting away and generally getting excited about what lay ahead.

Saturday dawned and we were out the door early. Spa is renowned for its bad traffic. The circuit is nestled around a series of rugged valleys and the approach roads are majority country tracks rather than main roads!

It was a lovely feeling to be able to walk through so many security gates leisurely flashing our magic passess all the way into the F1 paddock. I felt like I was trespassing! We had a walk around the paddock to get our bearings and looked in awe at all the trucks and buildings that comprise the F1 circus. The Belgian paddock is split level, with the pits and car trucks on the upper level and the hospitality units on the lower level.

Linking in-between was a set of stairs. This pinch point in the paddock turned out to be a brilliant place to hang out as everyone was forced there to get around – it was easy pickings to get lots of photos there!

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We went up into the Caterham hospitality and were met by Fatina with teas and coffees whilst we waited for Cyril to arrive. As soon as he did, we knew we were going to be in good hands! He had the whole day sorted for us! Viewing area in the back of the pits for FP3. Quick lunch. Pitlane walkabout. Pit garage for Qalification. Over to the media scrum to see all the interviews taking place and then back for some afternoon tea.

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If that all sounds brilliant, I can assure you that it was even better in reality! Watching the qualification session from the back of the pits will stay with me forever! We were right there when the call was made for Van Der Garde to go onto slicks and joined in the huge celebrations when he went and stuck it in 3rd in session 1 of quali! Just before quali 3 started, Cyril took us in front of the garage and we were nearly in touching distance as all the main runners and riders queued up to leave the pits.

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Seeing the work of the mechanics, engineers, scruteneers and pirelli tyre personnel was also fascinating. The routines are all set and rehearsed. The same things happen each and every time the car enters and leaves the garage. Cleaning and polishing are constant!

Another memorable moment was the first time the two cars were fired up in the garage ready to leave for the track. An F1 car is extremely loud when out on the track and is unbelievably loud when that noise is contained inside a garage! It’s a very physical experience as you can feel the noise right through your chest.

After afternoon tea, sat next to Guido and Charles while they talked to the worlds media, we decided we’d go and watch the GP3 race from Eau Rouge. Rob made the inspired decision to flash our passes at one of the Gold grandstands and, much to our surprise, the bemused guard said we could go through! So we got to watch the race from a prime spot half way up one of the most famous corners in motor racing! Fabulous end to the day.

We all spent the evening looking through all the photos we’d grabbed through the day whilst an epic thunderstorm raged outside! We compared who’d seen who and who’d seen what! Between the 4 of us, we’d taken literally hundreds of photos but it was great re-living the day and sharing stories!

Sunday morning! Another early start and Dad and I decided to have a walk up to the other end of the track. It’s a huge track and it took about an hour to walk all the way up past Eau-rouge, along the straight and up to Les Combes / Malmedy. The F1 cars do it in a matter of seconds! It was great to taste the atmosphere of the GP in the forrest and also the views out across the valleys.

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Back in the Caterham hospitality, Cyril laid out another packed day! An early treat was watching the GP2 race from in front of the Caterham pits, litterally 3 meters from the Caterham GP2 teams pit crew whilst they changed tyres. WOW! And through the day we got to watch Guido’s mechanics put his car together again ready for the race. Hundreds of man hours every weekend go into removing and replacing all the body panels on the car to check, clean and monitor the car.

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After another quick lunch stop it was back out for the second pit walk of the weekend (oh, the chore). Watching the start of the race from the outside of La source felt the most like a normal GP but it was a brilliant place to see the action! The race itself was fairly spread out after just a few laps so being able to return to the garage was great. And then the final surprise of the weekend! We were able to go down to the podium for the celebrations! Right under the rostrum for all the anthems, champaign and trophies. Ross Brawn was just behind us in the crowd! Unforgettable.

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So, that was the weekend of a lifetime. We said our goodbye’s to the Caterham team and to Cyril and Fatna. We hung around in the paddock for one last blast of the cameras and then slowly made our way back to our cars and eventually back home to he UK.

This year was already a completely unforgettable one for me. This has put it in the stratosphere. It’s certainly going to be a hard one to beat…

Orange Army – a day marshalling

As part of the Academy season, you’re encouraged (and bribed just a bit) to volunteer to be a marshal for a day. For your efforts, you’re given an additional upgrade signature on your race licence and also issued 5 bonus points in the overall championship at the end of the season.

Both these factors mean that most people who are going to continue on racing after year 1 duly sign up and take part.

It appears that most years, Jenny at Caterham will arrange one of your meetings to take place on just one day of the weekend. That leaves the other open to do your marshalling. However, I had already arranged my day ahead of learning we could have done it over our Brands Hatch race weekend. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing however! For a start, the Saturday of our race weekend was absolutely baking hot. Lots of those taking part came back cooked medium rare.

Secondly, I’d chosen a top notch race meet to attend, with F3, British GT and also the Caterham R300’s all racing on the GP circuit. This meant a busy weekend on track.

Lastly, as there were far fewer drivers marshalling at this meeting, it felt a bit more special and unique. I wasn’t on a post with another Academy driver so I really had to get stuck in.

On arrival, I handned over my upgrade card, signed on and was issued with a voucher for a free cooked breakfast! Not a bad start to the day. I was allocated my post (no.5) which was up on the entry to Druids.

I was already set up on post as everyone else was arriving. I got chatting away and soon felt pretty happy that I wasn’t going to be left bored or feeling like a spare part! As soon as you let slip you’re a driver, the marshals all light up – safe in the knowledge that their day can be spent taking the piss out of you!

I think I just about held my own. It was great being able to bounce off each other as well chatting about how difficult it is for a marshal to report every incident that happens or to catch every track limits altercation etc. Having been given the opportunity to flag one of the races, I can confirm that it’s a pretty nerve wracking experience for the novice. It’s a hard job to keep up with the race and know who’s in a battle and who’s overtaking for position.

Having now experienced it first hand, it’s hard to justify ever getting annoyed that blue flags aren’t being shown to back-markers! As a driver, it’s also a skill to learn how to race and pay full attention to the flags. A day on the banks working with the team who are there to help keep you safe brings it home just how important a job this is for a driver.

The day was largely uneventful with respect to incidents at druids. There were a few bumps and scrapes, but all involved recovered back into their races. That was, until the F3 race right at the end of the day. I was just chatting to one of the recovery marshals who was saying that sometimes, days just go like this – with nothing much happening. But just as he was saying this, there was a nasty crunching sound behind and I turned to whitness an F3 car flying high through the air, tilting to 90 degrees before landing on its side, and, luckily, back on it’s wheels before heading into the barrier at high speed.

Luckily, the driver was OK and was able to get out of the car under his own steam. The snatch vehicle was sent to retrieve the car and, once the race was over, I was able to help pulling out what remained of the front wing of the car (which had managed to go completely under the tyre barrier) and generally tidy up things ready for the last race of the day.

It was quite shocking to see such a large accident up close. It was all recorded for TV by one very brave camera woman. Apparently, she never budged and the accident was coming straight for her at frightening speed. There was also no barrier to protect her had the car not landed back on the ground. Can’t wait to see the footage on TV next weekend to see if it’s as I remember it!

I’m extremely glad that I got the opportunity to work with the marshals. They do a fantastic, unpaid and often silent job all to enable us drivers to do what we love. We can’t do it without them and I hope I never forget that. A simple wave is all that’s needed as thanks at the end of a race in return – and it’s amazing how many drivers don’t even manage that.

I’ve set myself the target of volunteering to marshal at least one event every year that I race. I hope that resolution is followed better than my new years ones!