Caterham 270R Brands Hatch race weekend

The final round of the Caterham 270R Championship was held at Brands Hatch on the shorter Indy circuit.

I went into the race weekend on high spirits as it’s my local track and I was looking good for being in the top 3 of the championship. Unfortunately despite having a really fun weekend a crash on the Sunday ended my championship hopes. But that’s just the highs and lows of racing.

After the end of an eventful season. Dan French would be crowned champion after a strong campaign all year and despite a wheel falling off and a broken finger would end up winning with a race to spare. James Murphy would stage an outstanding comeback to secure 2nd place after string of bad luck early in the season. Justin Heap would take the 3rd place by virtue of having more victories than Greg Monks who he was tied on points with. Both Justin and Greg had jumped straight from Academy to 270R and did really well against a tough group of drivers. After my non finish on Sunday I would round out the top 5 a few points behind.

The official Caterham footage of the first race can be seen on YouTube.

Quali – P5

At Brands Hatch track position helps and starting near the front would make the race easier. Having gone out near the front of the pack my aim was to clear the slower cars and then try and put in some fast banker laps in clear air before dropping back into the pack and try and find someone to get a tow off to set a better lap.

First part of this plan when well and without a tow I managed to set the 5th best time. As I never managed to get a clear lap when trying to get a tow for most of the session. I was really glad I decided to take a risk on going it alone early in the session.

Race 1 – P9

The first race didn’t get off to a great start where I got boxed in and dropped from 5th to 8th. However luckily for me there was an accident further back in the field and the race was restarted. Lining up for a second time I was determined to not make the same mistake and this time was able to hold my ground and keep 5th place. The first 10 minutes of the race were pretty good.

The front group of cars including me had broken away from the main pack and it looked like if we sprinted ahead we could then argue out the podium towards the end of the race. Typical this wasn’t the way it went and the guys at the front started scrapping which backed everyone into the pack behind. At this point I lost ground to Dan French who I needed to finish ahead of to keep my championship hopes alive. Instead I changed tack and just aimed to stay ahead of Justin Heap who was at that point 3rd in the championship 10 points behind me. In hindsight this was a mistake as I should have focused on scoring as many points as possible and not worried about the championship outcomes.


I ended up finishing 9th my worse finish of the year but critically one position ahead of Justin which put me a little bit closer to getting 2nd in the championship. My poor finish meant that Dan French would go on to win a well deserved championship with a race to spare.

Podium

  • P1: Tom Allen
  • P2: James Murphy
  • P3: Graham MacDonald

Race 2 – DNF

Since Dan French had won the championship on Saturday he elected to not take part in the last race. Which promoted me into 8th place on the grid, personally I would have preferred to stay 9th as odd number are on the inside of the first corner. The danger of the outside is if the person next to you messes up they will knock you off the track. Which is exactly what happened. Luckily I didn’t get stuck in the gravel but had dropped from 8th to 23rd out of 24 cars. Given I needed to finish at least 8th to keep my second place in the championship this was a total disaster. To say I was annoyed was a bit of an understatement. At least it all went wrong on the first corner and I had 30 minutes ahead of me to drive the wheels off the car and get back near the front.

Only took me 7 minutes to fight my way back past 13 cars into 10th place. By which point there was a 5 second gap to 9th place. Now 5 seconds doesn’t sound a lot but in Caterham racing that is a huge gap to close. So it was business as usual with me having to buckle down and try and close the gap to the cars in front. After a long 12 minutes I had joined the back of a chain of cars fighting for 5th.

At this point I thought game on I’m just 2 positions short of getting the 8th place I needed. I was so caught up in the fight back and the fact I had a run on the cars ahead I forgot about the wet patch of track on the exit of clearways and spun the car into the pit wall. Hero to zero in one gear change! The car was drivable and I managed to get going again.  It was obvious something was wrong with the car having hit the wall pretty hard and I was forced to retire.

Failing to finish the race resulting in me dropping from 2nd to 5th in the championship which was pretty gutting after such a successful season. Hey how that is motorsport so much fun but can all go wrong in an instance.

Podium

  • P1: James Murphy
  • P2: Greg Monks
  • P3: Oli Pratt

Final Thoughts

Wow what a season. Sure I didn’t get the 270R championship podium finish I was aiming for. But a top 3 finish was clearly within reach and I’ve learnt a lot this year about putting together a championship campaign. I started the year with my first win, managed to get 6 podium finishes, 3 fastest laps and a lap record. All things considered my best season so far.

Next year I’ll be trying my luck in the 310R championship which is the next step in the wonderful world of the Caterham Motorsport ladder.

Over the winter there might be some other exciting races I will get involved in. More on those shortly…

Photos from Jon @ Snappy Racers

Caterham 270R Donington Park race weekend

A few weeks ago it was time to go racing again at Donington Park for the penultimate round of the Caterham 270R championship. I really like Donington as it’s a great flowing track. It was also the place I got my first podium back in my academy year. So was hopeful for a couple of good results.

Overall it was a pretty good weekend where I picked up a 4th and a 3rd. Strangely disappointed in some ways. A better quali plus if a couple of on track moments had gone my way I could have come away with bigger trophies. Still a 4th and 3rd gives me another set of consistent points towards the championship.

Quali P10

Qualifying was just an amazing 20 minutes. Dan and I have worked out a pretty good system around sharing the benefits of the tow. This being the 6th race weekend of the year we have pretty much got the system nailed. Generally it works better for one of us that the other, that is just life. But this quali was just a masterclass in how to totally messed it up. Not just once but on every single lap. Missed gears, missed braking points, confusion over who was leading who and where.

At the end of it I was amazed I was as high as 10th on the grid. Words can’t describe how annoying it is when you are way up on the sector times for most of the lap only to push too hard and throw it all away.

Race 1 – P4

Before starting the race I was joking with someone that starting at the tail end of the faster pack (10th) is pretty much the story of my Saturday races this season. I went on to predict that I would lost a few places on the start. Eventually I would fight my way up to 4th place by which point the front 3 would have pulled away. There would then be a few laps where I would get to stretch my legs setting some faster laps and close on the lead group towards the end when they start fighting. Turns out that was exactly what happened. I did waste too much time in the pack fighting which meant I ran out of time toward the end and had to settle for 4th place.

Having started from 10th I was pretty happy with that result. Especially as I finished ahead of Dan French and Justin Heap who are the two people closest to me in the championship. It was also great to see James Murphy (1st) back on the stop step having had a terrible year of bad luck with people driving into him. Greg (2nd) and Tom Allen (3rd) rounded off a close fight for the podium which could have gone either way.

Podium

  • P1: James Murphy
  • P2: Greg Monks
  • P3: Tom Allen

Race 2 – P3

Finishing 4th in race one put me in a far better position for race two. Starting on the outside of the second row. I got an ok start and held on to 4th to the first corner. Ended up conceding a place to Justin Heap on the run down to Old Hairpin as it wasn’t worth fighting that early in the race. After a few laps I settled into 2nd behind James Murphy and the two of us worked together to pull a gap on the rest of the pack. Annoyingly we were just on the cusp of making the breakaway when the yellow flags were brought out. Yellow flags always pose a challenge especially when marshall’s are on track retrieving a car. If you don’t slow enough race control might rightly decided to bring out the safely car which then bunches everyone back up again. If you are in the leading cars this always a problem as there is no written rule to say how much you have to slow down by. In this situation James and I slowed down more than the people behind us and our slender gap was gone.

It was always going to be close through the chicane on the last lap and unfortunately I ended up on a compromised line had a bit of a slide on the marbles and dropped from 2nd to 6th with two hairpins to go see the video at 30:37. I was luckily able to quickly find some space down the inside and recover to 3rd. After spending most of the race either leading or in 2nd place I was a bit disappointed with the 3rd place to be honest. However again from a championship point of view it worked out well as again I finished ahead of Dan French and Justin Heap which helps my championship cause.

Podium

  • P1: James Murphy
  • P2: Greg Monks
  • P3: Matt Sheppard

Season finale

Caterham Motorsport finishes it’s 2019 season on the 28/29th September at Brands Hatch. For most of the Caterham championships including 270R the championship podium has come down to the wire. If the season so far is any indication the racing should be spectacular to watch. Brands Hatch is by far the best race for a spectator as you can see the whole track from some places.

As for my championship hopes I’m currently in 4th place overall. However when the final results are calculated the worse two results are dropped which promotes me up to 2nd place going into the last race weekend!

Photos from Jon @ Snappy Racers

Caterham 270R Spa race weekend

I have raced at Spa how cool is that! The Europe away round of the Championship is always a highlight of the year and being at Spa supporting the British GT was such a great thing to be part of.

I had another solid points weekend picking up a P5, P2 and a fastest lap point.

The official TV footage from Caterham is on their YouTube channel.

Quali P8

Since the 270R’s and Roadsport’s would be racing together it meant that quali was always going to be a lottery and trying to get anything resembling a clean lap in was going to be a challenge. What didn’t help was some of the Roadsport drivers treated the quali as a race where they could try and beat a 270R by dive bombing us into the corners. Which general screwed both drivers laps.


After a very frustrating 20 minutes I eventually managed to string together one poor lap a couple of seconds off the pace. Luckily for me everyone else had the problems and I bagged P8. To be honest this wasn’t the end of the world as Spa has a lot of long straights and overtaking would be easy enough.

Race 1 – P5

In the build up to the first race everyone took a gamble that it would remain dry. What a mistake that was! The worsening weather led to the race starting as a rolling start behind a safety car instead of the usual standing start. In all honesty this was probably a good thing as we all spaced out. If we had all piled into La Source in a group it would have ended in tears.

The race was one of the most scary but fun things I have ever done in a car. I was fortunate to avoid any collisions and apart from a spin just before the red flag I had managed to work my way up into 4th place. Annoyingly the red flag meant that the rules state the order on the lap before the red flag is the finishing order so I got demoted back to 5th place.

Podium

  • P1: Tom Allen
  • P2: Neil Fraser
  • P3: Dan French

Race 2 – P2

After the terrible conditions in race one everyone was relieved to see a dry forecast for race two. Starting in P5 gave me the inside line at the first corner. Which hopefully would turn out a safe place to be. I wasn’t paying attention at the start again! and took a second to notice the lights were out and everyone else was moving, muppet. By the time we got through the first corner I had dropped to 10th. What happened next was just all a bit odd. For the first 10 minutes the car just felt so slow. I was easily being out dragged by everyone and dropped down to 15. I was starting to think I might have a fuel pump issue. Andy one of the other drivers had the same issue in testing. Caterham fuel pumps are a bit fragile and as a general rule you replace them after a heavy rear impacts. Being a bit of a cheapskate I didn’t do this after the Croft incident and had forgotten to look at it.

I was sure my race was going to be a disaster and was just about to lose interest when I hit a curb hard and down the next straight I was able to keep up with people again. Still not sure if it was all in my head or really a mechanical issue but the sudden dose of speed transformed the race for me and started to make a effort to claw my way back through the field.

A few close calls later avoiding other peoples mistakes I managed to get myself to the head of the second pack of cars. With what looked like a gap to the lead group that was going to be hard to close. Dan Halstead, Greg Monks and I started working together to close the gap. Luck was on our side as lead group started scrapping and after they tripped over each other at the bus stop chicane it bunched the field back up.

Going onto the last lap I got a great tow down the Kemmel straight and jumped from 4th to 1st. Which would leave me a sitting duck on the long drag back to the end of the lap. I quickly hatched a plan to leave the door wide open after Pouhon in the hope that Justin would be unable to help himself and dive up the inside. Then the plan was to be slow out of Stavelot so that Tom Allen could also get past allowing me to drop back into 3rd and get a double tow down the last straight and catapult back into the lead.

As it was the plan was half a success. Justin took the bait while Tom ran wide on the exit of Stavelot. Cruising past Justin I knew I would have the fast charging GMac alongside me into the last chicane. GMac had the inside and I tried to get him on the outside of the last corner but I couldn’t quite make it stick without risking the car. Would have been pretty embarrassing to take us both out on the last corner so decided to settle for 2nd and take the points. Great finish being on the podium at Spa and also for GMac to make it back on the podium in style.

Podium

  • P1: Graham Macdonald
  • P2: Matt Sheppard
  • P3: Justin Heap

Final Thoughts

Racing at Spa was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Standing on the podium while the British GT cars were lined up on the grid was just so cool.

Next race is at Donington Park 17th August. No one has raced their since our Academy year. Going to be interesting to see how it goes. In all likelihood it’s going to be another close race at the front of the pack. Personally I’m just looking to score solid points. Ideally more than the drivers closest to me in the championship.

Photos from Jon @ Snappy Racers.

Caterham 270R Snetterton race weekend

Snetterton for me as always been a bit of a strange place. I like the circuit and have always been fast here. However I’ve never been able to convert the pace to a good result. Having been here in the Academy year where I spun off and fought from 23rd to 7th. Then in Roadsport year I threw away a podium going from 5th to 2nd gear. I was hoping for 3rd time lucky on this visit to Snetterton.

It would turn out to be a solid point weekend with a P3, P5 and a new lap record. In all I was too cautious and something I need to rectify at the next round.

The official TV footage from Caterham is on their youtube channel

Testing

Only mentioning testing for the drama off track. Dan French dropped his car on axle stand Friday morning. Which under normal circumstances isn’t a big deal… Unless you finger happens to be holding the axle stand! Ouch! doesn’t cover it. You can read all about it on his blog.

Quali – P2

Bizarre is all I can say about quali. It was a total disaster. Everyone got in everyone’s else way. When I came into the pits I was not happy and assumed I would be lucky to be in the top 10 and a P15 was more likely. When I found out I was P2 I think I went back to my car to check if the vbox said the same or it was a timing glitch.

Snetterton 270 Quali

In this case I think the problem was too many fast people on track together. We had this in Roadsport. At that time the lead pack of 8 would go out together at the front and trip over each other. This year all the fast teams have gone out first with the fast privateers at the back. This has meant two fast groups of 6ish split by half the track. So the tripping over each other hasn’t happened. At Snetterton most of the fast teams and privateers were out in a big group at the back. So it was a mess.

Still P2 can’t complain 🙂

Race 1 – P3

Wow what a race. Despite ‘only’ finishing P3 in the race I think it was one of the most enjoyable races ever. It really was a master class in why working together can control a race to guarantee a good result. The race really was a 3 part act.

Snetterton Caterham 270R Race 1 start

Act one was a fight from the start which lasted a couple of laps or 5 minutes. I was happy in 4th playing the long game when Justin overcooked it and ran off the track. I assume he would just drop in behind me so the leading pair wouldn’t get away… But instead he didn’t brake in the normal place, trying to get the position back and force us both wide letting the lead pair get away. At this point the engine was drowning out my cursing. Ironically this was the defining point of the race. On the next straight it meant that Tom was able to get ahead of Justin and I could leave the two of them to argue over every corner while I tried to close the gap to the lead two.
I have to admit I love chasing there is something about having a target in front of you and just driving at the absolute limit without crossing it.

Snetterton Caterham 270R Race 1 trio

Act two.. wait patiently for the moment to strike. Once I had caught up with James and Dan they could see exactly what my intentions were. Sit at the back of the trio allowing us to get the biggest lead possible before fighting over who got which of the 3 trophies. While I was there and it was a long 20 minutes left I decide to have some fun and try and get the additional point for fastest lap. So every lap I would drop back.. Then go for it and catch up the gap.

Snetterton Caterham 270R race 1 side by side

Act three.. strike. With none of the other cars in sight and 5 minutes to go it was time to attack. As the person at the back of the train with the most to gain it was obviously going to be me that started the battle. After several laps of going 3 wide down the straights it was Dan who won (despite the broken finger) by the length of a wheel. Ahead of James who beat me by roughly the length of a car. This Caterham racing is close!

Snetterton Caterham 270R Race 1 post race

The victory lap was pretty cool with the 3 of us running side by side past the main bank of spectators and our families. It’s the moments like that I will remember when my racing stops. Silverware is great but it’s the other drivers, the battles and the long suffering families who turn up rain and shine to watch us that make the weekend. As are the unpaid marshals who without them there wouldn’t be motor racing to watch or take part in.

Podium

  • P1: Dan French
  • P2 James Murphy
  • P2: Matt Sheppard

 

Race 2 – P5

After the ‘relaxing’ controlled race one it was obvious that race 2 would be a completely different race and more like our typical 270R races. I do find it slightly assuming how you can generally gauge what a race will be like within the first few corner based on which drivers are where in the order and how their previous race went.

Snetterton Caterham 270R Race 2 start

I started P3 and didn’t get a great start slotting into P5 where I would sit for most of the race. This time we had a lead group of 5 cars who had obviously learnt from the race the previous day as most of the fighting was more sensible and we managed to pull a lead of the group behind.

At this point I made a bit of a tactical error. I had set a lap record the day before and got preoccupied with trying to better it as I could see Chris catching the lead 5 up and I didn’t want him to beat it. So I was also trying to beat it. As it was in the end I got 2nd fastest and Chris got the point for the fastest lap in race 2. A little be slower than the new record I set the day before.

Snetterton Caterham 270R Race 1 end
In hindsight I should have gotten more stuck into the battle in front of me. By the mid point of the last lap I was 4th just behind James M. Which with 2 overtaking points to the finish line. Left us both in the best positions to jump ahead with a double tow down the two straight. Unfortunately James had a tad oversteer onto the back straight which meant we both had to back off which destroyed our forward momentum. This allowed Greg to jump us both and I was just about to hold Chris off and keep 5th place.

Podium

  • P1: Justin Heap
  • P2: Dan French
  • P3: Greg Monks

Final thoughts

Racing is a funny old sport. Compared to last year walking away with a P3, P5 and a new lap record would have matched my best result last year in Roadsport. However excluding mechanical issues this is actually my worse weekend this year for points. Funny how a little success means you expect more and anything but a podium is frustrating.

This year’s 270R driver line up is crazy competitive. Anyone who get a podium or a win really had to work for it!

At the halfway point in the Championship it’s all to play for. On the outright points I’m ‘way down’ in 6th but once everyone drops their worse two scores my situation is a lot better. However I’ve in effect already used my ‘two lives’. Meaning I really need to keep my nose clean while trying to get podiums. Almost everyone else still has poor races they can drop. All this means by the time we get to Brands Hatch in September I can easily see going to to the last race to decide the final order.

Spa
Next up is Spa Francorchamps on the 20th July. Supporting the British GT and F3 Single seaters as part of SRO Speed week in the build up to the 24hrs of Spa on the 27th July.
Which is going to be amazing as not only are we the support race for the proper race cars. Spa is an historic amazing track which is on every drivers top tracks to race on.
Excited doesn’t come close to covering it!
Photos from Jon @ Snappy Racers.

Caterham 270R Oulton Park Race weekend

Oulton Park from what I have heard features on most drivers top tracks in the UK list and for good reason. It’s an absolute gem of a place. Proper old school track which is a good mix of elevation changes, high and low speed corners with not always much run off. Due to the technical nature it really separates the drivers with technical ability from those that rely of the tow of the car in front to keep up.

After the mixed results at Croft and Silverstone I went into Oulton Park with a very simple game plan. Don’t crash or have my car fail on me! Which meant don’t take unnecessary risks and good points is better than no points.

Turned out the weekend would go better than I had hoped for.

Quali – P1

Quali was the start of a surprising weekend result wise. The usual suspects formed part of a quali team to try and get some fast laps in. However due to the large difference in speeds between drivers it was difficult to get a clear lap in. I did what I thought was an ok lap and was a little surprised when I heard the time the fastest driver set. Even more shocked to find out that it was me that set it!

Caterham 270R 2019 Oulton Park

Obviously in motorsport the one universal truth is the circuit timing is always correct. While my vbox onboard based on GPS could have suffered a ‘blip’ and be wrong. In any case I would have started on the first couple of rows and it probably had little impact on the race result. I did find it slightly amusing as I was saying I couldn’t possibly of done that lap everyone was telling me to shut up and take it anyway!

Race 1 – P2

Starting in pole I nearly made a complete arse of myself when I moved my left foot when the light turned red instead of went out. Luckily I stopped myself with only a gentle rock forward and didn’t trigger a false start. However as I backed off the light changed and I bodged it with too much wheelspin and settled into 2nd place. Over the first few laps Dan F and I started to pull a slight lead on the front group.

Caterham 270R 2019 Oulton Park

Typically I was trying to hard and a couple of mistakes saw me back in 4th. Shortly after the safety car was deployed for a large chunk of the race after a 4 car accident. All the drivers were unhurt which is always the primary concern on your mind after seeing the damaged cars.

Caterham 270R 2019 Oulton Park

On the restart Dan F pulled a bit of a lead and James M managed to jump Justin while I stayed in 4th place. After a couple of laps it looked like Dan F had pulled a gap that no one would close and I was able to pull a double overtake into 2nd place. From that point forward it looked like the battle for second would be between James M, Justin H & Dan H and me. We would go on swapping positions multiple times a lap. All of a sudden Dan F was back in our sights and I was shocked to see his wheel make a bid for freedom and go bouncing across the track.

Caterham 270R 2019 Oulton Park - race1-c
As it was near the end of the race they red flagged it. Due to the count back under red flag rules it meant that Dan F kept the win. While I secured 2nd place which was a great result for me and was happy to be on the podium again. Twice in a year makes it my best season so far!

Podium

  • P1: Dan French
  • P2: Matt Sheppard
  • P3: Justin Heap

 

Race 2 – P2

In the build up to the race the front group agreed we should try and be ‘sensible’ for the first part of the race and try and pull a gap on the rest of the pack. From a spectator point of view I’m sure it makes the racing look less exciting. However from a drivers point of view it’s a great strategy plan. If you can split the field instead of a 7 car fight for a podium you can turn it into a 4 or maybe even 3 car fight which guarantees a good result.

Caterham 270R 2019 Oulton Park

I managed to bodge the start again but held onto second place and just sat in the middle of a 4 car train behind Dan F while ahead of James M and Justin H. For 2/3rd of the race we just held positions earning a 6 second lead over 5th place. It was fun but tense as the anticipation of someone breaking the truce built as the end of the race got ever closer. When you are behind someone and clearly have more speed because of the tow effect it takes a lot of patience and restraint to back off and coast behind a car in a race!

Caterham 270R 2019 Oulton Park

James M was the first to make a move when I messed up the first chicane and got a poor exit. Decide it was better to back off and wave him through that cost us both time and allow Dan F to pull away (sorry Dan!). After picking the wrong person to follow a few corners later Justin H managed to get past Dan F and I.

Caterham 270R 2019 Oulton Park

At this point I was back in 4th place but happy to watch the 3 cars in front of me race extremely hard on the assumption that within a couple of laps someone was bound to mess up. Sure enough Justin H out braked himself handing me 3rd place back. While all this fighting had been going on we had been lapping 3 second a lap slower than before. Leading to me having to go on the defensive against Greg. The fact we had lost 6 seconds in 2 laps to the people behind is a case in point about why working together is a good idea early in a race to increase your chance of a good result.

Caterham 270R 2019 Oulton Park - race2-d

Crossing the line the order would be James M, Dan F, Matt S, Greg M all within 1 second.

However this race would be just as controversial as quali and race 1. James M had managed to hit 3 track limit sensors and picked up a 5 second penalty dropping him to 5th. Promoting the rest of us up the grid. Really put a dampener on the result as James had really earned that win in a tough race. Racing really is a cruel sport most of the time. Still a 2nd place means it was my best race weekend ever.

Podium

  • P1: Dan French
  • P2: Matt Sheppard
  • P3: Greg Monks

Final thoughts

Oulton for me was my best ever race weekend results with pole in quali and 2nd place trophies in both races. Finishing both races with a strong result was just what I needed after failing to finish the second race at the Silverstone and Croft rounds. Even better is the car had no damage which makes my bank balance even happier.

Caterham 270R 2019 Oulton Park

The 2019 270R championship is shaping up to be a year to remember. So far no driver has had a clear run of great results. I’m sure that will continue as several drivers have been plagued with bad luck this season James M, Tom A & Oil P have taken bad luck to a new level. Graham M, Toby C have both suffered from tracks they didn’t know as well as others. Those are just 5 of several people who I expect to start taking podiums which will prevent any of the podium finishers so far running away with the championship.

Next round is at Snetterton on Saturday 29th June.

Photos from Jon @ Snappy Racers.