Knockhill, 2nd round of the 2018 Caterham Roadsport Championship

What is the one thing that Le Mans, Nurburg, Magny-Cours, Spa Francorchamps, Zolder & Zandvoort all have in common. Apart from being in mainland Europe? They were all closer to home than the next round of the Caterham Roadsport championship at Knockhill, Scotland.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only competitor wondering why on earth it was decided to go way north to Knockhill. Those that decided to skip the round really missed out, as Knockhill it turns out didn’t disappoint. To mix it up the decision was taken that the event should run on the ‘reverse’ track. This meant a couple of the blind crests became blind drops which really added to the challenge.

Summary

Challenging would be the one word I would use to describe the weekend. I have to admit I didn’t finish the weekend as strongly as I would have liked. However with the long view in mind finishing races with no damage and collecting points is always a good thing. At the sharp end of the field all the drivers are strong so I just need to up my game for the next round.
The short version of events:
* Quali – 2nd place, my 5th front row start in a row 🙂
* Race 1 – Finished 6th. Too much wheel spin at the start. Made mistakes and got out manoeuvred, a bit disappointed with this one.
* Race 2 – Finished 5th. Slow reactions at start. Spent most of the race trying to go around the outside (unsuccessfully) of GMac. Gifted 5th by Oli crashing out.
Congratulations in Race 1 to Dan French (P1) , James Murphy (P2), Oli Pratt (P3). Race 2 James Murphy (P1), Dan Halstead (P2), Dan French (P3).

Race One Video

(Forgot to turn the GoPro on and only have the lower quality vbox footage)

Race Two Video

Testing on Wednesday, Thursday & Friday.

Due to the far away nature of Knockhill we got three days testing instead of the usual two. Once all the gazebos were up and the obligatory bacon baps & coffee consumed it was time to hit the track. Since the contact at the last round with Dan I got my car setup rechecked at DPR and the reasons for my turn in oversteer have been solved. This made the car stable to drive from the moment I got on track. I really can’t state how important it is to be in a car you can trust to do what you want it to. If you don’t trust the car it’s really difficult to hold it on the edge of control lap after lap.
Caterham Roadsport Knockhill test 1a
Just like Snetterton it was the same group of drivers putting in the fast times. Only difference was Tom Allen was back so the lead group had grown. Over the three days testing we got to experience all of Scotland’s weather. Every day on track was a mixture of sunshine, rain and wind. The track itself has lots of elevation changes and on a proper quick lap you can take off to one degree or another 5 times per lap. Doing a race distance is punishing to both the car and the driver. I still have the bruises 8 days later!
Due to the short track and the fact that some drivers are slower than others it meant that back markers were going to potential be a big issue in both qualifying and the race. Over the blind crest at the chicane there was a 20mph difference between following a fast and not so fast driver. At this point on the track there is no where to overtake for a couple of corners. Which would cost the unlucky at least 2 seconds possible more in the race! Luckily the slower people in our group are a great bunch and mostly try and move over as soon as they can.
Caterham Roadsport Knockhill
Managed to fit in a track walk.

Quali Got a front row with P2.

Somehow I ended up going out on track first for the quali with the whole field behind me. There isn’t much of a tow to be taken or given at Knockhill so quali was more an exercise of trying not to get in the way of someone else hot lap. After lots of aborted laps due to mistakes or catching up with other people I only set a hot lap on the 16th out of 20 possible laps. That lap put me in P2 only 0.2 seconds behind Dan French in P1.

Race 1 P6

Starting on P2 meant I started on the outside of the track for the first corner hairpin. Getting a good start and trying to move to the left was critical to maintaining position early on. I had a bit of wheel spin but managed to survive the first couple of laps in 4th place. For some unknown reason I was struggling for grip and twice got a poor exit out of the hairpin and dropped down to 6th. At this point I admit I was a bit frustrated and having a few back markers get in my way at the wrong time I lost contact with the guys in front. But then on the last lap I saw more back markers in the mix and gained massively on Dan H. Unfortunately I lost out on 5th by 0.26 seconds.

Race 2 P5

After the frustrations of race 1 where I went backwards I was in a lot better frame of mind for race 2. I knew that providing I kept it on the black stuff P6 was at the tail end of the faster group so worse case I would only end up where I started, but I could move forward. Again I started on the outside of the track and just wanted to stay out of trouble for the first couple of corners. I managed to get a better start with no wheel spin, but worse because my reaction time was terrible. I’m not sure what I was thinking about but it wasn’t the colour of the start lights! Just to complete the poor show I then missed 3rd gear on the way out of the hairpin. What is it with 2nd to 3rd gear on these cars? At least I’m not the only driver which keeps messing up that change!
The first five minutes of the race were spent with me waving like a lunatic at both Tom & GMac that I wouldn’t attack them and we should concentrate on working together to catch up with the lead four. This plan had a couple of flaws. First Tom missed the Snetterton round so wasn’t there when all the front runner talked about hand signals and working together. Secondly GMac having come off the track on lap one and dropped from 2nd to 7th was just on a mission to overtake anything with wheels.
Having established that catching up with the lead four was not on the cards it became a fight between the three of us for the best of the rest. Unfortunately Tom went wide at one point and by the time he was back on the road it left the fighting to me and GMac. I managed to get ahead a couple of times but bailed out of making it stick as I wasn’t convinced I would come out the other side with a whole car. Watching the video I was definitely a little to cautious. Lesson learn for next time, keep my foot in and elbows out. GMac did an outstanding job of defending into the hairpin and not cracking under pressure. Due to Oli crashing out with a couple of laps to go I was lucky to get 5th.
Caterham Roadsport Knockhill
Best thing with racing is the mates you do it with.
The next round will be at my local track of Brands Hatch on the 2nd/3rd June. Really looking forward to getting stuck back into the fights for podiums.
#CaterhamFamily
Photos courtesy of Jon @ SnappyRacers.com

Snetterton, 1st round of the 2018 Caterham Roadsport Championship

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.

Summary

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.

Snetterton-roadsport-race1-pic5

 

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.

Snetterton Caterham Roadsport 2018 Start Race 1

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.

Snetterton-roadsport-race1-pic2

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!

Snetterton-roadsport-race2-pic1

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.

 

 

 

Roadsport 2018 is almost here!

In just under two weeks the 2018 Caterham Roadsport season kicks off at Snetterton on 14/15th April. This year there are 2 x 20 minute races each weekend. I’m really looking forward to the chance to race for longer and have double the chance of getting some silverware each weekend.

However this year the two Academy groups combine into one group. Which means there are easily 10 people if not more who could be at the front. It’s going to be intriguing to see who comes out on top as the championship progresses. I’m obviously planning to be a part of that battle but time will tell how it all pans out.

 

Snetterton Timetable 2018

Regardless of the results i’m just really looking forward to catching up with the #CaterhamFamily and going wheel to wheel with everyone.

 

Roadsport Upgrades

The move up from Academy to Roadsport includes a few upgrades which make the car into a far nicer package to race.

Tyres

The biggest difference by far are the tyres. The Academy runs Avon CR322 which were given several affectionate names like ‘ditch finders’ or ‘van tyres’. The replacements are Avon ZZS which have a thinner sidewall and far softer compound. Having better tyres makes such a difference to the handling of the car. When the back starts to slide on the CR322 it could be very snappy and once you went past a certain point that was it. With the ZZS it’s far easier to control the slide and steer the car on the throttle 🙂

Suspension

The academy car was a bit ‘wallowy’ in the corners especially the rear end this was due to not having a rear anti roll bar. Which happens to be one of the upgrades for Roadsport. Along with the option to fit a thicker front roll bar. The rear one is adjustable so depending on the track conditions you can change it. Along with the 3 options I now have for the front there is more scope to adapt the car. Having had a play around with it during winter testing it definitely makes a difference when the track is wet.

Brakes

Finally we have some decent ones! In the Academy the master cylinder is known for not being great and leaks air into the system. After a couple of days on track the pedal travel gets longer and longer. The only solution to this is to bleed the system. It became a bit of a race weekend ritual of every Friday lunchtime during testing to bleed the brakes instead of having lunch. The AP Racing master cylinder puts an end to all of this. The brake pedal is rock solid all the time. Since it was fitted I’ve done five track days and four races including two endurance events and it’s still as good as the day it was fitted.

The other brake related upgrade is a brake bias valve. This little device allows you to move the strength of the braking force between the front or rear depending on the track conditions.

Collectively all these changes have transformed the car and I can’t wait for the racing to start up again. In the meantime I’ll just have to keep doing track days to keep myself entertained.

 

 

2018 Caterham Roadsport Calendar

I have to admit I’m finding a little strange that my first year of racing has been over for a couple of months now. I got used to every month spending 4 day weekends basically messing around in cars with my mates. Steve McQueen was spot on when he said “Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting.”

With that in mind I only had one option which was to sign up for the 2018 Caterham Roadsport season. The Roadsport category is the next step up in the Caterham Motorsport ladder. The car I originally built for the Academy season gets better tyres along with tweaks to brakes and suspension (more on that in another post). Having done the Birkett 6hr & Race of Remembrance in the new car it’s a big improvement to drive.

Caterham Motorsport have announced this years calendar and it’s looking an interesting mix of tracks. Most of them are relatively close to London which makes life a little easier. Anyone interested it coming along put the dates in the diary!

  • Snetterton, 14-15 Apr (Norfolk)
  • Knockhill, 12-13 May (Edinburgh)
  • Brands Hatch, 2-3 Jun (Kent)
  • Zandvoort, 30 Jun / 1 Jul (Amsterdam)
  • Castle Combe, 11-12 Aug (Wiltshire)
  • Thruxton, 1-2 Sep (Hampshire)
  • Silverstone, 22-23 Sep (Northants)

In Roadsport we will get on track for longer:
– Saturday 20 minute qualifying followed by 20 minute race.
– Sunday 20 minute race

With 14 races and 42 trophies with a bit of luck I might end up with some silverware. However the two Academy groups are merging so it’s likely to be a very close fight between at least the top 10 in each race if not more!

There will be plenty of other close racing over the weekends. A few of the weekends it looks like we will be sharing with the new TCR UK racing category which looks like it could be an interesting new class to watch. If it becomes as big as BTCC remains to be seen.

 

Silverstone Trophy race – 4th

The second race of the weekend was a chance to see who really is the best in the Academy as it was a non championship race with both groups mixed. Due to it being oversubscribed the quali/race was replaced with two races.

The format was odd numbers in one race, even numbers in the other. I finished 5th in the championship so started in 5th place with both championship winners and in the middle of a fast group of drivers. All I needed was a good start. Surely after 5 races I would be 6th time lucky right… I consider I was lucky that no one hit me from behind as I dropped from 5th to 12th. I enjoy a bit of a fight but seriously I have to stop doing this to myself.

Since everyone had done a race the day before everyone was really on the ball and the whole race was another brilliant scrap. It was a lot of fun going wheel to wheel with some of the white group for a change who I had never raced against. Managed to get back into the lead at one point and narrowly missed out on 3rd place to Andy.
Accidentally hit Tom at one point due to a misunderstanding over lines which was totally my fault. I shouldn’t have assumed his line would have been the same as James was in the same situation the race before. Really happy that neither of us were seriously damaged and Tom went on to win and beat both champions!

Managed to claim the fastest lap for my third race in a row but due to the rain a little slower than the new record I set on Saturday.