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.