Oh – it’s getting more real now! On Sunday, I was invited along to a Caterham Midlands open day. Although they bribed me with a Formula 1 car and live screening of the F1 Race from Barcelona, all they really needed was to highlight the Hog Roast 🙂 I was there!
There was also the slight matter of the chance to test drive the Academy Car for the first time. I actually got to contort myself into, and drive the car I blindly put my deposit down all those months ago!
The Elise is an extremely responsive car. It feels connected to the road in a way that other ‘normal’ road cars jut don’t. It has very direct and precise steering. On paper, the performance of the Elise against the Academy car isn’t radically different. On that basis, I was expecting to jump into the Caterham and feel pretty at home.
I was taken on the outbound journey by Damian, the Sales manager, and he gave an extremely competent ‘demo’ of the car (grin grin grin). Then, a (not) quick driver change and I got to have a go.
5 meters down the road, I was amazed how different everything feels. As direct and responsive as the Elise is, the Caterham is more so. The smaller steering wheel, significantly lighter weight and the cocoon of the extremely small cockpit really don’t leave anything in-between you, the car and the road. Steering input is even more sensitive and I didn’t get used to this at all in the 5mins or thereabouts of driving. The short throw gear changes also felt nice and crisp. The different perspective you get from driving a car between the rear wheels with a vast bonnet reaching out in front of you was also something that felt completely alien.
It was all over too soon, but it gave me a thirst for more… and although I am going to desperately miss my Elise, I know that the Caterham is going to be a new challenge and offer up as much fun.
On top of the test drive, the day was also a fantastic opportunity to get to meet the Caterham team, some fellow 2013 Academy entrants and have a chat with Porky from the current 2012 season.
There’s a real family atmosphere. Because Caterham isn’t a large organisation – everyone knows everyone and because the car is so specialist, lots of existing owners turned up to show off their toys, mingled and chat.
The carpark, drive and entrance were all completely festooned with Cats of all types. I would say ‘all shapes and sizes’ but that wouldn’t be true! From new to old, £50k to £12k they all look almost identical! Colour is the biggest differentiator – and Cat owners make the most of that.
It feels good to be a part of something – something with a history and with a group of people at Caterham that are setup and ready to deal with all the usual queries, worries and advice that a newbie needs to know. They’ve seen it all before. I’m glad I’ve chosen this route into motorsport. It’s certainly not the cheapest way of getting out on track – but I think it might just be the best.