Whilst I was away enjoying the Moto GP at Silverstone over the weekend, a nice letter from Tim Ward at Caterham arrived on my mat… asking for money! As upsetting as being asked for a second instalment of £6000 is, it is also exciting! It means that I am now in the region of 12 weeks ahead of receiving my kit.
Weeks are going by fast at the moment, so 12 weeks almost sounds soon!
I made a late decision to go along to the final 2012 sprint event for this years Academy, taking place at Snetterton, in Norfolk. I was very grateful to Jenny Grace at Caterham for sorting me a ticket so late in the day.
I wanted to go along for a few reasons. Firstly, I really wanted to see the Academy setup. How it runs and feels at an event. I’ve been to enough circuit races over the years to know roughly how they run. Sprint races are a slightly different animal.
Secondly, I wanted to meet a chat to a number of different racers from this year to get a feel for the season so far.
Lastly, I just love motorsport in all guises and so, getting to attend a race meet is always fun for me. I’ve never been to Snetterton before, although I’ve seen it on TV many times over the years and even raced around it on simulators. Seeing the track first hand and so getting a feel for the place was also nice.
Firstly, wow – the Academy is huge! There are so many cars, drives and vehicles all around that it’s a bit overwhelming really! At Snetterton, group 1 and 2 were all racing on the same day, so that’s 52 Caterhams, their drivers and their friends/family as well as 2 Caterham support trucks, mechanics, organising team, marshalls and officials.
I arrived ahead of the driver briefing and so got to listen in all day, right from the start. Each driver is given a sequential sprint number and everyone shuffled themselves into a rough and ready queue for final scruteneering and sound checking. There was definitely an air of intensity coming from the drivers. This year, the drivers aren’t allowed to attend test days at the sprint event tracks – however, the Snetterton 100 sprint course is essentially the new infield section of the Snetterton 300 course and some racers had booked themselves onto track days on the 300 to maximise their knowledge.
That showed in the early times, with some of group 2 getting on the pace right from the first practice run. Others needed that practice time! There were some exciting moments out there, some spins, squeals and run-offs!
Over the day, the times for all did drop. Group 2 appears to have a number of very rapid drivers and is around a second ahead of group 1. Speaking to some of the group 2 racers, they were strongly of the opinion that there is no substitute for track time – something that they felt they couldn’t give the same attention as the leading drivers.
I was also put into two minds again about the wiseness of me doing a self build. Most that I asked said that, given their time again, they wouldn’t go through it and they would spend the £3000 to have Caterham do it. The feeling being that it’s fiddly, the build manual isn’t up to scratch and ultimately, getting Caterham to do it will mean you have your car earlier and can therefore get in the driving seat and get the miles on the clock sooner.
At the moment, I want to do it both ways!
As with most events, there is an awful lot of waiting around for each driver, followed by a tiny amount of track action. At sprint events, this is even more exaggerated. With 5 timed runs through the day, each lasting a little over 1 minute! That’s around 6 minutes of driving through the whole day! It’s not a lot. I know what to expect – even race meets are short action bursts followed by long waits, but I got the impression that some drivers were extremely keen to get to the real racing on track to feel like they were getting more out of their time.
In one interesting conversation I had with a group 2 driver, they said they would have been happier with several organised track days at the beginning of the season, with lots of running for all drivers through the day – followed but a couple of timed laps at the end of the day for everyone to add the competitive element. To me, that sounds like a really good idea – I have no idea of the practicality of it or whether it’s possible for 2013 but I think it would get my vote.
I’m very glad I made the effort to go to a sprint event this year. It was a treck to get over to Norfolk but I do think it was worthwhile. The less you have to think about during a race day, the more you can concentrate on the track and the reason you’re there!
I hope to also make it along to to a circuit race at some point this season. I think it might be fun to go to an event where the Academy joins up with all the other Caterham classes (I believe that’s at Rockingham this year but will need to do some investigation! All those Caterhams together really will be a sight to behold!
Ok, so I’ve given myself a break from costing for a while. However, it’s time to get back to it. This time though, these costs would be considered to be optional or at least, semi-optional. They won’t raise my estimated ‘minimum’ cost of racing in he Academy as you can perhaps live without them.
Although the car is supplied with Tillett race seats, many chose to race with a bag seat – a custom made moulded seat.
Reasons for using a bag seat being one or more of the following: sitting lower in the car (or higher); making sure that the helmet is clear of the roll-cage by the amount stipulated in the regulations; comfort and driving position; safety (a bag seat can support the body better in an accident).
It is possible to do a DIY bag seat using a bin liner/survival bag and 2-part expanding foam kit (about 5kg kit). This is cheap – the foam costs about £20-£30. (Here’s some you can buy!) – you then wrap the resultant seat in duct-tape.
However, don’t be surprised if it takes a couple of attempts to get it right. You’ll also need bodies around to help you with the process.
There are more advanced techniques using better quality materials (foam beads and resin mixes inside a special flexible bag). However, these come with additional cost.
You can also get someone to do it for you. I believe that Caterham offer the service for around £250. You’re more likely to get a good result first time and some good advice on position – but that comes at a price.
If you do stick with the Tillett, the I believe it is best practice to pack expanding foam behind the seat to make it stronger.
In the academy, you’re not allowed any form of data logging throughout official events. The one concession on this is a basic lap-timer. Racecentre made T100 (£90 ex VAT) and T200 (£100 ex VAT) are the only ones allowed. Caterham can supply.
Because these devices are so basic, they aren’t really used outside of the Academy. The rest of the Caterham ladder allows more advanced data-logging and therefore don’t be surprised if lots of these devices become available at the end of the previous season!
There are lots and lots of options when it comes to recording your achievements on camera. They stretch from the budget end – say £100, to the Rolls Royce end – £2000. All vary in quality, size and features.
A lot of drivers opt for the GoPro HD (and now the GoPro HD2). At £250 ish, it’s not the cheapest option on the market but it offers big picture quality bang for the buck. It’s also used EVERYWHERE – so there are an absolute tonne of accessories and mounts. It’s light weight and waterproof. The HD2 also offers the capability to live broadcast!
I’ve personally used 2 companies before and had good service from both of them. www.dogcamsport.co.uk – I purchased a Bullet Cam HD Wide (£129) (Here’s some helmet cam footage). www.sport-cam.co.uk – I have an HD Pro from them (£299) (Here’s some on-board footage). Both companies also sell the GoPro.
At the Rolls Royce end, there is the VBox family of cameras. Unlike the lower end cameras, these are real tools. As well as recording footage, they also have the capability to data-log using GPS. Having the video and GPS data means that post testing analysis can be done and directo comparison can be made between your laps and, say, an instructor. You can identify exactly where you are losing time.
However, all this capability comes at a cost. Prices don’t start until just short of £1000 and quickly rise to £2000. That’s a heck of an investment. It is also essential that the data logging is turned off if these cameras are used at official Academy events because the regulations strictly prohibit their use. If you’re tempted, you can find out what they can do and their heft price tags here.
The Academy car is supplied with driver and passenger harness points that are not designed for use with a HANS device.
To correctly use a HANS device so that it can do its job, the upper anchor points for the harness need to be customised for the specific driver.
It is strongly advised by everyone that I’ve spoken to, to wear a HANS device. It costs you money (somewhere between £400/£500), but can you afford not to have one? They are used (and often mandatory) widely across motorsport now due to their effectiveness in helping to prevent serious injury.
Currently, in order to use a HANS device with the Academy car, you need to have the anchor points for the top straps altered. There is only one approved partner that Caterham allow to do this job – Arch Motors, in London – and they have a fee of £200 + VAT to carry out the measurements and chasis amends. Currently, there is a regulation in the rules that stipulates you need the paperwork from Arch Motors to prove that they carried out the work before you will be allowed to run with HANS. (Note: apparently, Caterham are looking at amending this regulation to allow more flexibility for people not close to London – I’ll try and update this post if I find out more.)
You can run the HANS with the standard Caterham supplied harness that comes with the car – although some have said this can be uncomfortable and they have opted for something like this – http://www.msar-safety.com/detail.asp?p=227 to help with comfort.
You can also run with a HANS and the Tillet seat that Caterham supply, although Arch Motors advise that the harness openings in the seat may need to be extended if you are particularly tall or particularly short.
If you are going to go down the ‘bag seat’ route for your car, it is important that this work has been done before visiting Arch Motors. They need you in your final seating position so they can take the correct measurements.
They can accommodate appointments within a couple of days normally and they suggest it takes between 1.5 and 2 hours to complete the work.
Apparently, there is a high quality chocolate shop opposite to get back brownie points for spending all your households money 🙂
The original anchor points will still be present after Arch have done their work, and you can move the straps back to their original positions for road use without the HANS.
It was stated a few times that you would need to remove the roll cage before the work could be done. Removing the rollcage is apparently a pfaff that involves removing the read dampers to get to a bolt… However, this is apparently not the case, as the bolt that holds the harness straps is overly long and can be cut down once your IVA inspection has been passed and you’re road legal.
To insure or not to insure? That’s the question. And it’s one for which I haven’t got all the answers to at the moment. As the idea of this blog is to open up information for potential participants in the Academy, here’s what I’ve found out to date…
So long as enough of the Academy entrants are willing to sign up, there is often a ‘deal’ on the table to cover drivers at the sprint and circuit races for the year. I understand that the price was £1600 for the year. Prices year on year will obviously vary – and I have every confidence that the previous years entrants have more than a slight impact on the kind of deal being offered! Especially if it were their cars doing the impacting!
Hopefully someone will be able to clarify the deal in the comments to this post, but this covers you for £12,000 total damage over the season. However, every claim made comes with a £2000 excess (which also counts towards this £12,000 total insured value). I believe the cover is only for the 4 races and 3 sprint events. No testing or track days are included in the cover.
So, let’s take some scenarios:
Insurance best case:
Your car is damaged to the tune of £12,000 (I hope you’re OK….). Insured, you’re out of pocket £3,600 (premium plus excess) and you’re off and running. Uninsured, you’re looking at £12,000 bill…. for most, that’s unlikely to be met! Likely end of season…
That would be the end of your insurance though, and if you wanted to continue onwards insured, you’d have to re-insure and you can be certain that you’re next premium/excess will be far greater.
Insurance worst case:
If accident damage through the year never exceeds £2,000, you’re always going to be out of pocket for the £1,600 premium and would have been better off not insuring.
In fact, accident damage lower than £3,600 still leaves you behind.
So, as far as the insurance gamble goes, you’re really insuring on a major accident. Or two biggies (say 2 x £5,000). It’s also worst enquiring whether the insurance will cover VAT costs and labour costs. I would imaging most in the Academy won’t be VAT registered for their season, so VAT on a hefty repair bill shouldn’t be left to chance! And labour costs could be major.
A new chasis costs £4,500. Ally paneling costs about £200 per side. Rear panels not far off £100. Floor panels around £120 per side. Nosecone £160. Front wings £50. Rear wings £100. Gearbox around £1,200. Engine – somewhere close enough to £4,000.
If you do have a big one – then you can see how costs will mount quite quickly. If you manage to bend a chasis, then insurance will immediately pay off for you. (As well as having to start your build all over again!)
However, it will be interesting to hear what’s normal from the Academy point of view. It certainly seems that most years have at least one fairly sizeable crash shown on Youtube… But what do most people experience. I guess you can fix a fair amount of damage well within the £3,600 premium + excess costs and multiple minor prangs won’t be covered by insurance.
There are obviously far more variables to consider as well…. for example, you can clearly go and get your own premium and I know some chose to only insure for the track races – taking the gamble on the less risky sprint races.
Then there’s cover to consider for track / test days…
I’m not decided yet. It feels like a deal or no deal ‘banker’ offer that is always just not quite offering what would make it a no-brainer… It would be pretty heart braking to duff up the car beyond your own bank balance and not have any choice but to pull out for the year…
Oh – it’s getting more real now! On Sunday, I was invited along to a Caterham Midlands open day. Although they bribed me with a Formula 1 car and live screening of the F1 Race from Barcelona, all they really needed was to highlight the Hog Roast 🙂 I was there!
There was also the slight matter of the chance to test drive the Academy Car for the first time. I actually got to contort myself into, and drive the car I blindly put my deposit down all those months ago!
The Elise is an extremely responsive car. It feels connected to the road in a way that other ‘normal’ road cars jut don’t. It has very direct and precise steering. On paper, the performance of the Elise against the Academy car isn’t radically different. On that basis, I was expecting to jump into the Caterham and feel pretty at home.
I was taken on the outbound journey by Damian, the Sales manager, and he gave an extremely competent ‘demo’ of the car (grin grin grin). Then, a (not) quick driver change and I got to have a go.
5 meters down the road, I was amazed how different everything feels. As direct and responsive as the Elise is, the Caterham is more so. The smaller steering wheel, significantly lighter weight and the cocoon of the extremely small cockpit really don’t leave anything in-between you, the car and the road. Steering input is even more sensitive and I didn’t get used to this at all in the 5mins or thereabouts of driving. The short throw gear changes also felt nice and crisp. The different perspective you get from driving a car between the rear wheels with a vast bonnet reaching out in front of you was also something that felt completely alien.
It was all over too soon, but it gave me a thirst for more… and although I am going to desperately miss my Elise, I know that the Caterham is going to be a new challenge and offer up as much fun.
On top of the test drive, the day was also a fantastic opportunity to get to meet the Caterham team, some fellow 2013 Academy entrants and have a chat with Porky from the current 2012 season.
There’s a real family atmosphere. Because Caterham isn’t a large organisation – everyone knows everyone and because the car is so specialist, lots of existing owners turned up to show off their toys, mingled and chat.
The carpark, drive and entrance were all completely festooned with Cats of all types. I would say ‘all shapes and sizes’ but that wouldn’t be true! From new to old, £50k to £12k they all look almost identical! Colour is the biggest differentiator – and Cat owners make the most of that.
It feels good to be a part of something – something with a history and with a group of people at Caterham that are setup and ready to deal with all the usual queries, worries and advice that a newbie needs to know. They’ve seen it all before. I’m glad I’ve chosen this route into motorsport. It’s certainly not the cheapest way of getting out on track – but I think it might just be the best.
£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!
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!
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.