After a long winter break it was time to dust off the racing boots and get back to racing at the opening Caterham Motorsport race weekend at Snetterton.
This year I’m going to try a different format for the race reports where I do a quick summary of the race and links to the videos. Then below that have a more detailed write up. The second part is as much for my own record of what happened. A lot of people probably only care about did I get a podium and if I crashed is it worth watching.
The whole weekend was a blast and I learnt more in this event than any other so far. Things like tyres going off, race tactics, team work and car setup. They all came into play.
The short version of events:
* Quali – 2nd place so started on the front row
* Race 1 – Finished 4th and only 0.05 seconds behind 3rd. Could have so easily been a higher finish if not for mistakes. Race between the front 5 was intense.
* Race 2 – Started 4th and finished in 3rd and got the fastest lap. The race was more intense than race one with 6 of us fighting it out at the front.
James Murphy did an outstanding job and won both races and leads the championship. Oli Pratt and I both got a 3rd, 4th + fastest laps over the races and are join second. Dan French was unlucky with gearbox issue picking up a 5th + 2nd and is 4th overall. Dan Halstead picked up a 2nd & 7th after missing a braking point and then some contact with Toby Clowes. Graham Macdonald was also in the mix.
At this point it looks like every race will one hell of a scrap between us all. I’m sure that group will grow as Tom Allen will be back at the next round. There are several other drivers in the front of the midfield who want to join the party at the front.
Race One Video
Race Two Video
Thursday and Friday testing
The long weekend started in the typical fashion of claiming an area in the paddock within the designated ‘Roadsport’ area putting up gazebos and catching up with fellow drivers on who had done what testing over the winter. Turns out a few of us had done extra races since the last Caterham race. It quickly became apparent that we were likely to have a break away group at the front. My aim was simply to try and be a part of that group and see how things progressed from there.
Both Thursday and Friday started off wet and dried out as the day progressed. Surprisingly to me I was actually one of the faster people in the wet unlike last year when I wasn’t that good at it. A winter of pretty abysmal trackday conditions had obviously paid off! More worrying for me was when the track dried out I had a ton of turn in oversteer. Which I’m sure provided a good show for anyone watching me go into most corners sideways but wasn’t helping me get around the track quickly. I tried various tweaks to the suspension which helped but didn’t solve it. By Friday afternoon I admit I was slightly concerned and just hoping for a load of rain to help me in the race.
I was pinning most of my hopes on my ‘race ready’ tyres I planned using for the penultimate test session. Suddenly my old car was back and I was right on the pace. Amazing what a different set of tyres make. Imagine my horror when I came back into the pits ecstatic about ‘fixing’ the car only to find out I had scrubbed too much tread off them and they were no longer race legal. Which left me back to my oversteering set I would have to use in the races. In desperation I thought what the hell I will swap the front and back tyres around in the final session to see if that makes any different. I was amazed to find out not only did that fix the very problem I was having. They were almost as fast as my other tyres despite being closer to wet weather tread depth than my ‘race ready ones’. It also became clear that the tyres would lose grip towards the end of the race and tyres management would come into play in the latter stages of the race.
Which brings me to the first lesson of the weekend. Testing is really important before events. If I had just turned up for Quali or done one instead of two days testing I would have never had the opportunity to swap the front and rear tyres around to get a better balance. Potentially could have been a second or two off the pace which would have put me half way down the field.
Quali got a front row with P2.
We drew the short straw this weekend and would be the first group out on track for Quali. I managed to get near the front of the queue to go out along with all the other faster drivers. This was a good thing because the slipstream (tow) affect on a Caterham is huge as Snetterton has two long straights. You want to be around people of the same pace otherwise it all gets a bit messy with getting in each others way. There is a lot of respect between all the drivers now so we all worked together. Taking it in turns to tow each other around. As soon as someone messed up a run they would get out of the way so not to mess up the person behind. It worked well most of the time but it’s really difficult to judge exactly how much to drop back. Since you think you have enough space but then towards the end of the lap you run out of it. Like most people my potential faster laps had to be aborted due to traffic or other mistakes. I didn’t set the timesheets alight like last year but I knew it was good for the front 2 rows and was happy with a P2 start. It makes my 4th front row start in a row so if I can keep this up all year I should be in a good spot.
Race 1 P4
Starts were my nemesis in the Academy year. Having got the car on the front row I really wanted to get off the line well. This year I absolutely nailed it and got a flying start. For the first time ever I was not only leading the race from the start but for the first couple of corners I was sufficiently far ahead that no one tried to get me on the first couple of corners. On the back straight I had a swarm of cars behind me in the tow and James and Dan F cruised by. I was perfectly happy with that and didn’t even bother to fight it since we had agreed before the race that we would work together for the first part of the race to pull a lead on the pack then towards the end of the race the gloves would come off. It might sound a bit daft to work together in a race but with Caterham racing it makes a lot of sense. It probably the biggest lesson I learnt in the Academy year. Going side by side and fighting every corner is a lot of fun but it cost you a lot of time and if you are not careful it will mean the people in front of you pull away. Even worse the people behind you can get closer and steal a position from under you.
The first 15 mins was pretty smooth where the top 5 only overtook down straights and only if it was a net benefit to the group. It work amazingly well and we pulled a 13 second lead on 6th place. Going into the penultimate lap I was in 2nd tailing James in the lead with a small but manageable gap to Oli, Dan F and Dan H. Going down the back straight I decided to have a go at James and challenge for the lead. It was all going well till in the braking zone which is also a corner I went from 5th to 2nd gear instead of 4th. For those that haven’t tried this trick on a race track it’s a pretty good way to crash out. I just about managed to keep avoid spinning off but fell back into the clutches of the guys behind and had to go on the defensive. Oli and I swapped positions a couple of times during the first half of the last lap. Including a pretty hairy moment with poor Neil who was a lap down and we caught him possible at the worse moment. On to the back straight I had no way to keep Oli behind me. Then Dan H who had a double tow managed to jump us both and get from 4th to 2nd. My only hope was to try and out drag Oli down the main straight before the finish line. I managed to get a better run out of the last corner and I thought I had him. But lost out by 0.05 second or a wheels length.
All credit to James M for the first win of the year plus Dan H and Oli for getting onto the podium. It did mean that Dan F and I having both looked like getting a podium had it all to prove in race 2.
Race 2 P3 and fastest lap
The starting order for race two was based on the finishing order for race one. Which gave me 4th place which was the second row on the outside. Again I got a good start and managed to maintain my position. This time we had Graham join the front 5 so it was a group of 6. I noticed that James was struggling for grip a little on the first lap so I did what any friend would do and applied as much pressure as possible. Things started to settle down into the same work together pattern as before. I’m not sure what happened next but it all sort of fell apart on the team work side. James and I seemed to spend a lot of time making hand gestures to everyone saying work together but we ultimately gave up. The rest of the 20 minute race was a lot of fun but pretty hectic with positions in the front 6 changing ever other corner.
Towards the end I was in 4th with the two Dan’s ahead of me. Dan H was too busy looking in his mirrors that he forgot where his car was. Critically noticed the braking marker after he had passed it. Luckily Dan F and I noticed before it was too late and got a free track position upgrade. Which left Dan F, James and I just head of Graham and Oli. At this point Dan F gearbox was not in a happy place and it meant that Dan would miss a gear we would pass him. He would then come steaming pass again only to miss a gear on the upshift and get passed again. On the final lap Dan F failed to find 3rd and I hit him luckily my radiator mountings were bent but not smashed and I finally got back on the elusive podium in 3rd. After such a battle I was really happy to finally get back on the podium and pickup some silverware.
Next round will be Knockhill in Scotland. Looks a really interesting track that no one has been to before. So that should be fun. I’m expecting the same group of people to be at the front for this race and the rest of the year. Going to be epic fun!
Thanks to Jon at Snappy Racers and his team for the photos while nursing a busted knee and walking around the track to get them all. Along with Caterham for putting on another great race weekend.