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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.

2015 Caterham Motorsport Preview

We’re now over half way through the LONG winter off season. That means attention is now firmly planted on another year of Caterham Motorsport.  And it looks like it’s going to be a bumper season across all the 5 official championships.

Caterham Academy

The Caterham Academy have already had their first get together, attending the opening seminar so the Caterham team can pass on vital information for the upcoming year. It’s also the first opportunity for the competitors to have a look at the faces that will become all too familiar over the coming years racing!

Some of the class of 2015 have already been out on track, getting in some early practice and the remaining contenders won’t be far behind now. Will this early practice help when the real racing begins? Only time will tell – and that’s the beauty of the Caterham Academy Championship. Everyone goes in with a blank slate and it’s not always the obvious choices that come out on top of the pile.

Some of the class of 2015 have been out practicing. Will this help when the real racing begins? Only time will tell.

The opening sprint events don’t always offer a final representation of racing form, so it won’t be until Rockingham in June that things will slowly begin to play out.

Caterham Roadsport

A good portion of the 2014 Caterham Academy are taking the step up to the Caterham Roadsport championship. The two previous years Academy groups being combined to form one large grid.

There were 3 standout drivers across the 2 Academy groups in 2014 and Olly Wigg and Al Calvert will certainly be looking to continue their fierce rivalry. Their two cars were rarely apart through their first year and although Al eventually came out on top, Olly will be looking to remedy the situation after penalty points at Croft put paid to his impressive championship campaign.

Olly Wigg and Al Calvert will certainly be looking to continue their fierce rivalry. Their two cars were rarely apart through their first year

David Webber had it all his own way in his Academy group with nobody able to mount a consistent threat to his dominance. Paul Aram was often next along with Rob Ryder also featuring well. However, the final non-championship races at Silverstone last year, where both groups combined into one grid, left David Webber in the unusual position of looking at the back of cars and things didn’t go his own way. He’s certainly now got to prove whether he’s up to the task of fighting wheel to wheel for 20 minutes at a time. Can he take the pressure?

The longer race format and the double headers are also new to the Roadsporters and require a slightly more measured mentality to maintain consistency. Perhaps that will see some of the other front runners from 2014 moving up higher. Often, the time-gaps through the grid reduce dramatically in Roadsport and with the grippier tyres and stiffer setup on offer, some who didn’t get along with the more flexible Academy car will start to shine more.

David Webber had it all his own way in his Academy group with nobody able to mount a consistent threat to his dominance.

Anthony Barnes showed some good pace on occasion on a very limited testing schedule. Peter Rimer ended the season with a podium at Silverstone and if only he can stop getting caught up in other peoples accidents, he could yet move forward. Ben Wigg featured heavily at the front by the end of the year and will certainly be aiming for Wiggy one twos. Duncan Higgins could feature if he can keep consistent, rather than the boom / bust he suffered through 2014.

When Graham Williams and Steve McCulley continued to point the right way on track, they also made some rapid progress. Tarrant and Gascoyne-Day will likely be aiming to keep up the solid results and perhaps find the half second or so needed to keep in touch.

It will be fun to watch the progress from the banks and hear the stories in the bar afterwards.

Caterham Tracksport

Nearly all the 2014 Caterham Roadsport group are making the step up to Tracksport for 2015. With Will Smith jumping up to the Caterham Supersport category, there will be some more podium spots up for grabs this year. However, there are some new additions to the paddock, with Christian Szaruta and the father-son combo of Mike and Steve Evans sticking in the Tracksport category for a second year.

It was Jack Sales that ultimately won out, with a stunning tail end to the season after a ricky start to proceedings.

The  lead pack regularly consisted of 10 cars during the Roadsport year. That leaves the exciting proposition of a pack of 12 possible winners for each and every race through 2015. And that’s assuming that someone in the midfield doesn’t suddenly make a jump forward.

2014 saw some tremendous battles and with the opening 4 races of the year resulting in 4 different winners, the year was always set to be close. However, it was Jack Sales that ultimately won out, with a stunning tail end to the season after a ricky start to proceedings.

Chris Hutchinson was rarely off the podium in 2014 but the top step remained elusive, with the only win of the year not being awarded on track, but instead in the scruteneering bay as Henry Heaton’s car was found to be outside of tolerance on the front camber.

Henry will be looking to come back stronger than ever in 2015. After the dream opening round at Snetterton turned sour and fortune didn’t favour him at Donington, his season was over almost before it had started. However, he is extremely rapid and always played a role at the front of the grid.

If early testing is anything to go by, Dan Gore is already enjoying the new spec. car and is turning in hugely impressive lap times.

Dan Gore finally put the pieces of the puzzle together at Brands Hatch last year. He’s always featured in races at the front, but never seemed able to dot the final ‘i’ or cross the final ‘t’. A dramatic turnaround at the end of the season saw Dan pushing for the lead on multiple occasions and really started to look like a contender. If early testing is anything to go by, he’s already enjoying the new spec. car and is turning in hugely impressive lap times.

Lee Bristow also had a stella 2014, pushing the lead on multiple occasions. Often times on the wrong end of an incident which put paid to his overall championship chances but his car control and harassing and continuous pressure on the cars in front of him will ultimately see more wins come his way.

Of the other 2014 Roadsport contenders making the jump to Tracksport, Tim Dickens was often a podium contender through 2014 and downright rapid on occasion. Will he be able to keep it on the track all year and finally take that deserved win at some point? Max McDonagh, James Houston and Richard Osgerby strongly positioned themselves in the front pack and all had shots a podiums. However, it was only Max that managed to convert, at Rockingham. They will all be looking for trophies in 2015.

After a rocky start, Christian Szaruta ended his second year in motorsport with fastest laps, lap records and, more importantly, wins against proven competition.

Of the new additions coming into the grid, Christian is starting only his second year of racing after having laid down a very impressive first year. After a rocky start, he ended the year with fastest laps, lap records and, more importantly, wins against proven competition. He’ll be quick out the blocks this time and looking to lay down a championship campaign.

Mike Evans season was cut short in 2014 after a car failure caused a nasty accident into the wall at Rockingham. Up to that point, Mike had learned to control the speed he had in the car and was always at the pointy end of the results.

The final likely addition to the front of the grid is Max Robinson. Back in the official Caterham championship after a stint in the Caterham Graduates series for 2014. Again, Max has featured  at the front of grids so will be an unknown coming into the season and will certainly be aiming for podiums.

Caterham Supersport

Addendum: Tragically, Pete Fortune passed away earlier this year. I’ve left this article unedited as he would have been one of the main championship contenders. Everyone in the Caterham family feels the loss. Rip Pete.

A massive entry list is a common feature of the Supersport category, and 2015 is no exception. With the expensive step up to the final Superlight R300 championship simply too big for many budgets, and with the Supersport car being the ultimate incarnation of the Ford Sigma engined Caterham and widely considered one of the best cars to drive and race, people tend to stick around for several years.

James Robinson was hugely impressive in his first year racing Caterhams. Jumping straight into the Supersport category and almost clinching the title is almost unbelievable.

Mike Hart was the 2014 winner. However, a great opportunity to race in the British GT championship came up and that grids gain is Caterham’s loss. We all wish Mike and Terry Langley well in 2015.

Of those returning, James Robinson was hugely impressive in his first year racing Caterhams. Jumping straight into the Supersport category and almost clinching the title is almost unbelievable. He’ll surely be looking to take the top step this year.

Jon Mortimer and Matt Dyer, who battled year long with Mike and James, are taking the step to Superlight R300’s for 2015, so there will be trophies up for grabs at the top of the pile.

Danny Killeen will be looking to get his hands on a few of them at the very least. His final 2014 championship position belies his speed and race-craft. An incomplete campaign and couple of on-track incidents meant he wasn’t ever going to be able to push for overall honours. However he has the additional motivation of being joined by a lot of his 2012 Academy graduates finally catching up with him on the grid.

Danny Killeen will also be one to watch in 2015. His final 2014 championship position belies his speed and race-craft.

Of those 2012 Academy graduates, Steve Nuttall is coming into the championship having won outright in the Academy, Roadsport and Tracksport. Can he make it four in a row and cement his place in the history books? You wouldn’t bet against it. He’s extremely quick, extremely consistent and has race craft to match.

Pete Fortune will be looking to put the ultimate disapointment of 2014 behind him. Always featuring at the sharp end, it always looked like the championship would come down between him and Nuttall. However, a missed round and an incident packed Brands Hatch event saw his challenge evaporate. He’ll be back in 2015 eager to try again.

Can Steve Nuttall make it four Championships in a row and cement his place in the history books? You wouldn’t bet against it.

Andres Sinclair also mounted a great campaign through 2014 having finally managed to tame the car. A well deserved win finally coming his way after 3 years trying. If he can convert his pace into more results in 2015, he’ll have good odds on a podium and an outside bet on the championship.

Nick Portlock got a very popular podium in the 2014 Tracksport championship. However, he’ll have to step up a gear to make his way right to the front of this highly competitive grid. He often came strong at the end of races in 2014 but with more cars filling the gaps on track, that won’t be as straightforward this year.

Another interesting addition to the 2015 Supersport grid will be Will Smith. Will has chosen to skip out the Tracksport season and go straight to Supersport. A painful end to the 2014 Roadsport championship, which saw him give away an almost certain championship win, will be spurring him on to big things in 2015. An absolutely rock solid presence at the front of an extremely competitive Roadsport grid also shows he has the race craft and pace to not just be a bit part. Certainly, it will be interesting to see how he gets on.

Caterham Superlight R300

The 2014 Superlight grid was small but high quality. It was bolstered by the addition of several high profile names taking part in the Caterham ‘guest’ car.

The 2015 registration is already stronger in numbers and Aron Head and David Robinson look set to go at it all over again.

The 2015 registration is already stronger in numbers and Aron Head and David Robinson look set to go at it all over again. Their battles were fierce all through the season and usually lasted the full 30 minutes of the race.

They won’t be joined by Terry Langley this year as he’s off to the British GT championship with Mike Hart. Also, Danny Winstanley has yet to commit to the series and will be missed if he heads elsewhere. He was an impressive debutant in his first full season of Caterhams last year and was always part of the lead battle.

Lee Wiggins put an impressive 2014 campaign together and was often the next up on the road behind the lead battle. Making it onto the podium on multiple occasions but never got to take the top step. The loss of Terry and Danny could see more podiums and perhaps he can pick up a win.

Sean Byrne will need to find some more 10ths if he is to continue his progress up the field.

Looking to step up this year will be Sean Byrne. He swapped teams part way through 2014 and by the end of the year was able to get involved in the lead battles. He’ll still need to find some 10ths to continue that progress as Robinson and Head will not be leaving anything in the locker.

Jon Mortimer is one person taking the step from Supersport to the R300’s in 2015. An uncompromising racer who will surely be able to get to grips with the extra speed and power of the top level car. You’d expect that he’d be happy with nothing less than a good hawl of trophies.

Matt Dyer is also making the jump up from Supersport. He had a great season in that highly competitive field and only gearbox issues at Croft prevented a podium championship finish. Matt may have to work on car setup more than he traditionally does in order to ensure he gets every last bit of time out of the car and himself. He’s notorious for simply driving around car issues, but will that be enough at the pinnacle of the Caterham Motorsport ladder?

Matt Dyer is notorious for simply driving around car issues, but will that be enough at the pinnacle of the Caterham Motorsport ladder?

There are others returning to battle and there will also be some new faces who will surely add to the excitement. With the advent of a separate class for H-Pattern gearbox cars this year, there may also be some more entries added before everything gets going on April 18th.