Snetterton Scorcher

You would have been perfectly justified to assume we’d arrived in Norfolk in high summer based solely on the weather. It was bright, sunny and hot all weekend long at the Snetterton circuit.

The spectators were certainly appreciative. The tyres, less so!

Having been largely used to 2 days of testing in the past, this was one of the first times I made do with just the Friday test ahead of the weekend. It means everything has to be compressed into half the time I’m used to but it really doesn’t take long to get up to speed nowadays, and overall, I think I rather liked the added pressure of getting on it from the off.

Qualifying

I usually enjoy the Qualifying session and not too often have I felt like I didn’t get everything out of the car. However, in this session, I definitely left my best back in the locker room. I made mistakes and didn’t manage the traffic and tow very well. Something that’s essential at Snetterton. My fastest lap included overtakes in compromised places and avoiding cars left right and centre!

After all that, 6th on the grid was actually not a disaster and I’ve learnt a few more lessons to add to the playbook going forward. Even into my 5th year of racing, there are still so many things to learn and adapt to.

The front 8 cars on the grid were the expected gaggle and were covered by the expected close margins. The order was perhaps less expected with Alistair Weaver putting in a great show to grab the first pole of the season. In general, the LFP motorsport team were flying with 4 of the top 5 spots filled.

Race 1

Caterham Supersports were running in the graveyard shift for this weekend so by race time, the sun was low in the sky and visibility was reduced. However, the temperatures were still high and the grip levels therefore low!

For the first race of the season it was certainly frantic up front. Mostly it was within fair bounds but there were some chops and jinks that would politely be termed as ‘borderline’ as well.

A novelty for me, was the ability to actually move forward and compete rather than being consumed by the whole field. A few driving tweaks and some dieting over winter have made me more able to race and signs are good that this will help through the season.

I had some good tussles but our groups inability to work together properly meant we lost touch with the lead pack of 4.

Part way through the race, we had our first Code 60 period to clear away a very nasty accident for Gary Weatherall, who ended up sliding on his roof from pit out all the way to the turn 1 gravel.

Code 60 is new this year for our race meetings. It was originally designed for endurance racing as a way to neutralise a field without the need for a safety car to bunch everyone up. The idea being that everyone slows to 60 KPH and sticks there until the flags are put to green once more. The advantages over a safety car being that, theoretically, the gaps between cars are maintained and the incident can be cleared quicker and everything get back to racing sooner.

I made a great restart, overtaking Christian and Henry who didn’t pick up on the green flags quite so quickly. I’m not sure I’ll get that advantage again going forward, but I was smiling in my helmet I can assure you!

At the tail end of the race, I didn’t manage my positioning very well, failed to capitalise on contact between Henry and Christian and failed to make a decent exit out of the final bend. So a potential 4th was instead a 5th place over the line. Still, not a bad start and one place improvement on qualification.

Race 2

Race 2 was to take place on the hottest day of the year so far, with barmy 25 degrees and bright cloudless skies. This is never a good thing for the tyres or engines but I know what to expect and that makes it easier to manage these days.

Another hectic opening section of the race saw me mired with Mike and Ben arguing figuratively – and literally – on track. This pushed me backwards to a hungry Henry, Christian and Dan and our failure to work together also saw Alistair Weaver catch up on a recovery drive from the back of the field.

At that point, It was always going to be damage limitation and again, lessons learned to store away for future reference.

It was nice to get the final turn correct and overtake over the line for 6th place, just to prove I can actually do it. I can’t recall a last lap where I have managed it before!

So, a weekend that promised much going forward and, although reasonable results, I feel there is more in the tank and I was certainly a whole lot more involved than I was through the whole of the 2016 season.

My only problem is that I know there are at least 4 other drivers who also feel exactly the same and will be looking to rectify things next time out.

Talking of next time out, we’re headed to Spa Francorchamps to race at what has to be a bucket list track for every race fan. Brilliant! I can’t wait to give it a go and will report back how it is in just over a months time.

Let’s go!

It’s time for 2017 to begin

So, we’re fast approaching the first weekend of the 2017 Caterham Motorsport season. We are headed to Snetterton in Norfolk on 8th and 9th April.

Everything is bright, shiny and renewed once again and the 2017 Caterham Supersport series is once again looking to be ultra close and ultra competitive.

Caterham Supersport Timetable

  • Qualifying is 12:20 to 12:40, Sat 8th April
  • Race 1 is 17:55 to 18:25, Sat 8th April
  • Race 2 is 14:55 ti 15:25, Sun 9th April

Live Timing

Follow along with live timing and full results at http://www.tsl-timing.com/event/171431

Videos / Commentary

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!

Caterham Motorsport 2017 Season Preview

The off-season doesn’t get longer but it sure feels like it does as the years go on. This is my 5th time waiting for the season to start and the same strange forces that seem to make the season fly by in a second, warps the winter months into eons.

There is now light at the end of the tunnel though with the official test only a few weeks away and the season proper set to kick off in April. One way I’ve found to while away the time each year is to put together a season preview, with the main runners and riders, as I see it, across the multiple Official Caterham Motorsport Championship series.

2017 Caterham Academy Championship

The bright eyed and bushy tailed Academy class of 2017 have started to take their first forays out on track with their new shiny machines. As ever, there are some that look more prepared than others for the challenge ahead but what’s a sure thing is that none of them truly understand the adventure they are about to set out on.

It wouldn’t be fair at this point to call out any names to watch out for. Firstly, because I’ve only seen a few of the people out on track and secondly, because things change so quickly during this learning period that it would be wildly inaccurate.

There will be surprises along the way and it’s rarely time spent on track that dictates the front of the field. What is a certainty, is that the whole paddock will be watching on trackside, cheering their successes and reminiscing on their own time spent in the Academy.

2017 Caterham Roadsport Championship

Over 40 Academy graduates have signed up for the 2017 Roadsport season. The Autumn trophy at the tail end of the 2016 Academy season was the first time that the Green group and White group got to race each other and it was a fascinating glimpse into what could be a highly competitive year.

The Roadsport car is a great step up from the Academy car. With a much more balanced feel and more grip from the Avon ZZS tyre, every year we see some fresh faces towards the front of the grid who perhaps didn’t get on with the Academy car.

We also tend to see the whole grid close up in lap time. Even those who don’t immediately improve their grid spot are now in reach of those top 10 positions. With the additional 5 mins in race length added to the mix, some more tactical awareness is also a bonus.

So, on the basis of last year, who are the Championship front runners? With Champion Tozer departing, Pete Spencer and Tom John lead the Green Group charge. Pete’s single lap pace was strong throughout 2016 but he’ll need to cut out some of the mistakes, often caused by over exuberant driving. If he can start stringing laps together, he’s going to be a potent force which the others may have to subdue with further drinking challenges in the bar on Friday nights.

Tom John was often the fastest man out on track in race, however, this was equally as often because he was fighting back through the field from a mistake. He’s pounding the tracks again this winter and will definitely figure on the podiums. A consistent season could see him take the trophy.

The White Group duo of Gillias and McCormack were fast from the off and romped away with 6 out of the 7 wins on offer through the Academy. The only other winner was Beardwell at the opening round. However, with James heading off the the 310R series, it could be down to Ben and Jay to hold White honours.

Ben Gillias dodged a bit of a bullet with a Rockingham race restart early in the season but made the most of this luck to hold together a great Championship campaign through the Academy.

Jay McCormack was often downright rapid on track and had some great consistency on show as well. Mostly, it was these two fighting alone out front throughout the season. That means the only question mark hanging over them is if they have had the experience of pack racing and how they’ll cope with that through 2017.

The real interest in the 2017 Roadsport season lies behind these front runners though. Both groups saw a healthy chasing pack through the Academy and watching how everyone settles in is going to be fascinating.

Pete Walters, Marcus Rawlinson, Ian Johnson, Nick Graham and Carl Varney all figured in their race weekends last year and it wouldn’t take a massive leap in speed to be competing for wins.

Philip Bianchi, Eric Tiv and Spencer Wright all regularly competed in tooth and nail fights alongside the departing Beardwell through 2016. They are equipped for the battle and at least a couple will step onto the podium through 2017.

Waiting in the wings are drivers like Anthony Taylor, who had a great tail end to the season last year, and Caroline Everett who has speed but needs to cut out mistakes. Matt Gray and Arnaud Graebert are dark horses to watch as well.

It’s a very hard series to call but I’m going with (subject to him doing some testing!) Jay McCormack’s natural speed. Gillias and Spencer are my shout for the lower steps but they’d better be ready for some hard fights and Tom John certainly could spoil their party.

2017 Seven 270R Championship

After a tense end to the 2016 Roadsport season, the march up the Caterham Motorsport Championship ladder continues on into the 270R class for many of the drivers.

At time of writing, Rui Ferreira and Guy Hawkins are not signed up to be among their number. Given Guy’s spectacular move through the grid in 2016 there will be a few sighs of relief no doubt from some.

Russ Olivant and Dan Quintero have proved themselves to be class acts on track. Able to consistently be at the head of the field and often times stepping on the steps of the podium come the chequered flag. Dan has suffered from some on track incident though and, ultimately, it is this that separates the two when the points get added up.

Behind these two, Rob Watts has turned into quite the competitor. Regularly on the podium in 2016 he’s just missing that elusive win at the moment and if his progress continues upwards, 2017 could be his true breakthrough year.

Cooper, Lloyd and Bevan all show patches of raw pace but equally suffer from slips in form, incidents or get stuck in the midfield. With slightly more space at the top of the field this coming season, it could leave the route to the podium slightly easier for this chasing pack.

Alex Jordan is a good call for dark horse of the championship. With some race experience under his belt now and some of the racing lessons learned, he could push the leading group.

So, my call is for an Olivant championship, Quintero in second and Watts taking third. Racing has a funny way of surprising you though and I can see a great season ahead.

2017 Caterham Supersport Championship

By popular demand, the 2016 specification Supersport Car has retained its place in the official Caterham Motorsport Championship ladder. With over 30 entrants signed up, it’s not hard to see why and with an absolutely spectacular 2016 season, many people want another run at glory.

Now that Will Smith has moved up to the 420R Championship, it may actually leave some winners trophies for others. There’s still plenty of rapid talent at the head of the field though so all podiums will be oversubscribed with contenders.

Henry Heaton will go in as many people favourite. He picked up an impressive string of podiums through 2016 and was only out of contention once through the year. Some uncharacteristic errors in the wet at the final round saw him lose 2nd in the championship. However, mistakes were few and far between. More of the same will see him pick up more wins and be a hot favourite for silverware at all rounds.

Ben Tuck’s run of form at the tail end of the 2016 season was impressive and fairly ominous for the 2017 season. A young gun looking to move up into professional motorsport, sometimes that eagerness to succeed caused issues through the season. However, with a years experience under his belt, and assuming incident can be avoided, there’s no denying his underlying pace and desire to succeed.

Szaruta should be looking forward to 2017. But for a couple of slipped results through 2016, he has proved not only to be a fast and consistent driver but also a great racer. On a grid with so little time between the drivers, Szaruta is only 2 stone away from being able to take the trophy.

Behind this strong triplet, Dickens, Gore and Hutchinson will be looking to bring home results and show the young guns a thing or two.

Dickens in particular has proved he can string a Championship together better than most and after a disappointing 2016 he’s hungrier than ever to get back on the top step. There were still plenty of signs of life in Dickens and he’ll not be making anyone’s life easy at the head of the field.

It’s unclear at this point if Mike Evans is splitting his season between Supersport and 420R but at any round he turns up at, he’s sure to plant himself firmly towards the front of the field.

With a slightly more open mid field this year, there will be plenty of drivers joining onto the lead pack and capable of podiums. Weaver will likely lead this charge. Regularly rapid but also often caught up in battles, incident and suffering car troubles meant 2016 was a tough year for him. Again, he’ll be looking to move up the field and bring home some silverware.

There are also some new names to add to the mix which will inject some uncertainty to proceedings.

My call for the Championship is Tuck, Heaton then Szaruta. However, it’s so close to call that I have little confidence in this analysis. If Szaruta turns up to Snetterton in a slightly more athletic guise, he could surprise everyone and the reality is that any of the top 6 are in with a realistic shout.

2017 Seven 310R Championship

The newest addition to the Caterham Motorsport ladder is the 310R Championship. With a bump in power over the previous Supersport Category, the car specification looks great and initial feedback from the drivers is really positive.

The 2016 Tracksport grid are joined by some new names and some returning drivers. Hopefully this will see a true return to form for the class of the 2014 Academy. After a dip in numbers, things are looking good with over 20 signed up to date and a few more waiting in the wings.

With Tracksport Champion, Barnes, heading to the 420R in search of glory and Bremner heading off to race other cars, this is one of the most wide open Championships on the ladder this year.

Of the returning drivers, Steve McCulley and Barry Moore bring the most form with them. Often times, they were the next drivers up after the Barnes and Bremner duet. But it was a hard fought mid-field which saw Ebdon, Rimer, Wells and Lambert tough it out through the year. That battle is sure to continue. But the interest in this championship is as much the new names that are coming on-board.

James Houston makes a return to racing after a year off to do whatever you do when you’re not racing… always there or thereabouts in the past, he will figure when the flag comes down.

After a brief foray into the Graduates Caterham Series where he narrowly missed out on the Championship win, Lee Bristow is back in the Official Caterham  fold. Regularly competing at the pointy end of all the grids he’s been a part of, there’s nothing to indicate this is going to be any different this year.

We’ve got a few ‘jumpers’ who’ve skipped steps of the ladder. Including James Beardwell and Paul Bradey heading straight from Academy. That’s a big step to take and although speed may not be a particular issue, experience will almost certainly tell through the season.

Al Calvert also deserves a strong mention. It’s been a while since he has been able to run a full championship campaign but if he does, then he will be capable of winning it.

Last, but very much not least, is the return of Gordon Sawyer. Extremely rapid, a previous winning driver, he’s going to make an impression and is a dark horse to take the Championship by storm.

My call for this Championship is Bristow, McCulley then everyone else… If Calvert runs a full campaign, I’d put him on the top step and I also suspect that Sawyer may well feature more prominently in my mid season review.

2017 Seven 420R Championship

What a tasty, tasty proposition the 420R Championship is this year. It’s got a bit of everything going for it. A vacant position at the top up for grabs; check. Great new drivers; check. Great returning drivers; double check. Huge grid; check.

With Aaron Head off to race his classic Porsche, the Championship is as open as it has been for a while. Lee Wiggins finished another year as runner up in 2016 but returns again this year to go one step higher. It won’t be easy by any means though. Jack Sales returns after a spectacular debut season with more experience and a hunger to grab the trophy. Danny Winstanley looked back to full strength at the Donington finals and he will also be looking to launch a strong season.

Steve Nuttall proved to be human for the first time in 2016 and there’s no way he wants to leave without a trophy for a second time. Dyer will also be hoping for more of the ups and less of the downs through 2017.

Of the people moving up to the series, William Smith is reunited with Sales, his Group 2 Academy Rival. Last year was all high fives and congratulations between the pair but it’s all going to go serious again this year. Will comes off the back of a spectacular Supersport campaign but it normally takes a couple of years to truly compete at the top with this thoroughbred race car.

Jack Brown, Richard Ainscough, Andres Sinclair, Tony Mingoia, Christina Maple all jump up from the highly competitive Supersport grid and if their performances there are anything to go by, more than a couple will appear on a podium at some point.

Mikins and Barnes jump from Tracksport and we have Wes Fox and Elliott Norris returning to Caterhams after some time off. All have been competitive. Some highly. Barnes had a great showing at Donington when he tried out the R300 ahead of this full season. Will the time off have blunted Norris and Fox? Only time will tell.

Trying to place all these brilliant drivers into a firm order is pretty much impossible. At this stage, I, like many others in the paddock, would love to gift Wiggins the championship. However, my call at this stage is Sales, Winstanley then Wiggins – but as we all know, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Caterham Motorsport 2016 Season Review

Academy Green

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The early season form of the green group continued into the tail end of the season. The same super fast triplet of Tozer, John and Spencer were rarely out of the podium spots and always picking up the additional point for fastest lap.

The Championship went right down to the wire at Donington. It really wasn’t clear who was going to clinch it as a win would have taken it for any of the threesome. As it goes, the climax was largely spoilt by a long safety cad period. It was a sad end to a great season but Tozer was a worthy champion, Spencer a spectacular runner up and John a solid 3rd place – which he tried to throw away multiple times through the season. All three were split by 2 points come the final flag.

Walters, Rawlinson, Johnson and Grahame made a fast chasing pack. Sometimes enthusiasm caused a few issues and some mistakes held some of them back from ultimate victory. However, if past seasons are anything to go by, this is the group of drivers who will find their feet in Roadsport specification. Watch this space.

Varney, Gray and Graebert put in solid seasons as well. They are sure to be a big part of a strong mid field when both groups combine in 2017 to form Roadsport and will be chasing hard for podiums.

Academy White

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Where the Greed group had a threesome of contenders, the White group were a speeding duo of Gillias and McCormack. Between the two of them, they pretty much took everything going when the circuit racing started and would often leave the pack behind to fight between themselves for the scraps.

McCormack brought a super chilled approach to racing. Tooting his horn as he passed by  spectators on the banks. You could tell he was smiling behind his visor in the car and his speed was undeniable, however, it was a couple of fastest lap points from Gillias that ultimately handed him the championship.

Gillias was focussed all year but looked genuinely surprised at times that he was able to compete so well on the track. However, compete he did and win as well. He was a worthy champion and it will be great to see how they both progress onto the Roadsport grid in 2017.

Behind this duo, a spectacular group of Beardwell, Bianchi, Tiv and Wright would regularly change spaces and fighting hard. All of them suffered from a lack of consistency which saw them drop away from the front but they never had a dull moment.

Come Roadsport, they will be right in the mix with a little more experience under their belts. Beardwell in particular showed regular speed and, arguably, was the reason McCormack couldn’t match Gillias in the tables. But for some spins and excursions, he will do well.

It’s genuinely exciting to see everyone grow through the Academy year and it looks like there will be another really strong Roadsport grid to watch in 2017. It’s going to be exciting for sure.

Roadsport

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The 2016 Roadsport championship was definitely a coming of age season for a lot of drivers. With some absolutely fantastic racing through the season. The banks at the trackside were often the places to be through 2016. The on track action started fast and close and ended with a final round showdown.

Pre season I called Dan Quintero and Rui Ferrera as championship favourites with Russ Olivant also a strong contender with a run of form at the tail of the Academy year that you couldn’t help but make note of. So it proved that these drivers would all feature. Rui probably suffered a lull in form more than most and was sometimes seen lower down the field than he was accustomed to through the year. This affected his championship challenge. However, Russ and Daniel took it all the way to the last round of the year. Unfortunately, contact would rear it’s head and Russ would end up champion after the stewards had had their say.

It was a deserved win, and Russ has turned into quite the racer. He’s going to be a favourite for the 2017 season.

There were some other notable improvements made through the field and it was brilliant to see Rob Watts, Chris Aubrey and Alan Cooper all compete so strongly on a regular basis.

David Bevan and Will Lloyd continued to have strong showings but couldn’t maintain the ultimate pace at all the rounds.

Sometimes the pack got a little too complacent with their close racing and several rounds were marred by incident. Snetterton being the most notable of the lot. However, the pack responded well to this adversity and brought everything back under control.

Perhaps the surprise of the whole Caterham paddock was the immediate speed of Greg Hyatt. He missed the beginning of the season, but as soon as he joined the grid, he began winning and taking fastest laps. Had he done the full season, it’s likely he would have challenged for the championship. If he continues into 2017, the rest of the field better watch out.

Tracksport

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With small grids early in the season, it was hard to know how the tracksport season would go. Barnes was a hot pre-season favourite and he duly delivered on that promise. Indeed, it was only Dan Bremner’s setup up to tracksport that gave barnes any competition. The two would generally streak away from the rest of the field and have a race all of their own.

As the season progressed, we saw some return appearances from the likes of Paul Aram and Al Calvert, some of the gaps began to close and the lead train sometimes swelled. Snetterton was a highlight and showed what Tracksport could have been with a larger field.

Steve McCulley was often best of the rest through the year and seemed to avoid the bad luck that’s dogged his racing seasons to date. It was great to see Barry Moore finally getting on the podium and regularly competing at the sharp end of the field.

Milkins would likely have been a strong 3rd place contender in the championship but a couple of missed rounds meant he slipped down the order. Peter Rimer had another good year but still needs to find a little more consistency to move yet higher up the order.

Mention should be made for Andy Ebdon and Paul Wells, who consistency saw them riding high in the championship and only really being held back by the drop scores system that doesn’t fully reward consistent results.

Finally, it would be wrong to finish this report without a mention for team Labert. Richard making way for son Matthew at Snetterton. Richard was often at the sharp end of the grid, just behind the Barnes / Bremner rocket ships. However, Matthew perhaps made the biggest splash by winning both races at Snetterton. If Matthew gets his own car and a full season in 2017, he’s sure to do very well.

From the sounds of it, the Super Dooper Sport championship in 2017 will see an injection of some younger blood into this reduced field and the numbers should once again see strong battles and exciting tussles. Can’t wait.

Supersport

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I am biased, but the Superposrt championship this year was absolutely unbelievable. The 2015 Tracksport season was close but this was another level. With the addition of the 2015 tracksport grid to those staying on from Supersport it took a grid where 10 people could stand on the podium with ease and expanded that to 16.

Huge grid numbers and ultra close lap times were the hallmark of the season and while most drivers ebbed and flowed up and down the grid as time went on, it was Wiliiam Smith who absolutely nailed the championship with win after win. Most of the time, it wasn’t clear to see how he was able to win under such duress but win he did and he is a deserving champion. Having said that, there were multiple people deserving of the accolade and but for a few bad results, or bad luck, at least 4 people could have sealed the deal at one point or other.

Henry Heaton and Jack Brown had a stellar fight for runner up spot in the standings. In the final race of the year, the vice champion went back and forward between the two drivers multiple times. It was Jack Brown that came out on top in a tie breaker and Henry was left with 3rd place. After a great season for both, they should be happy with their performance.

Christian Szaruta often imposed himself on the front pack and only an off round at Snetterton meant he wasn’t also right in the fight for a championship podium.

Max McDonagh finally clicked with the car in Supersport specification. The limited slip differential allowing him to fully express his oversteer tendencies.

Sinclair, Dickens, Evans and Hutchinson also had their moments in the sun through the season and were always ready to pick up the pieces if the front drivers left any scraps.

My surprise of the season was the consistent front running form of Richard Ainscough. He came late to the paddock, starting in tracksport, and has quickly secured himself a spot right at the front of the grid. He’s going onto R300 next year and I see no reason why he can’t nail that and compete for a top 3 place.

Ben Tuck was a young gun addition to the grid – singularly focussed on winning. Although he didn’t have things his own way at the start of the year, the pace was always there and by the tail end of the season, once Will Smith was protecting his points, Tuck took over as the strongest racer with 4 podiums over the final 4 events, including 2 wins. Tuck is likely to move to more expensive racing categories soon but he’s sure to do well and the 2016 Supersport championship can feel satisfied that he was far from running in and sweeping all before him 🙂 I wish him well in his onward Career.

R300

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Aaron Head was pre season favourite. He delivered on that promise with a dominant season. But for some poor starts off the line, protecting his drive shafts from failure, he would have absolutely stormed every round. As it was he won all but a couple.

At the season finale at Doningon, Aaron didn’t even have to compete as the Championship was sewn up. However, he did race and although on Saturday he ended with a DNF, on Sunday, he stormed through the entire field to grab second place. Had the race been one lap longer, that could easily have been the win.

Lee Wiggins did his normal bridesmaid act, another exceptional season where he was marginally bettered. Another runner up spot in the championship. Jack Sales showed potential, the only other driver regularly able to compete with Aaron and Lee. A few off results where he got stuck behind trains of cars ultimately cost him more points but to come away with 3rd place in your first season of R300 is impressive indeed.

Nuttall failed to score 5 from 5 this year and it’s good to see that he is human. However, he also showed great speed at times and 4th place in the Championship is far from appalling. He’s sure to be strong coming into season 2 of R300 in 2017.

Clive Richards played his part in the season as well. His experience and calmness under pressure was a sight to behold from the banks. I’m sure he would have wanted a few more podiums but it was another strong campaign for the veteran.

Other drivers didn’t quite have the season they’d wanted. With Matt Dyer finishing lower than his speed would have him at times. Some mechanical failures also causing problems.

Overall it was a great season for the fastest class of Caterhams and it’s a great sign that 2017 is already oversubscribed and looks likely to take a further step up in competitiveness.

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Donington Downpoor

And so, the season has now run its full circle. It only seems like yesterday that we were heading out on track for the official test back in March. There were a few front running drivers not present on the Supersport grid and so a good result was possible, however, with 37 cars on the grid, that’s never guaranteed.

This was the first event of the season that I’ve only done the Friday test ahead of the weekend. Most of the time, by the morning of Friday I’m just turning in laps pretty much for the sake of it and often times not using all the sessions on offer. It was a strange feeling to try and compress my normal routine into one day but, in reality, it was more than enough to get up to speed.

As ever, I was around 1 second off of the ultimate pace on track, which was disappointing as I tend to go well at Donington, but I wasn’t too worried as I tend to keep to myself over testing and don’t try to chase a tow.

Come qualification, I knew there was a bit more to be had on track and with some careful traffic management, I managed to bag 4th place. It was a great feeling to be back at the pointy end of the field and it was almost a little strange to only see one row of cars ahead on the grid. Brings back good memories!

I made a reasonable start but Mike Evans and his normal rocket ship went down the inside into turn one. I didn’t compensate enough on the speed and, on cold tyres / track, drifted a little wide on the exit. This left an opening for few more cars and cost me some momentum.

By the end of lap one I was in 6th place and in a queue of cars from 1st down to 8th place. I was able to keep up nicely and felt strong. Some battling with Tim Dickens and Mike Evans ended when Mike lost the rear of his car into the old hairpin. I was therefore in a lead pack that was clear of the chasing drivers.

I bided my time early on, happy to wait for the carnage to ensue up front. Donington always leads to close battles and it’s almost impossible to break away due to the effect of the tow. However, the lead drivers kept it all clean and tidy and so there was no option but to try and move forward through the group.

Unfortunately, I miscalculated how much additional speed I would need to do this and also misjudged a few corners which left me too much to do. Tim Dickens found some of his Tracksport magic, and judged these last 10 minutes of his race to perfection. From a position behind me with 10 minutes to go, he’d managed to get to 3rd place by the chequered flag. This is something I’ve got to get better at and will work on my head over the winter to see what I can do.

6th over the line was the result but nose to tail with the entire lead group is better than I have managed this year to date. Although it was a little disappointing coming from the 4th in quali – I knew that was mainly due to other drivers getting blocked and me managing to get a good lap in.

The forecast for Sunday was for rain. I was really looking forward to the race and really felt positive about moving forward. A wet track is something I love and it’s the first propper one we’ve had this year. Off the line and around the first few bends, the visibility was absolutely dire. The worst I’ve ever experienced. I literally couldn’t see the track and the only marker for the correct direction was other cars around me.

Once the queue settled down, I was in around 8th place. I moved forward to around 6th place but at that stage I realised that my car setup was hopelessly understeery around Donington. I’ve made changes through the year to correct oversteer in the car and unfortunately, by doing so, I’ve created a car that can’t corner in the wet. I was something in the order of 5mph slower than I needed to be mid corner and so wasn’t able to compete as I’d hoped.

Whilst others were throwing the car off the track, I was just holding on hoping the track would dry a touch. That wasn’t to be and by the flag I ended up 6th again.

Whilst this was still an OK result, it was a missed opportunity and by the time all the scores had been totted up, I ended the year in 8th place. A couple more points would have seen me in around 5th…

Not a bad season overall and certainly the most competitive grid by a long way in my career to date.

Although funds are now non-existent and debts are growing – I have also decided to do one more year before likely having to hang up the gloves and recover my finances. This now means some busy winter time getting ready for 2017 and I’ve promised myself that I’ll do more to be competitive next year. I much prefer fighting for podiums – I know I have it in me and I want to get back up there spraying the champaign and taking home more pots for the shelves.

Clinging on in Croft

September saw the Caterham paddock head up North to Croft, in Yorkshire. Croft was a mixed weekend for me last time we visited in Roadsport.

It was probably the end of my Roadsport Championship campaign, I threw away a podium on pretty much the last corner of race 1. But a return to form for race 2 saw me just missing out on a win and keeping a glimmer of hope that the Championship could still happen.

I like the track and coming back with the Supersport car now hasn’t reduced the enjoyment.
It’s got, probably, the tightest hairpin of any track in the UK as well as a long section of fast and flowing corners. So there’s a bit of something for everyone.

After a couple of days of testing, my neck was really feeling the strain. Come qualification, things were as competitive as ever. All the normal front pack within a second of pole. 7th for me was a fair result and kept me in the right region coming into the race. However, the gearbox started to feel week through the session and Croft has a reputation for eating gearboxes in Caterhams.

Race 1 started OK. I was able to make some spots up on the start and was holding onto the train of cars. However, on lap 2, through the fast chicane, something went awry inside the gearbox and after a horrible period of grinding crunching, I did get the gear. However, the damage was done and I lost places.

Some of these were made back quickly with mistakes coming from other drivers. I also managed to lose a wing and damage my exhaust at Tower. It was fortunate the contact didn’t end worse off. From the sound of the exhaust, I was sure that it had come off.

The majority of the rest of the race was spent battling with Mike Evans. We swapped places a number of times but as the race wore on, I was able to break free. I very nearly caught up the battle for 4th but ran out of laps.

Race 2 was another hot one. We’ve had a whole season of scorchers this year. Only race 1 at Brands has been even damp. With a failing gearbox, I had to go into the race with some mechanical sensitivity. Not ideal but necessary to ensure a finish.

The start went well and I found myself in a good spot, fighting Henry Heaton for 4th place. However, I was unable to cling on as Mike Evans and Max McDonagh began fighting for spots. It was a great race with plenty of swapping. Nice to get back involved. However, I wasn’t able to hold onto the end of the race and I slipped to another 8th place.

With the gearbox on its last legs, I am happy that I got to the end of the race in one piece. Although not spectacular results, both races were fun and some of the battles were great.

Final round of the season is next up – at Donington. A track I generally go well at. Let’s see if we can finish off the season on a high.

Oulton Park Came and Went

It’s been a while since the long trip back from the Oulton Park race weekend. It’s unlike any other race meeting we do in that everything happens on Saturday. Due to noise restrictions, no racing is allowed on Sunday.

That, therefore, compresses all the Caterham championships qualifying and racing into one action packed, hectic, bonkers 9 hour period. It’s no small feet for the organisers, marshals, teams and competitors to make it through but everyone was on top form and the day passed without major drama.

The two Supersport races were absolute classics. Starting with qualification, where 3rd to 9th on the grid were split by a whisker over 1/10th of a second. That’s a serious clump of cars all recording the same time in quali and the race proved that nobody had an edge.

For the majority of both races, the top 12-16 cars all circulated nose to tail – and more often than not, side by side. That there were no major incidents is testament to some great driving. It’s not something that should be taken for granted though and everyone played their part.

For me, both races followed a similar pattern. Clinging on! At times, I thought I could hang onto the front pack but in both cases, when it got to battling, I dropped backwards somewhat into the secondary pack. The racing was fast, close and fair and although the finishing positions weren’t stellar, I came away feeling I’d at least had some good racing.

Next up is Croft – not too far away now. A track I enjoyed in Roadsport. Let’s see how things go in Supersport trim.

Race 1:

Race 2:

Caterham Motorsport Mid Season Review 2016

Unbelievably, Saturday evening at Snetterton marked the halfway point of the 2016 Caterham Motorsport season. For those at the top of their respective tables, there still feels like ample opportunities to throw it all away. For those looking to make up ground, opportunities feel like they are waning.

There have been some fantastic races throughout the opening half of the season and it’s all still to play for if other seasons are anything to go by.

Caterham Academy 2016 – Green Group

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Tom John leads a busy Pack at Rockingham. Pic SnappyRacers

The first race of the season for the Green Group started in the Aintree hotel bar. This was a race that was very much lost by Pete Spencer. One of the pre-season favourites absolutely destroyed by the rest of the field. Sprinting in general didn’t seem to be Pete’s forté with only a clutch of 4th places to show for his efforts. However, the season has now moved into the race phase and after a fabulous Rockingham, with a win and fastest lap – he very much backed this up by just missing out over the line at Snetterton for race 2.

It’s Steve Tozer that took the win at Snetterton and he trails by a single point in the standings. A point that should have been in the bag, but he threw it away on the last lap at Rockingham. Still, the win at Snetterton was a great way to bounce back and he’ll be looking to continue that form into the latter half of the year. Hopefully the point lost at the Rock won’t come back to haunt him.

The third of a high speed green group trio is Tom John. In true NASCAR form, he has two first names – and in true NASCAR form, he’s also settled into the slipstream well with a dominant lap record at Snetterton. However, after a win at the first sprint, he threw away a result in Curborough and looked to have done it again at Snetterton with a spin on the opening lap of the restart. In one of the longest ‘spins’ ever recorded – he dropped deep into the field and only a stellar recovery drive got him back to the podium.

Outside of the top three – things are a little more fluid. Pete Walters heads the chasers with a great set of results. He had an intense battle with Nick Graham at Snetterton and it looked like it got too close a couple of times with some contact leading to Nick spinning. Once as a direct result and then again out of frustration. Both are in a battle with Matt Gray and Marcus Rawlinson who have shown equal speed and will be looking to break into the podiums in the remaining 3 races.

There are plenty in the mid-tables who, once dropped scores are taken into account, are far from out of the running. Whether that be through having missed a round due to outside commitments or having issues out on track.

The quality of the racing on show has been great so far and as everyone’s confidence and experience levels rise, it looks like we’re in for a great finale to the Green Group’s Academy campaign.

Caterham Academy Championship 2016 – White Group

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The Academy in their first race. Close racing is a guarantee in Caterhams. Pic SnappyRacers

Ben Gillias leads the White Group by a fairly comfortable 7 points thanks to 2 wins and 2 seconds places over the opening 4 rounds. However, with dropped points taken into account, things are very much closer. Ben’s earned his lead by fact of being consistent and always being in the mix. A lucky reprieve from a bad start in Rockingham, where the race needed to be reset may point to luck also being on his side. That’s an ingredient that is hard to come by but great to have.

It’s been Jay McCormack who looks to be closest to challenging Ben in the races. Leading the vast majority of laps at Rockingham and Snetterton he certainly knows how to race. Only a last lap track limits transgression cost him the Snetterton win. His relaxed style and insistence on tooting his horn at his family on every lap shows there’s additional capacity to spare and he will surely figure in the second half of the season.

It’s James Beardwell that is actually second in the championship currently with a win and two thirds to his name already. However, at Rockingham and Snetterton he made costly mistakes that took him out of the running for the wins and back into the clutches of a busy pack of drivers. If he can cut out these mistakes, he’ll challenge for the championship.

Speaking of that busy pack of drivers, Phillip Bianchi, Richard Toomey and Eric Tiv joined James Beardwell at Snetterton for a ding dong battle from lights to flag. It was great to watch. All three drivers are going well but need to find an additional level if they want to win it.

The mid pack can’t be ignored in this group either. There are some quick drivers that haven’t yet had a run of luck – or have just managed to have poor luck – and there’s nothing to say the top drivers will have it all their own way for the final 3 races.

Caterham Roadsport Championship 2016

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A stream of cars has been a regular sight through the Roadsport races this year. Pic SnappyRacers

The Roadsport grid has given some brilliant track action in the opening half of 2016. The races have been close and hard fought between a large bunch of closely matched drivers.

Russ Olivant has continued his great form from the end of the Academy year and leads the standings by a huge 32 points. However, that’s largely down to the majority of the other contenders having DNF’s against their name as well as several with penalty points as well.

Accounting for drop scores, this championship is still very much within the reach of at least 6 drivers. New comer Guy Hawkins has seen an incredible run of form, starting strong and getting stronger as the season has progressed. A double win at Snetterton is a highly impressive way to lay down intent for the second half of the year.

Dan Quintaro is also on the podium more often than not and a highly impressive fight back through the field in race 2 at Snetterton has kept his championship challenge alive.

Rob Watts, David Bevan and Alan Cooper all made an impressive train of cars at Snetterton and are showing speed coming into the second half of the season. Rui Frreria is suffering an uncharacteristic lull in form, after a strong start to the season. It’s hard to believe that it will continue for much longer and he’s sure to figure on the podium more in the final races of the year.

It’s telling that strong point scores appear all the way down the Roadsport table and so it’s simply not possible to call how things will settle. There’s still plenty of opportunity for people lower down the scores to push higher and if the opening half of the season is anything to go by, it’s guaranteed there are surprises yet to come.

Caterham Tracksport Championship 2016

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Barnes and Bremner have consistently been ahead of the chasing pack this year. Pic SnappyRacers

Anthony Barnes came into this season as favourite to take home the trophy. Certainly, he’s had a great run through the opening half of the season with 4 wins and 4 second places. 3 fastest laps to boot and things are looking rosy for the Team Parker racer.

A slightly smaller grid than the rest of the championships this year it didn’t look like anyone would have the fire power and consistency to deal with Barnes. However, Dan Bremner skipping Roadsport in favour of moving to Tracksport has meant that Barnes hasn’t had it all his own way. The speeding tandem of Bremner and Barnes have consistently left the remaining field in their wake. Bemner’s score card isn’t quite as good as Barnes with 2 wins and 2 seconds. However, the killer for him has been a couple of lower finishes and crucially, at Snetterton, penalty points and exclusion from the second race results. There’s still time to recover but it’s a long shot.

Damian Milkins currently lies 2nd in the championship after a consistent set of results. He has only one podium spot to show for his efforts as yet. Still, consistency pays and the remaining races offer chances to solidify. When drop scores come into play, it will be hard to keep the championship podium though.

Andy Ebdon is currently 4th, Paul Wells sits 6th. They are both in the same boat as Milkins. A really solid set of results so far but with the addition of some more fast drivers at head of the field could see this slide unless they can find some more time on track.

It won’t be helped by a resurgent field at Snetterton, where it wasn’t all about Bremner and Barnes. Newcomer Matt Lambert shocked everyone with the pace to win the double. And it wasn’t only Matt joining the leading two this time. Paul Aram made a welcome return to the field after a guest appearance at Anglesey. This time, competing for the win in the leading group.

Barry Moore showed some brilliant pace at Snetterton. In a season where he hasn’t been able to keep up with the leading two so far, could Snetterton show the shape of the rest of the year? Moore will be hoping so.

The mid field is as fluid as ever. Some drivers have missed rounds – so dropped scores are very much in play. Rimer and McCulley have both been there or thereabouts.

If we see a return to the Championship of Al Calvert and Joe Draper at some point this year, that lead group we saw at Snetterton could grow further and we’d finally see the championship that this could have been.

Caterham Supersport Championship 2016

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Will Smith leads a high speed carpark. Pic SnappyRacers

44 drivers have so far scored points in the 2016 Caterham Supersport Championship. And it’s a championship that’s so tightly fought that nearly everyone has seen mixed results from round to round. Everyone, apart from Will Smith that is.

Even over the the long, technical and challenging Snetterton 300 track, the top 16 were covered by 1.5s in qualifying – the top 13 all within 1 second of pole. It’s fairly unfathomable therefore how Will has managed to win 7 out of 8 races. Where he didn’t win, he finished a lowly 4th place! Just a fantastic run of form for the DPR Motorsport driver borne out of racing skill, because it’s certainly not been easy.

A whole gaggle of cars have routinely hounded him and reminded him that any false step could see those wins turn into 10th places.

Leading those chasers is Henry Heaton. Henry won where Will couldn’t and, apart from one blip, has finished on the podium in every race. Any other year and this would have been in touching distance of the lead, however, he currently sits 20 points down on Will. But, with the drop scores, it’s at least possible for him to be right in the title fight heading into the final round.

Jack Brown has also had a strong start to the year. Pre-season, he looked to be the one to beat and his outright pace is untouchable on some tracks. His focus and concentration this year have also been steely. However, he’s slipped off the podium a few times and with some penalty points counting against him, he will need to have a fantastic end to the season if he wants to win. Having said that, we’re coming into Oulton Park, where Jack made everyone look slow last year.

Then comes a gaggle of drivers who have all taken podiums but who have also slipped down the highly competitive grids at times. Christian Szaruta, Max McDonagh, Chris Hutchinson and Andres Sinclair have all seen varied results but have generally kept it on the black stuff and near the pointy end of the grid. Szaruta has often been fighting right at the front and only a few bad results in qualifying are holding him back. He’s come through the field many times this year already but Snetterton was his worst weekend so far and it’s cost points. Max McDonagh, on the other hand, is in the ascendency. Now out of the Tracksport which he never fully mastered and fully to grips with the Supersport car, results are starting to flow.

It’s close between these two and Andres, but Andres had to miss Snetterton owing to exams and this has put him artificially down the standings currently. He’ll be fighting for the championship podiums once he’s back in the cockpit at Oulton.

Hutchinson looks set to be in a season long battle in between the top of the grid and the chasing pack. A position that’s seen varied results from podium to 11th place. Not as strong a start to the year as he’s become accustomed to but hoping, I’m sure, to turn that around for the second half of the year.

And what of that ferocious mid field? Gore, Evans, Mingoia, Maple, Weaver, Tuck, Robinson, Powell, Dickens and Ainscough to name a few. It’s insulting to call that the mid grid as all regularly figure in lead battles. But all, for one reason or another, have suffered some lower finishes or DNFs that have likely taken them out of the fight for the ultimate win.

What is sure is that there will be plenty of people looking to turn their seasons around starting from Oulton, and there are lots of others who will be nervously looking in their rearview mirrors waiting for them to arrive.

Caterham R300-S Superlight Championship 2016

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Aaron head on pole at Snetterton. A common sight this year. Pic SnappyRacers

It’s been an epic spectacle to behold a full grid of R300’s through this years events. The R300-S is a true beast of a machine and watching the field go hammer and tongs at each round has been a treat.

As pre-season favourite, Aaron Head has lived up to high expectations and has come home in front in 7 of the 8 rounds and taken 5 of the fastest laps to boot. It’s been a highly impressive run of form from the DPR Motorsport driver but he hasn’t always given himself an easy ride. It’s been necessary to come back through the field more than once to secure his results.

Lee Wiggins has again been highly consistent and has again seen that result in a string of second places. He took the win that Aaron couldn’t manage and also has a fastest lap to his name. But it just seems that Aaron has an edge that Wiggins, and the rest of the field, haven’t quite matched yet.

Jack Sales took the decision to prematurely finish a frustrating Tracksport season in 2015 so as to make the jump straight to the R300 class this year. And he’s made an immediate impression on the field, qualifying high at every round and finishing on, or near to, the podium at all rounds. The high temperatures have caused him, like others, to suffer power issues when running in the pack but so far, these have not proved too detrimental and he sits an excellent 3rd in the standings.

Clive Richards and Stephen Nuttall are next up. They have had also been scoring heavy points this year but both have had hiccups along the way. Stephen suffering a broken drive shaft in Zolder and Clive running low down the order in the opening round at Brands Hatch. Both will be working hard to change things around and take further podiums in the remaining rounds. Nutall, finally finding out what it feels to be human this year.

Behind this regular leading pack, there are others that are sitting lower in the standings. However, for some, this is due to DNFs or having to miss rounds of the season. We also saw the withdrawal of Jon Mortimer from the championship. And Danny Winstanley broke his car at Zolder and has yet to return to the fold. Jon and Danny were strong podium contenders.

Jeremy Ellis has put in a good run of form, but when dropped scores are taken into account, he’ll have to up his results to stay ahead of Philip Gladman – who’s having a varied but strong inaugural year in his R300 – Danny Killeen – who couldn’t attend Snetterton – and Matt Dyer – who had mechanical issues at Zolder in both races.

The top of the championship may be all but won, however, it will be fascinating to see how the rest of the order settles itself in the second half of the year.

Have I missed something in my report? Someone having a stellar season that didn’t even get a mention? Why not comment and put the records straight!

Feeling the slide at Snetterton

It’s been a short while since Snetterton. Certainly a little longer than it normally takes me to write up my report. I left after Saturday’s race feeling quite down and annoyed with my performance. Some of this eased after Sunday but it’s taken a little while to try and process and work out a plan of action for the rest of the season.

Testing had gone OK. My ultimate pace at the moment isn’t setting the track alight but the car was really balanced and I was feeling good that I could turn in a good lap quickly when it came to qualifying.

When qualifying arrived, the track temperatures had increased and the car was slightly less balanced as a result. Until the end of the qualifying session, I’d not got ‘one in the bag’ having made mistakes or getting caught up in traffic. However, my last lap all came together and I set my best lap time of the weekend by a margin.

Sadly, it was only good enough for 8th place on the grid. But given the time I was expecting, I considered this a bit of a rescue and actually higher than I would have expected.

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Into race one, and the temperatures rose throughout the day. I made a great start to the race and was in 5th place a few corners in. However, I was immediately aware that the car balance was now way off. I struggled with oversteeer from the off and this only got worse as time went by.

This saw the gradual slip from 5th to 11th in a very frustrating 30mins of racing. I don’t care so much about position so long as I feel like the car and I are able to compete. Sadly, I was only able to hold onto the coat tails of people around me. It all left me feeling frustrated.

One of my bonnet catches also came undone part way into the race – which was distracting at times.

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Sunday dawned hotter again that Saturday and I made a tweak to the setup to try and help with the oversteer I’d had on Saturday. I made another storming start and was again in 5th place by the end of the first lap.

I couldn’t keep hold of the front runners but this time, I was able to keep in the mix with others and the front of the race remained in sight.

The higher temperatures seemed to help as others started to suffer. I had a great battle with Dan Gore through the race. I expect Dan felt I was a nuisance to his progress to the front of the field, but the racing was close, fair and generally a pleasure to be part of.

I got close to the 3rd 4th battle but just wasn’t able to get on their pace once their battle settled down.

A mistake 1 lap from the finish left me across the grass at Brundle and stuck in 6th. After the frustration of Saturday, I was much more enthused by the performance. Still not quite where I want to be on ultimate position but closer again.

Onwards to Oulton.

 

Hot and Bothered in Zolder

Zolder holds some great memories from my Roadsport year in 2014. It was a hot hot weekend but I also had one of the most hard fought races to date.

I was therefore looking forward to my return to this iconic Belgian track. With bad flooding all over Europe and with thunderstorms and heavy rain predicted all weekend, I wasn’t too sure what to expect out on track. But with 2 days of testing ahead of the weekend, there was going to be plenty of time to get to grips with the place once more.

As it transpired, the threat of rain disappeared over the weekend and we were left with a hot, sticky weekend on the continent. Unfortunately, hot and sticky seems to be the worst conditions for me and my car at the moment.

The tyres we run overheat and quickly cause the car to become unbalanced. Some drivers seem to cope with this OK but I find it doesn’t suit my driving style at all.

Qualification was damp to begin with but was always going to dry out by the end of the 20 minute session. I set a good banker time early on and had ‘the one that got away’ late on. However, 7th on the grid wasn’t too shabby and I matched my fastest testing times.

However, come race time, the temperatures had risen out on track and a fairly aggressive setup choice meant that as we got under way, it was only a couple of laps into the race before I started to suffer from the tyre related oversteer issues. About half way into the race, the car was also running hot and seemed to suffer with lack of eagerness in 4th gear.

All this saw a gradual slipping down the order throughout the race and an ultimately disappointing 12th place at the flag.

The second race took place in slightly cooler conditions and with a tweaked setup. This did see an improvement in the cars performance, and I was running well early on. However, the rot did eventually set in as the car got hot again and I made silly mistakes trying too hard to defend positions and push to maintain speed.

Again, this saw me dropping down the order and even say a high speed trip across the gravel at one point. Certainly not my finest hour.

I crossed the line a disappointed 11th place.

I said ahead of the year that there would be very little in it across the top 15 or so drivers in the championship this year. Being slightly off the pace means you inevitably finish down the order. Zolder was confirmation of this. Qualification saw the majority of the field covered by a second and in race 2, the top 11 cars were nose to tail at the flag after 30 minutes of frantic racing.

Being in such a competitive field is both a blessing and a curse.

I like Snetterton as a track and we’re headed there next. I’m really hoping that we get some cool weather – dare I even hope for wet conditions! Perhaps unlikely for our July event! But whatever happens, I’ll be out on track, pushing hard as ever.

Taking to the track with the Caterham Academy