Caterham Midlands Open Day

Caterham Midlands Showroom
Caterham Midlands Showroom

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 ūüôā 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.

Academy Cars on hand for test drives
Academy Cars on hand for test drives

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.

Nick Portlock (Porky) and his Academy Car
Nick Portlock (Porky) was on hand with his Academy car and plenty of chat and banter. Answered an absolute tonne of questions and was invaluable to both prospective and signed up alike.

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.

Any colour you like
Any colour you like

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.

Here’s hoping!

Tow ball done

£345 fitted inc VAT and I have a tow ball ready for the trailer.

The Elise is being pampered at the moment and will be polished within an inch of it’s life geting ready for sale. The warm weather isn’t any good for plants at the moment, but if it continues, it could be great for selling a convertible!

Fingers crosses…

Also good to see some other Academy racers coming by the site. It would be brilliant if comments were left to see how my cost estimations are going? Are they accurate?

This in-between stage is hard to live with at the moment. I can’t get on track as I’m saving every penny at the moment and it’s still a long way off to the build. I’m sure time will scream by though. Especially as there are 2 payment stages in-between now and then!

One final update is that I’m going to speak to Caterham about sorting myself a visit to see options and test drive a 7! Buying a car without having sat in it or driven it is a bit barmy!

Useful links and resources…

There are some great resources out online – and the source for much of the information that has been collated here.

First step for any Academy entrant (or any other entrant to the Caterham Motorsport ladder is the main motorsport website and also the community forum.

Main Caterham Motorsport Website:

Main Caterham Motorsport Forum:

There are also some great blogs that have been put together by prior competitors to the Academy which document their builds and their seasons progress.

Often these same competitors are also active on the community forum, so they are a great resource to find out the information you really need when considering taking part.

They know what it took to build and compete in their respecitve seasons!

Academy Competitor Blogs

  • Mike Hart Racing¬†– Documents build and competition through 2010 Caterham Academy
  • Racing Fox Blog – Document build of 2010 Caterham Academy car and competition through a championship winning season, and then on into another winning championship in Caterham Roadsport B.
  • Tim Abbott Racing – 2010 season blog
  • Joel Wymer Blog – Racing13 2010 build and competition blog. Also Roadsport B during 2011.
  • Torminator – Build blog and build up to the 2012 season

Racing gear

Next up to haunt the balance sheet is racing gear. It’s an area that you really don’t want to be scrimping on either. However, there’s also no reason to go completely overboard either.

Safety equipment all has to confirm to standards and you should look at those standards rather than the price tag as an indication of being suitable for purpose.

I intend to visit Grand Prix Racewear ( based at Silverstone once the car is built to make sure I get to try on everything. Up until then, here are the rough budgets for equipment:

  • Race suit: ¬£400
  • Fireproof vest,¬†long-johns, socks, balaclava: ¬£140
  • Helmet: ¬£500
  • HANS: ¬£425
  • Boots: ¬£120
  • Gloves: ¬£50
  • Gumshield: ¬£30

Another ¬£1305 to add to our total. You could go way more here, especially if you’re brand concious. You could also go less if completely frugal and willing to be a brand mongrel.

The remaining costs that I haven’t yet covered are running costs (petrol, accommodation, brake pads incidentals), insurance, accident damage, track testing, tuition and a few optional extras, like a lap timer and on-board cameras. I think at this stage, I’ll leave them. Firstly to give myself a break from the reality of how expensive motorsport is but also as I don’t have figures to put against some of those items.

For the record, we’re now at a running total of somewhere between ¬£25.5k to ¬£32k.


Hidden costs

Again, at the moment, this information is all gleaned from the web and asking questions. I hope to update it with reality, once I’ve been through it! My pain will be others gain.

So, we’ve established that you’re looking at a bill between ¬£22k and ¬£24k for the car and it’s options. However, it doesn’t stop there. You need tooling to bolt the thing together, somewhere to build it, somewhere to store it, fluids to get the thing ready to start and then, the reality is, that you likely need a trailer and paraphernalia¬†to get it to race meetings and to keep it running while you’re there.

Let’s start with a trailer. Now, it is possible to drive your car to the race meet; race; and then drive back home. Which sounds great and if you’re local to a track, is viable as I understand it. However, with races as dispersed as Liverpool, Castle Combe and Brands Hatch, you can see that the distances mean you’ll likely not want to do this unless absolutely necessary. A lot of people, therefore, opt to trailer their car up to events.

Looking around, it appears that Brian James Trailers (specifically the Minno Max at¬†¬£1,779+VAT new ¬£900 – ¬£1200 second hand) and PRG Trailers (Specifically the MiniSporter (¬£4,350+VAT new around ¬£3,300 – ¬£3,800 second hand) are popular choices. Both can, apparently, fit inside a standard garage. If you only have a driveway, then a good second hand covered trailer is perhaps the best backup. Hiring a garage varies by you’re location, but looks to be around ¬£14 – ¬£20 per week (¬£700 – ¬£1000 per year).

Tooling and fluids sound insignificant – but from one blog I read from back in 2004, you can attract fairly high costs here as well. They documented nearly ¬£650, although if you have a decent tool set already, this would be reduced a lot. Looking through the list, there are around ¬£220 of kit that you’re unlikely to have unless you already tinker/work on cars. However, if you have no tooling already, then ¬£650 isn’t far off the mark from the looks of it.

Although Caterham claim that a single set of tyres will last the season, and this is backed up by comment, this doesn’t account for additional road based and track based driving that you will want to do between events and ahead of the season. The consensus appears to be to have one set that you use specifically for the Academy racing and another set that go on at other times. This keeps the Academy tyres in good enough shape should it rain at any event (so you’ve got some tread left) and are also road legal at the end of the event (part of regulations I believe). The tyres themselves (Avon CR322) are not expensive, at ¬£51 per corner. A spare set of wheels to put the tyres on are roughly ¬£120 a corner new. (You need to make sure you buy the correct wheel/tyre as the regulations for the Academy are tightly controlled.

So, where does that leave us?

If you’ve got most of the tools already and don’t require a trailer, then ¬£330 is should see you get the car filled with fluids and a spare set of tyres.

If you need a trailer, want a spare set of wheels/tyres to be able to swap and don’t have the full set of tools required, then you’re could easily be looking at an additional cost of between ¬£2100 and ¬£5000.

We’re still not done with money yet unfortunately. Next up is racing gear – helmets/suits and the like. We’ll save that for the next post.


Confirmation letter

I received my confirmation letter through the post yesterday. Includes my receipt and invoice for the deposit and also a covering letter explaining my expected build slot of September 2012 and also the schedule of payments to be taken.

Essentially, the second deposit of £6000 is due 12 weeks ahead of the build slot, so June/July time for me. The final balance gets taken just ahead of delivery and obviously varies based on the options you take up.

The sooner you enter, the earlier you get your car. To date, I know that there are at least 17 people entered into the Academy (so that’s half the first grid filled even before this years Academy takes to the track!)

Options, options everywhere

The Academy package is fairly well defined in the car you are getting and the specification of the major components. At the time of writing, you are signing up to buy a Caterham Roadsport with:

  • Caterham Academy Car1.6l Ford Sigma Engine running at 125bhp
  • 5 speed gearbox
  • 13″ Avon CR322 Academy Tyres
  • Lowered floors
  • Composite Race seats and harnesses
  • Race safety (full roll cage, plumbed in fire extinguisher and battery master switch)
In addition to the car, your money goes towards the ‘Academy Race Package’. This consists of:
  • ARDS Race Licence test and medical
  • Technical seminar
  • Setup day
  • Circuit test day
  • Car control clinic
  • Entry/Registation to 7 race rounds (3xSprint, 4xCircuit)
  • Timing transponder
  • Circuit guides
  • Head/Arm restraints

This spec doesn’t really change from year to year. The price just goes up – normally by ¬£1000 or so! At the time of writing, the base spec costs ¬£20,495 inc (self-build) or ¬£23,495 inc (factory build).

In addition to the base spec, my trawl around the net and speaking to the sales representative, the additional options that are considered important for the Academy are:

  • Push button start (if you stall on track, you don’t want to be desperately finding the key to turn.) (¬£55 inc)
  • Momo, quick release steering wheel¬†(¬£300 inc)

The sales guy also said he recommends the weather pack, which includes doors, hood and heated windscreen (£510 inc).

From what I’ve read around blogs to date, some people opt to just run side doors for aero efficiency. Also, a lot of the cars on the grid go for the plain aluminium body with coloured composites (nose cone and wheel arches). This means that if you want to stand out a little more on track, it’s a good idea to take up the pained body option. There are differing paint options from basic paint schemes (¬£1,150 inc) to Delux paint schemes (¬£1,950 inc). You can have a bonet stripe and nosecone band added if you want (¬£275 inc) or just a noseband (¬£105 inc).

I have read that the paint adds roughly 4lbs of weight to the car. As the Academy runs a minimum car weight, this isn’t likely to be an issue unless a) you’re over 90kgs and b) are really that good you can notice an additional 4lbs when circulating the track!

One thing to bear in mind is that race support only carry spares in black. Therefore, if you lose a wheel arch out on track, you’ll be left with an odd corner on your car if you’re not already running black composites!

There are viable car wrapping options available now – which help eliminate the stone chip problem. I haven’t looked into the cost of this for a Caterham.

I understand that the Tonneau cover is useful when the weather gets bad. (£180 inc).

Two additional costs to bear in mind.

Delivery is based on your location in relation to the Caterham Factory. I don’t have a full breakdown, but I believe the minimum cost is in the region of ¬£100 and my delivery radius of about 40mins south of the M25 was ¬£240.

IVA inspection, road tax, registration fees and number plates also have to be covered. If you have a factory built car, you can opt for a £535 option to include all these. Self-builders are likely to see a bill in the region of £800 to get all these boxes ticked.

So, in conclusion, the reality of the Academy is:

  • An absolute minimum of ¬£21,395 inc (self build) and ¬£24,130 inc (factory build).
  • A more likely cost of ¬£21,950 inc (self) and ¬£24,635 inc (factory)
  • If you go for basic paint scheme and the options most seem to opt for ¬£23,790 inc (self) ¬£26,475 inc (factory)

Next post will go on to look at additional equipment costs! We’re not quite done with money yet!

Aims for this blog

So, I’ve put the deposit down for the Caterham Academy 2013. It seems an awfully long way off at the moment. The 2012 season hasn’t even started yet!

Caterham Academy Logo

However, I have set up this blog to record my experiences of entering the championship, building the car and of running the car through the 7 rounds.

I want to document this time for my own gratification. I’ve been waiting a long time to get to the point where I race on track and the build up to this experience is just as important for me as the action will be when the lights go out.

Secondly, I’ve spent a while, so far, trawling around the net for blogs and information on the Academy. As ever, there is an initial thirst for information and I have to say that, although there is information out there, it’s not all in once place and is often not up to date. Even the downloadable order form on the main Caterham website isn’t up to date!

There are some build diaries hanging around from back in 2003/4 that contain really interesting and useful pointers and tips. However, there is absolutely nothing to say that these tips/experiences are even relevant any more.

The plan is therefore to combine and present good resources that I find/uncover/ask Caterham/ask the community about, along with my own experiences and, fingers crossed, end up with something that will help others in a similar position, or indeed those looking to get themselves involved.

Once each stage of the process is complete – prepare; build; practice; compete – I want to go back and make note of anything that I would have done differently given the time again.

I want to also document the costs that this seasons racing attracts, including the running costs of taking part all year. This information just isn’t available out in the wild on the net. You get snippets here and there, but you have to take a bit of a blind leap into racing and hopefully, I can reveal a real world experience.

There doesn’t currently appear to be a central community for Caterham Academy racers. I can see that there are fractured past websites. But they look out dated and unloved. ¬†Perhaps more time searching around will uncover a gem of a community that I can share and get involved in.

Taking to the track with the Caterham Academy