Tag Archives: 310R

Down to the last lap

In the lead up to the Championship finale weekend at Silverstone, storm Ali and storm Bronagh were playing their parts in what was already a turbulent and delicately balanced set of variables.

It was apt that the weather was as unsettled and unpredictable as the Championship leaderboard and the lack of certainty was doing nothing to settle the nerves!

You tell yourself, and others, “it’s just another race weekend”. But you know that’s not true. On the cosmological scale, the Caterham Seven 310R Championship is an insignificant blip. But for the competitive spirits that are part of the whole Caterham Motorsport family, it means a lot.

We went into the weekend with three DPR drivers heading the points. Myself, Christian Szaruta and Gordon Sawyer all separated by a few points. With drop scores taken into account, just 2 points split us.

Lee Bristow was the only other driver in the field to be able to take the top spot, but that would require a perfect weekend for his orange machine (certainly not impossible given his speed and consistency), and a disaster to hit in both races for all the DPR drivers (again, not impossible given what was at stake).

Qualification was scheduled for late morning, at about the same time as the storm rain was due to hit. Spits of rain were in the air as we got into assembly and it really wasn’t clear how many laps would be possible before the rain affected grip. As it turns out, it was around 3 laps. Andy Perry managed to ping in a lap for 4th on the grid before spinning into the gravel at Vale. That brought out the yellow flags and effectively ended qualification at that point.

I’d grabbed a 6th place, with just 2/10ths covering the top 6, there’s always the feeling that more was possible! But given the conditions, it was an OK result. Gordon managed a great lap to bag him 2nd on the grid but Christian missed out on a crucial tow in the dry laps at the beginning of the session and ended up 13th.

The weather set in for the afternoon and constant rain made sure the track was absolutely soaked. Not having turned any wet laps at Silverstone all weekend did little to settle the nerves. Neither did the memory of Castle Combe, where Christian and Gordon both out-classed me in the wet. Being in 6th also meant being right in the middle of all the action at the start. To keep the championship alive, I needed to make sure Gordon didn’t get a break off the front of the group.

My clutch foot was doing a nervous jig as we waited for the lights and it was quite amazing that I managed to hook up a great launch. With a little manoeuvring, I got to turn 2 in 2nd place with Gordon out front. Andy Perry briefly managed to get ahead with a very brave move into Stowe on lap 1 but he couldn’t quite hold it together and I managed to regain 2nd by Vale.

There was then a settling in period where I could tell Gordon and myself were pulling clear of the chase pack and I was gradually learning where all the grip was. Gordon did start to pull a gap, but whereas at Castle Combe, this was due to a lack of pace on my part, here I knew I was comfortable and happy to wait. 

On more than one occasion, the marshals put their own lives on the line to push cars out of dangerous positions in the gravel. On many other weekends, there would have been multiple safety car periods in the race and it’s only down to those brave men and women in orange that we were able to fight out the championship with no interruptions and no reduction in the lead gap over the pack.

Around 10 minutes into the race, the gap back to the chase pack had grown a lot and I felt more at home in the soaked conditions, so I pushed on and fairly quickly closed the gap to Gordon. However, closing was easy compared to getting by. There was a ‘slightly less wet’ line around most of the track which was giving up all the grip. Off this line, there were puddles and a lower level of grip. Therefore, Gordon just had to remain on line and an overtake would be all but impossible. 

I managed to get briefly in front going down hanger straight but was left on the wet track and Gordon took the lead back again comfortably. I almost went to the outside of Gordon when pulling out of the slip stream as there was JUST a cars width available. That could well have got me the place, but it would have been highly risky and I think caution was probably the correct approach.

I was also getting a little frustrated at track limits around this time. In the morning briefing, we had been told that they would be enforcing track limits on the corner out onto hanger straight. There’s a curb out in the middle of the track, put there for the MotoGP racers, and we were told that we weren’t allowed to go over the green part of that curb. Gordon had consistently taken a wide line over the curb and I was trying my best to keep it all inside, which was costing me time onto hanger straight. However, no warnings were issued and no penalties given. 

It wasn’t then long before the back markers came into play. With visibility virtually zero at times, it was always going to be hard to check they had seen you coming through and also that they had clocked it wasn’t one of their own rivals. A little caution on my part and catching some tail enders in bad places meant I dropped away from Gordon and didn’t have any time to pull it back for a last lap attempt for the win.

So, 2nd place over the line and a fastest lap by 0.6s meant that I had a 1 point lead over Gordon going into the final race. Christian had made an absolutely epic comeback drive to make it to 4th place (see previous comments about how impossible it was to overtake…) and with Alan Cooper sticking it in 3rd place, that was a 1,2,3,4 for DPR Motorsport. Amazing result.

Sunday dawned and the weather looked like more of the same, with constant rain and overcast skies. However, the forecast had changed over night and the rain was due to fade by lunchtime. With our race due on track at 14:30, it was going to be a nail biter on whether the circuit would dry and therefore what tyres / setup to apply to the car.

Changes were being made right up until the cars left for the formation lap. I’d chosen dry tyres but softened the car off one step all round. Going to the grid, I could tell that the fully dry setup would have been the way to go, but there’s nothing that could be done about it and the car was still in a good spot.

To make what was already a nerve racking start to begin with even more so… the lights failed. After a couple of attempts to get them working, we were sent on another green flag lap. We were then started using the drop of the Union Flag… that’s another first for me! 6 years into this hobby and still new things are thrown at you every time.

Being on the dry side of the circuit meant I got a flying start compared to Gordon. I even pulled a gap to the chasing field. However, it was always going to be an impossible task to keep the gap far enough to break any tow and, sure enough, down Hanger Straight, Christian had passed me by the time we reached Stowe corner.

It wasn’t in his best interest to try and break away from the field, and so from that moment on, I knew it was going to be a long hard race.

Not too long into the race, Gordon had caught and passed me as well an we traded places a few times. Again, there was a small chance we were going to break away from the chase group but Lee Bristow and Tom Grensinger continued their end season charge to the front and it was a pack of 4 changing spots.

Around 1/3 of the way into the race, a change of places let Gordon slip the group very slightly. This gap then began to slowly grow. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have quite the speed to make any impact when it was my time at the front to try and claw back Gordon and Lee and Tom were not necessarily as interested in doing that as I was!

It was a race long battle between the three of us. Hard and epically close as ever around this fast track. As the race was drawing to its conclusion, I briefly took 2nd place and promptly tried too hard to make up time on Gordon, actually costing myself and slipping to a very disappointing 4th place when the flag waved.

It was such a disappointing end to the weekend for me. I’d been properly beaten by Gordon on both days. He’d pulled it out the bag and shown a clean pair of heals when he needed to.

Heading into Parc Ferme though, everything changed. It transpired that Gordon had received a 5 second penalty for track limits infringement. And that had slipped his position behind me. I’d got a 3rd place and 4th place for Gordon meant I’d won then Championship!

Utter, utter, disbelief ensued. I hadn’t spotted the warnings / penalty notice for Gordon and what I thought was Lee / Tom settling for 2nd was actually them knowing that Gordon wasn’t a factor in the race so long as they kept within 5 seconds. 

I can’t explain the feelings. I’m still trying to process them. There was a tidal wave of congratulations from so many people in the pit lane that I still can’t take it all in. Wow. Just wow.

I can now say that I am 2018 Caterham Seven 310R Champion and, boy, does that feel good.

It’s been another ridiculously close year of racing. Remaining friends with the people you race so hard against isn’t overly common in such a competitive environment. However, I think we’ve done it. One last hoorah at the awards evening in a months time to really let the hair down and enjoy the moment.

I may be the one that is lucky enough to drive the car when the racing starts but even at this level, there’s a whole army of people that are right there, helping me do that to the best of my ability.

DPR Motorsport have been by my side since the very start of my Caterham racing experience. They have gone so far beyond the call on so many occasions that I just can’t thank them all enough. It’s a debt I hope has been helped by finally bringing home the big trophy 6 years after we started. Ben Clucas, Darren Burke and Dave Robinson have all helped my point the car in the right direction at one time or another.

The people I race against month on month change occasionally, but they all share the same passion and the same drive. And the whole year has gone by with so little friction that it’s testimony to the respect that everyone has for each other.

There are too many people to mention from the Caterham team individually but Simon, Abi, Lucy, Kirsty, Darren and crew make the paddock and the racing experience better and better year on year.

In how may other motorsport paddocks around the world does the championship photographer play such a pivotal part in so many drivers weekends? Jon Bryant (SnappyRacers) is motivator, friend, bloody good at photography and not a shabby racer himself.

Friends and family, who support me, pick me up, dust me off and kick me up the butt to get out there again. Thank you! Hanging around in car parks over a weekend where you could be doing something far more productive is dedication and forever appreciated.

Finally, Mum and Dad. My chief mechanics; pit crew; sounding boards; administration team. My rocks. They are the engine that’s helped me to this win. I can’t thank them enough.

I’m so happy we could all bring this one home together and so many people got to share this dream that’s been 6 long years in the making.

Cheesy out.

Thruxton Thriller

I don’t think I’ve ever been at a race weekend that could be described as boring, however, Thruxton was the complete opposite. An absolute roller coaster of a weekend with high highs and low lows.

Due to noise limits, the race ‘weekend’ actually started on Wednesday with an early track day, so I was stationed in Andover for an extended period of time.

The Championship was very tightly poised going into the weekend and so the pressure was on to produce a strong set of results to keep in the running for the overall Championship trophy.

DPR Motorsport had a different driving coach on the truck this weekend as Darren Burke was racing at Silverstone. It’s always interesting having a new view of your racing style and I spent the majority of Friday testing tweaking my technique, trying new things as well as resurrecting techniques that I’ve lost over time. It all came together, just in time, during the last session of testing.

Could I put it all together in qualification the following morning? Well, ‘not really’ was the answer. It was a pretty diabolical qualification session to be honest. An early lap wasn’t anything particularly special but unfortunately, with a whole lot of drivers abandoning laps, parking on apexes and generally easing back to create gaps, I never got another lap together and it was only good enough for 9th on the grid. My worst performance ever I think.

With Christian and Gordon on the front row, I was left with a lot to do in race 1 to keep the championship alive. However, the huge tow on offer at Thruxton meant that it wasn’t the end of the world.

I held position early in the race. Roughly 8 laps passed before I began to make progress above 8th place. However, through the middle part of the race I did start ticking off places to move into the top 4.

There was a settling in period where positions for the top five cars regularly changed lap by lap. This routine was broken with around 4 laps to go, when Gordon out braked himself going into the last chicane and span. This also compromised Christian and the chasing pack and so Lee Bristow and myself pulled clear. It looked like it could be enough of a gap but unfortunately, the chase pack did get back in contention with a lap to go.

It was therefore a fight with five cars on the final lap of the race. It was always going to be a lottery and on the way through the final chicane I found myself in 2nd place, just behind Christian. However, the race wasn’t quite over as Christian made the dreaded 2nd to 5th gear mis-change on the way out of the chicane. I JUST squeezed past the slowing car and took the win, ahead of David Yates, with Christian coming home in 3rd.

I couldn’t believe it. It’s not over until the fat lady sings – and Christian was singing merrily away out of the final corner. I did feel a BIT bad but, heck, that gear change mistake has cost me a lot this year as well.

It was brilliant to see David Yates on the podium. I’ve been racing David for 6 years and this was his first podium. He’s threatened many times and has been getting closer and closer this year. So it’s great that he finally made it all stick and held it together.

I had lots of friends and family down for the weekend, so it was another amazing post race feeling sharing the win with everyone. I really don’t do this alone and it’s so rewarding to be able to reward all the help and support from friends, family and DPR Motorsport.

Half the race weekend done then and a fantastic start. But there was still half a job to do.

I got a good enough blast off the line in race 2, enough to be leading around the first part of the lap. And the early part of the race went largely to plan. The standard drop of places every other lap at the chicane, then picking them back again a lap later.

It looked as though things had settled a bit in the race and there was even a chance that the front pack of four were slightly pulling clear of the chasing pack. Certainly, the chicane started to calm down and was generally under control, rather than a complete madhouse.

However, any hopes that this would continue was scuppered by contact lower down in the field, causing big car damage and enough carnage to require a safety car. At the time, I was in second place behind Christian and at the restart, things got going again and, of course, the chicane turned into a madhouse once more.

With only 5 minutes remaining the tactics of where to be in the queue of cars started. I managed to get to 4th place on the final lap, which is where I was aiming for to get the super tow. However, everyone did a good job of getting themselves in a position where they could win the race and at the chicane, the pack went in 6 wide.

It was never likely to come off without a hitch and sadly, I had contact with Tom Grensinger, who had slightly outbraked himself and his recovery line through the chicane clashed with my more natural line. It resulted in a spin for me and by the time I’d fired up the engine once more, I was left down in 15th place over the line.

Really not the end to the race I’d hoped for and also one that uses up a ‘get out of jail free’ card with the drop scores we have in the championship. I could really have done with a podium to make things slightly more comfortable going into the final round at Silverstone.

That being said, once drop scores are taken into account, I actually go into the final meeting ahead by 1 point to Christian and 2 points ahead of Gordon.

It’s always been heading towards a crichendo and it’s only fitting that we won’t have an outcome until the last lap of the last race of the season. I am extremely hopeful that we can get this whole thing sorted out with some brilliant racing at Silverstone. It’s what this season deserves.

Knockhill 2018 – Rounds 3 and 4

Knockhill, Scotland, is a long way to travel for a race weekend. In fact, it takes longer than our annual European trip to get to! However, the Circuit has an absolutely stunning location with a backdrop to rival Mugello in Italy.

The forecast for the weekend was mixed and we arrived in miserable rainy conditions on Wednesday. It looked like it would be more of the same throughout the 4 days but come Thursday morning, the sun was out and the temperatures were rising.

I would go so far as to say it got positively balmy in the sun on Friday and was tropical by Saturday.

Testing had gone well. I’m running with DPR Motorsport this season and the team sorted me out a good setup and I’d gradually found good speed over the Thursday and Friday test sessions. Championship leader and DPR teammate Gordon Sawyer was running exceptionally well all weekend but I wasn’t far behind.

Knockhill is only 1.3 miles long and with 34 runners over the weekend in the Caterham 310R Championship , the track was extremely busy. It was hard to string the perfect lap together but I got a couple of reasonable bankers in place before saving the best for a last lap wonder. 2nd on the grid, a couple of 10ths behind Gordon was the end result.

Even though the Race didn’t start until after 5pm, temperatures were still very high. A reasonable get away was a bit scuppered by an absolutely lightening start from Alan Cooper from 3rd on the grid. I had to yield to him as he shot up the inside of turn 1. I slotted into 3rd place. A massive lockup going into turn 1 on the second lap saw Alan slide down the order but I god distracted by the massive plumes of smoke and also missed my apex. That let Lee Bristow onto my tail and we had a few laps of close battling before Alan recovered from his earlier issues and came back to join in the fun.

Gordon Sawyer had checkout out ahead and was pulling away. A combination of raw pace and the fact that Alan, Lee and myself were battling hard. We all shared out the places over the coming laps but I made a mistake coming out of the last corner at a critical point and Alan and Lee pulled away gradually.

Back markers made things highly fraught in the second half of the race but I just wasn’t able to make a significant impact on Lee and Alan. 4th was the result over the line. Whilst that’s not bad thing, I have to say I was a touch disappointed that silverware wasn’t possible.

The morning of Sunday was absolutely soaking wet. Heavy rain over night had lingered on and so the track was soaked as we drove across the hillside roads to the track.

However, our race was not until lunchtime so there was plenty of time for things to get sunnier, warmer an drier. And indeed, this happened.

As race time arrived, the track was bone dry and we at least had the consistency of knowing what to expect rather than the proposition of learning a track in the wet whist trying to race.

Off the line, I made a great getaway. This time, Alan Cooper was boxed in and so had nowhere to take his super speed. The result was getting from 4th to 2nd off the line. A quick peek in the mirrors saw that Christian Szaruta had made an epic start from 7th to 3rd. I stuck with Gordon through the early parts of the race and working together, it looked like we were going to get a gap. Indeed, to nearly everyone we dod. However, Alan Cooper made his way past Szaruta and then bridged the gap to Gordon and myself over a number of laps.

As soon as Alan arrived, I had to start defending and this let Gordon pull another race winning gap. I stuck with Alan for the majority of the race, although he had a touch more speed than me. A missed gear by him later in the race left me thinking that 2nd was possible, but then some unfortunate back marker encounters meant I dropped back once more.

Lee Bristow was looming ominously in my mirrors. However, I saw him coming and by the time I’d put a few more back markers between us and got my head down for some fast laps, that threat faded.

Into Parcferme in 3rd place then. However, track limits infringements against Alan Cooper saw him receive a 15 second penalty and 3rd changed to 2nd. I feel bad for Alan on losing a well earned 2nd place but I’m not giving it back, that’s for sure!

After the slight disappointment of 4th in race 1, 2nd was a brilliant result.

Gordon is on fire over the opening part of the season and is the man to catch. 2nd in the Championship is all to play for. I expected nothing less than close, competitive racing and that’s what we’ve got.

Next up is Brands Hatch in June. A scene of highs and lows for me! Looking forward to it though and maybe I can sneak another step up the podium for the next one.

Snetterton 2018 – Rounds 1 and 2

A new season starting is always an exciting proposition. For me, it’s the first time that I’ve started a race weekend in another car from the one I built back in 2012.

The Caterham 310R is not a radically different animal from the Supersport we waved goodbye to in 2017 but additional engine grunt and a different gearbox mean that things feel subtly different.

I would normally settle for a single day testing at a track I am as familiar with as Snetterton, however with only one shake down run in the new car in the off season, I decided to go for 2 days testing ahead of the racing. I’m glad I did as a gearbox issue on the first day of testing meant that I didn’t get track time on Friday morning whilst a new one was slotted in.

Qualification was a reasonable affair but the vital nature of a tow around the track and my relative lack of knowledge on competitors and their speed meant that it took a while to put a whole lap together correctly. The end result was sixth. Far from shabby, especially given that the 310R grid is stacked with race and championship winning talent. However, it would have been nice to be just a touch higher up the order, especially given my two DPR teammates were on the front row together.

On the first race start, I went from 2nd gear to 5th gear accidentally. That robbed me of momentum and I slipped a little down the order. However, the first attempted start didn’t last long and a red flag meant a full restart.

On the restart I hooked everything up well and after a couple of bungles starts by other front runners, I found myself following Gordon Sawyer and Christian Szaruta out front.

Their pace had been good all weekend and I clung onto their coat tails for all I was worth in the early stages and we eventually pulled out a comfortable gap back to 4th place.

I was happy to sit in tow for the majority of the race keeping everything under control and maintaining the tyres as best I could in hot weather. Come the last 5 minutes the racing got a touch more frantic and come the last corner, I was right on the tail of the leaders with a great run up towards the line. However, another bungled 2nd to 5th gear change saw me drop off and have to watch as they crossed the line ahead.

A podium is a great finish to any race, especially the first one of the season and even more so when in a new car. It was also a fantastic result for the DPR team with a 1,2,3 so a great job by everyone to start the season in the best possible way. There was also the tantalising prospect of higher steps of the podium had I not made some errors along the way.

Race 2 the following day and at the start, the dreaded 2nd to 5th gear cockup happened again. The new gearbox has a subtly different action from the old one Supersport one and under pressure situations, where the mind is pre-occupied with many other factors – I reverted back to the old style and fumbled. Again, this saw me drop places and I was in 5th place around the first lap.

It wasn’t long before this slipped again to 6th place. I wasn’t able to properly attack the group but hung on well and the 6 cars all moved away from the following pack quite comfortably.

At the end of the race, I made a strong push to gain a couple of placed but sadly, the race was cut short by a red flag and so I crossed the line in 6th.

Whilst I was firmly with the front pack and had a podium the day before, I still wanted more from this opening round. With other, unfamiliar, tracks on the calendar this year, it was always going to be important to make hay while the Norfolk sun shone. Having said that, the points were good and other Championship hopefuls suffered far worse.

Next up is Knockhill in Scotland. My first trip up across the border and one I am looking forward to.

A new beginning

For everyone at the Academy Seminar in Crawley over the weekend, the 2018 season must be becoming more of a reality after the long months of waiting and anticipation.

It’s been a bit like that for me as well. Since June, I have’t been racing and I’ve missed it. I now have a Caterham 310R in the garage and it won’t be long before I get out on track again, ready to make a return for the 2018 season.

It was great to meet the class of 2018 and to talk to some of the new intake and it was gratifying to hear that people still read this blog and that it’s a great source of information and motivation for those looking to get into racing.

People were asking if the site will continue to be updated as it’s all gone rather quiet since the accident. And the answer is – of course! The entry fees, testing fees, licence renewals, testing dates and hotel bookings are all starting to come in now, so the financial commitment is already well under way.

Next up for me is the 2017 end of year Awards Dinner. A chance to see the year off in style and say goodbye to those heading off for new adventures and to get the banter going with those who will be my new found frenemies on track.

Stay tuned to the blog and the YouTube channel. There’s certainly more to come and, for those who love to follow along with my races, normal service will be resumed shortly.