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.
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.
This is a hard post to write. In early 2012 I finally signed up to go racing with the Caterham Academy. In October 2012, I spent a fun, frustrating, annoying, exciting and ultimately very satisfying 3 weeks putting together my race car with my family.
On Sunday morning at Brands Hatch this year, the car had never looked so good. By the afternoon, I’d broken it in the biggest way possible. Sadly, it’s not economically viable to repair the car.
After much soul searching, and talking with friends and family, I’ve called an end to racing for this year.
However, I’m determined that this isn’t the end of racing for me. One of the factors in coming to this decision is that some time off from racing will allow me to recover damaged finances and the aim will be back on a grid for 2018.
It will be strange not being in the paddock for the rest of the year. I wish all my racing family the best of luck and I will, of course, be following along closely and will hopefully see everyone at the awards dinner, if not before.
It’s taken me a long time to post this write-up from Brands. It was a weekend I’m not going to forget any time soon.
From the first laps of the circuit on Friday, I could tell that the car was super quick and stable. All the hard work to reduce my weight and get back to the weight limit had finally paid off in full.
Due to my normal support crew (my parents), being away on holiday, I was running the weekend out of the DPR awning. Having to prepare the car myself through testing and the weekend just proved to me how much I now rely on mum, dad, family and friends. Seemingly large gaps between sessions on track soon got eaten by cleaning, refuelling and general preparation work. I lean on everyone around me and I missed their support.
However, DPR were always on hand for any questions and, vitally, to check pressures and change settings in the pit lane. I’ve never before carried out an in session back-to-back test of a front anti-roll bar and boy, was that eye opening.
Every time you take a car out on track, you learn something, and being able to feel a direct comparison between one setup and another has changed my outlook on testing. All possible because of the DPR boys.
It’s one thing to turn in some speed in testing, quite another to convert that into a good grid spot. And for the majority of the qualification session, it looked like I’d blown it. I spent too long out front in clear air trying to get a good banker and catch the tail of the field for a tow. I dropped back to find some traffic to use for a tow but there was a fair amount of gamesmanship out on track, with plenty of abandoned laps costing time. I wasn’t alone in being affected for sure and there were some grumpy faces in parc ferme after the session. However, on the last lap, I managed to put a decent lap together, including a tow and 2nd on the grid was the result. A few thousandths of a second behind Henry Heaton.
Given the last minute nature of the lap and the track temperature, it was definitely a rescue and a good start to the competitive element of the weekend.
Come race time, the track temperature had risen massively. This is always a bad sign for our tyres, which don’t like it when things get hot. I made a reasonable start off the line and was ahead of Henry going into turn 1. However, Mike Evans made his normal spectacular start and was in the lead from 3rd on the grid going into Druids.
I managed to get back out in front in fairly short order and lead an opening stint of the race. An incident at druids saw the race red flagged. It was looking like Mike was going to be able to get back past at the point the flag was shown, so it may have been a turning point. A re-grid of the race was the decision of the steward for a 15 minute blast.
Another reasonable start off the line but another screamer by mike saw him in paddock bend first. I was able to get past into druids and got me head down as fast as possible to try and spring a gap.
It’s a rare thing to manage to pull a lead over a field of Caterhams, but over the course of a few laps, I was able to pull away enough to be able to take the full racing line consistently. Battles further back then meant I was able to consolidate that lead.
With around 5 minutes to go, I had a gap of 2.5 seconds and knew, subject to not cocking things up, I could bring this one home. Even the sight of Christian Szaruta taking second place and gradually getting closer wasn’t enough to put me off in that race! And I took the flag with a comfortable gap back to the rest of the field.
Four long years it has taken to finally cross the line in first place again. Four years. Boy did it feel great. It was such a shame I didn’t get to share it with my family, but my friends inside and outside of the paddock were all carrying me on the crest of a wave. A feeling that never grows old.
Sunday was another scorcher. Any threat of a thunderous downpour slowly ebbed away through the day and we were in for another hot, dry race.
I made a good start from pole and the early part of the race was similar to race one; fighting with Mike Evans and trying hard to try and spring a gap. However, that wasn’t to be in this race and it was a much more traditional clump of cars through the first 10 minutes of the race. Into the middle phase of the race, Henry Heaton, Tim Dickens and myself all had good battle, with Henry and myself swapping positions on a number of occasions.
Just as things looked like they had settled down a little with Henry and myself pulling a slight gap on Tim, I was preparing to try and solidify that gap. However, I was caught out by Henry braking earlier than I expected for paddock bend and, following very closely to him at the time, I did what turned out to be a bad job of avoiding his car. My front left tyre hit the rear right of Henry’s.
What followed was a big accident. After the initial contact, the front of the car skipped in the air and initially landed interlocked with Henry’s car. It then launched again, this time with both the front and rear wheels contacting at the same time. The car pitched up at about 45 degrees and I was close to rolling. Thankfully, when the car landed, it righted itself and I skipped across the gravel and made heavy contact with the barrier.
As the dust settled and I caught my breath, I was thankful that everything felt in one piece and I could see Henry jumping out of the car.
It was such a sad end to what was shaping up to be a great battle between Henry and myself. We’ve had some great battles in the past and we’ve shared a racing journey for the past 5 years. In the cold hard light of day, I made contact with a friend out on track whilst he was leading the race. Nothing’s going to change that now.
The contrast in emotion was, and is, enormous between the highs of Saturday and the lows of Sunday. Motoracing gives and motoracing takes away.
We’re headed to Brands Hatch this weekend for rounds 5 and 6 of the Official Caterham Motorsport Ladder. The paddock is joined this weekend by the Olympic Legend – Sir Chris Hoy. He’ll be racing with the 310R boys and girls but will certainly add a bit of fame to the #CaterhamFamily
I’m back on UK soil after the Caterham Motorsport’s yearly foray into Europe and I’ve just about had enough time to reflect on what was an awesome visit to the legendary Cirquit de Spa-Francorchamps.
We only had two sessions testing ahead of the race weekend; far less than normal for a new track. Everything was compressed into a very tight schedule. It’s a track full of fast, committed corners where you have to settle the car quickly and get back to the throttle. The kind of corners I go well around.
However, it’s also got the two longest flat out sections of any track we visit. From La Source all the way to Les Combes and from Stavelot right up to the bus stop.
In a Caterham, this means the track is all about managing the slipstream and racing tactically. Outright pace is not actually required!
I felt comfortable with the track after the first session out and was putting in times at the top of the timing-sheets quite comfortably.
I therefore went into Qualifying putting a little more pressure on myself than I have been used to recently. I knew pole was possible but trying to manage the ideal time when you only have 6 laps to do it is far from easy. This was also complicated by us sharing our qualifying session with the 420Rs.
Extremely early on, I got a super tow from Dan Gore up the Kemel straight. I was squeezed through Les Fanges between Dan and an 420R. This put me off and I made mistakes at the tail end of the lap. However, this lap was good enough for 2nd on the grid and for Dan, was good enough for pole. Without those mistakes… could have had Spa pole on my racing CV – which would have been very nice indeed!
Pole could still have been on, but sadly, a great lap was written off by a very slow car in the bus stop. (preparing for their own lap no doubt, but annoying none the less…)
My ideal lap in Quali was 1.4 seconds faster than the time I ended up with but that just shows how powerful the tow is around this track.
The weather through the whole weekend was threatening and forecasts changed from minute to minute. However, the sun shone down on Race 1 and an earlier cloud burst that caused havoc in the Roadsport race had completely dried by the time we got out on track.
There were over 50 cars set on the grid as the 420Rs were also lined up with us. It’s the first time we’ve run split grids at a Caterham weekend and seeing the sheer amount of cars ahead was pretty daunting. Getting through La Source on the first lap was always going to be a bit of a lottery and so it was for Ben Tuck and Roy Gray who were out after just 400m or so of racing.
I made a great start and was hooked onto the tail end of the 420Rs going up Kemel. But for a safety car due to the first corner incident, it felt like I had the chance at a break from the group.
The safety car seemed to drag on forever and the race only got going again with under 16 minutes remaining of the race.
There followed 16 minutes of frantic action working the tow and trying to figure out how to finish the last lap in the lead. I didn’t quite get it right, sadly, and missed out on the win by just a couple of car lengths but was extremely pleased with 3rd place. Back on the podium after an absence of over a year and it felt great. What was even more encouraging was I felt I had more to bring to race 2.
Sunday was another threatening day according to the forecasts, however, race time was sunny and it certainly looked like we’d be dry throughout.
This time, everyone got through turn one without incident and I settled into the lead pack. A much larger lead pack this time and one that just grew as the race went on.
There’s over 10mph difference between a Caterham Supersport running on it’s own as opposed to running in the tow; so again, the management of this process along the two hugely long flat out stretches of track was an art form.
For 90% of the race, I managed this process OK. I’d switched around my rear tyres ahead of the race to manage the tyre wear and ensure they remained legal after the race, however, they didn’t bed in very quickly so the rear of the car was very lose throughout. I also had one missed gear which sent me tumbling down the field; and one unlucky run up the Kemel straight that also cost me 6 places due to the tow. With, just a touch of patience and planning, I did manage to get back to the front on each occasion. Things were certainly looking good!
As the 30 minutes race period elapsed, Ben Tuck and myself broke very slightly clear of the pack and up the final straight into Balnchimon, I was able to take the lead. I crossed the line thinking I’d finally won another race. However, no chequered flag was waved and it dawned on me that we had another lap to go. Sadly, this lap went badly and while trying to go side by side with Ben Tuck through Pouhon, my rear tyres ran out of grip and I ran out of talent. That left me out wide scrabbling to get back to the track and the whole lead pack through. I was back in 10th or 11th at that point with only 3 real corners left to go.
At Blanchimont, Mike Evans cut across Henry and Christian causing some wings to go flying and a cascade effect of braking and swerving within a pack of 10 drivers. I was at the rear of this and had to jink right around the flat out left hander. I was closer than I would have wanted to having a big accident in the tyre barrier and also no further forward up the field and now with only one corner to go.
The right hander of the Bus Stop Chicane also had a yellow flag for Ian Sparshott’s stranded 420R. However, I noticed that the left hand part of the chicane was showing a green flag. Dan Gore was spun out of the pack ahead of me, having been overtaken under yellows and I just about managed to squeeze through to take a wider line into the left and cut up the inside of several drivers to make it to 7th place over the line. In the stewards office afterwards, Richard Noordhof was unfortunately excluded from the results. I therefore came in with a 6th place finish. Certainly a lot better than it could have been with 3 corners to go but also a huge part of me knew I’d blown another great result.
In my head, I’d won the 30 minute race of Spa – but clearly my old bones can’t cope with 35 minutes!
Well done to everyone for largely keeping it clean and tidy under immense and sustained pressure. I loved the weekend at Spa and am extremely happy to be able to say I’ve not only raced at Spa, but I’ve also had a podium there.
Next up is Brands hatch in just 3 weeks time. Can’t wait!
As ever, these will follow on shortly after the race weekend. They’ll be going on my YouTube Channel, so if you’d like to keep up with the whole season, I’d appreciate a click on the YouTube Subscribe button on the top right of this page!