Knockhill, Scotland, is a long way to travel for a race weekend. In fact, it takes longer than our annual European trip to get to! However, the Circuit has an absolutely stunning location with a backdrop to rival Mugello in Italy.
The forecast for the weekend was mixed and we arrived in miserable rainy conditions on Wednesday. It looked like it would be more of the same throughout the 4 days but come Thursday morning, the sun was out and the temperatures were rising.
I would go so far as to say it got positively balmy in the sun on Friday and was tropical by Saturday.
Testing had gone well. I’m running with DPR Motorsport this season and the team sorted me out a good setup and I’d gradually found good speed over the Thursday and Friday test sessions. Championship leader and DPR teammate Gordon Sawyer was running exceptionally well all weekend but I wasn’t far behind.
Knockhill is only 1.3 miles long and with 34 runners over the weekend in the Caterham 310R Championship , the track was extremely busy. It was hard to string the perfect lap together but I got a couple of reasonable bankers in place before saving the best for a last lap wonder. 2nd on the grid, a couple of 10ths behind Gordon was the end result.
Even though the Race didn’t start until after 5pm, temperatures were still very high. A reasonable get away was a bit scuppered by an absolutely lightening start from Alan Cooper from 3rd on the grid. I had to yield to him as he shot up the inside of turn 1. I slotted into 3rd place. A massive lockup going into turn 1 on the second lap saw Alan slide down the order but I god distracted by the massive plumes of smoke and also missed my apex. That let Lee Bristow onto my tail and we had a few laps of close battling before Alan recovered from his earlier issues and came back to join in the fun.
Gordon Sawyer had checkout out ahead and was pulling away. A combination of raw pace and the fact that Alan, Lee and myself were battling hard. We all shared out the places over the coming laps but I made a mistake coming out of the last corner at a critical point and Alan and Lee pulled away gradually.
Back markers made things highly fraught in the second half of the race but I just wasn’t able to make a significant impact on Lee and Alan. 4th was the result over the line. Whilst that’s not bad thing, I have to say I was a touch disappointed that silverware wasn’t possible.
The morning of Sunday was absolutely soaking wet. Heavy rain over night had lingered on and so the track was soaked as we drove across the hillside roads to the track.
However, our race was not until lunchtime so there was plenty of time for things to get sunnier, warmer an drier. And indeed, this happened.
As race time arrived, the track was bone dry and we at least had the consistency of knowing what to expect rather than the proposition of learning a track in the wet whist trying to race.
Off the line, I made a great getaway. This time, Alan Cooper was boxed in and so had nowhere to take his super speed. The result was getting from 4th to 2nd off the line. A quick peek in the mirrors saw that Christian Szaruta had made an epic start from 7th to 3rd. I stuck with Gordon through the early parts of the race and working together, it looked like we were going to get a gap. Indeed, to nearly everyone we dod. However, Alan Cooper made his way past Szaruta and then bridged the gap to Gordon and myself over a number of laps.
As soon as Alan arrived, I had to start defending and this let Gordon pull another race winning gap. I stuck with Alan for the majority of the race, although he had a touch more speed than me. A missed gear by him later in the race left me thinking that 2nd was possible, but then some unfortunate back marker encounters meant I dropped back once more.
Lee Bristow was looming ominously in my mirrors. However, I saw him coming and by the time I’d put a few more back markers between us and got my head down for some fast laps, that threat faded.
Into Parcferme in 3rd place then. However, track limits infringements against Alan Cooper saw him receive a 15 second penalty and 3rd changed to 2nd. I feel bad for Alan on losing a well earned 2nd place but I’m not giving it back, that’s for sure!
After the slight disappointment of 4th in race 1, 2nd was a brilliant result.
Gordon is on fire over the opening part of the season and is the man to catch. 2nd in the Championship is all to play for. I expected nothing less than close, competitive racing and that’s what we’ve got.
Next up is Brands Hatch in June. A scene of highs and lows for me! Looking forward to it though and maybe I can sneak another step up the podium for the next one.
A new season starting is always an exciting proposition. For me, it’s the first time that I’ve started a race weekend in another car from the one I built back in 2012.
The Caterham 310R is not a radically different animal from the Supersport we waved goodbye to in 2017 but additional engine grunt and a different gearbox mean that things feel subtly different.
I would normally settle for a single day testing at a track I am as familiar with as Snetterton, however with only one shake down run in the new car in the off season, I decided to go for 2 days testing ahead of the racing. I’m glad I did as a gearbox issue on the first day of testing meant that I didn’t get track time on Friday morning whilst a new one was slotted in.
Qualification was a reasonable affair but the vital nature of a tow around the track and my relative lack of knowledge on competitors and their speed meant that it took a while to put a whole lap together correctly. The end result was sixth. Far from shabby, especially given that the 310R grid is stacked with race and championship winning talent. However, it would have been nice to be just a touch higher up the order, especially given my two DPR teammates were on the front row together.
On the first race start, I went from 2nd gear to 5th gear accidentally. That robbed me of momentum and I slipped a little down the order. However, the first attempted start didn’t last long and a red flag meant a full restart.
On the restart I hooked everything up well and after a couple of bungles starts by other front runners, I found myself following Gordon Sawyer and Christian Szaruta out front.
Their pace had been good all weekend and I clung onto their coat tails for all I was worth in the early stages and we eventually pulled out a comfortable gap back to 4th place.
I was happy to sit in tow for the majority of the race keeping everything under control and maintaining the tyres as best I could in hot weather. Come the last 5 minutes the racing got a touch more frantic and come the last corner, I was right on the tail of the leaders with a great run up towards the line. However, another bungled 2nd to 5th gear change saw me drop off and have to watch as they crossed the line ahead.
A podium is a great finish to any race, especially the first one of the season and even more so when in a new car. It was also a fantastic result for the DPR team with a 1,2,3 so a great job by everyone to start the season in the best possible way. There was also the tantalising prospect of higher steps of the podium had I not made some errors along the way.
Race 2 the following day and at the start, the dreaded 2nd to 5th gear cockup happened again. The new gearbox has a subtly different action from the old one Supersport one and under pressure situations, where the mind is pre-occupied with many other factors – I reverted back to the old style and fumbled. Again, this saw me drop places and I was in 5th place around the first lap.
It wasn’t long before this slipped again to 6th place. I wasn’t able to properly attack the group but hung on well and the 6 cars all moved away from the following pack quite comfortably.
At the end of the race, I made a strong push to gain a couple of placed but sadly, the race was cut short by a red flag and so I crossed the line in 6th.
Whilst I was firmly with the front pack and had a podium the day before, I still wanted more from this opening round. With other, unfamiliar, tracks on the calendar this year, it was always going to be important to make hay while the Norfolk sun shone. Having said that, the points were good and other Championship hopefuls suffered far worse.
Next up is Knockhill in Scotland. My first trip up across the border and one I am looking forward to.
The long off season is finally drawing to a close and everyone is busy carrying out final preparations and emerging out on track for the new 2018 Caterham Motorsport season.
The new Cheesemobile has also had a full health check over the winter and has already ventured out on track earlier in the year for its first shake down and my first outing in the new 310R specification car.
This final period before the races get under way always seems to fly by and it won’t be long before I’m back to taking a deep breath and strapping in at Snetterton for the first of the 14 races.
I’m looking forward to seeing old faces and new. As well as racing against a new crop of racers, there are also some familiar names who’ve made the same transition from Supersport to 310R. So the theme for the year is very much ‘same, but different’.
For everyone at the Academy Seminar in Crawley over the weekend, the 2018 season must be becoming more of a reality after the long months of waiting and anticipation.
It’s been a bit like that for me as well. Since June, I have’t been racing and I’ve missed it. I now have a Caterham 310R in the garage and it won’t be long before I get out on track again, ready to make a return for the 2018 season.
It was great to meet the class of 2018 and to talk to some of the new intake and it was gratifying to hear that people still read this blog and that it’s a great source of information and motivation for those looking to get into racing.
People were asking if the site will continue to be updated as it’s all gone rather quiet since the accident. And the answer is – of course! The entry fees, testing fees, licence renewals, testing dates and hotel bookings are all starting to come in now, so the financial commitment is already well under way.
Next up for me is the 2017 end of year Awards Dinner. A chance to see the year off in style and say goodbye to those heading off for new adventures and to get the banter going with those who will be my new found frenemies on track.
Stay tuned to the blog and the YouTube channel. There’s certainly more to come and, for those who love to follow along with my races, normal service will be resumed shortly.
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