When Krazy Horse take on a new brand we like to immerse ourselves in the whole ethos of their business so we can fully understand every element of the business to give our customers the most knowledgable information we can.
This is why we have entered the 2021 Academy and our Caterham Salesman Ian Beddis was quick to put his hand up to volunteer to race...as were most of the team!
We asked Ian to document his experiences from start to finish so our customers can come along with us and experience exactly what it is like to become a Racing Driver...
Who am I? What am I doing here?
Thanks for searching for, or stumbling across, this blog which will follow my experience of the Caterham Academy 2021 and becoming a racing driver.
I am Ian and I look after Caterham for Krazy Horse. I was enlisted into the Krazy Horse team back in October 2020 when Caterham joined our stable of brands. My background is in supercars but I was keen to join Krazy Horse and experience cars without computer aids. At Krazy Horse we want to be fully immersed in all aspects of Caterham activity, so, it was decided that as well as selling racing packages we would run our own car too – the absolutely brilliant part is that I got offered to drive it!
What is Caterham Academy?
The Caterham Academy is a UK racing Championship aimed solely at drivers who have not previously held a racing licence, the cars are the same so racing is down to the skill of the driver.
The championship is so popular that the grid is split in two with one grid called Green and the other, White. The two grids are split randomly, and I will be racing on the green grid.
What has happened already?
The pre-season prep officially began with a group web call with the team at Caterham Motorsport and all the other 2021 Academy drivers. We were also joined by some previous Academy drivers and champions who lent their experiences to us novice lot. In a non-covid year this call would have been a meeting at the Caterham HQ. Whilst we missed out on the personal bonding bit we have all been sharing knowledge and encouragement on a WhatsApp group chat. This has proven really useful to gain reassurance and advice as well as fun banter, it really feels like bonds have already been made between us.
What does the year have in store?
The next planned events are the setup morning, the ARDS Test and the test day. Following that the season begins with our first competitive event, a sprint race at Curborough.
Due to the ongoing pandemic the setup morning, which would normally be hosted at Caterham HQ, will now be held online via Zoom. I expect this session to be advice about how to adjust your car to achieve the best setup for each circuit and your individual driving style and preference.
The ARDS test is an exam and practical test which you must pass in order to be allowed to race. On the written side you need to prove you understand the meanings of all the track marshalls flags and on the practical side you must demonstrate a good level of technical ability and awareness of track conditions – fundamentally they want to ensure you will be safe personally and safe amongst and for your fellow drivers.
The test day is aimed at teaching drifting and car control, I haven’t had much experience of this, but I understand that the skills taught on this day are vital to performing well during the season.
The Curborough Sprint is designed to give us our first taste of competitive motorsport but without the added pressure of all the other cars on the grid darting around at the same time, it also gives a chance to test the cars further before our first race at Mallory Park.
What kit has been bought?
Krazy Horse owner Paul ordered our car before I joined the team. The options list is not very long for an Academy car as the fundamentals have to be the same for each car on the grid, but you can make some cosmetic changes. To suit our brand, our car has been left as a bare aluminium body with black paint wings. The nose is also black but has a red painted band leading into a single bonnet stripe. The red theme continues with the roll cage which has been painted to match. It was also chosen as part of the factory spec to include the optional VBOX HD package – I’ll come back to this later in the blog!
The Academy package includes lots of goodies, the main two being the car and entry to the full season of racing. I’ll go into more detail of what else comes with the package later in the blog. There are however some items which you must have or purchase, this is your personal protective equipment such as your helmet, FHR device, race suit etc. As Demon Tweeks are one of the championship sponsors I decided to order all of my PPE with them. Dave Kimberley guided me through the options and given that he has previously raced a Caterham as well as single-seaters his advice is more from the perspective of a driver rather than a salesman. For my race suit I chose to go with the suit Dave and Caterham had chosen as the Caterham Motorsport suit, the suit is an OMP Technica which is triple layer, the Caterham Motorsport logo gets stitched on but we also added the Krazy Horse Wild Rides logo to the front and back. As I want to be as “racing driver” like as possible my name and the Union Flag will also be stitched on the belt – they say you are halfway there if you look the part, don't they?!
Choosing a helmet was a critical purchase to get right, I have a Bell motorbike helmet but it does not necessarily translate that the same size would be the best fit for an automotive racing helmet. The other reason for wanting to ensure the size and fit was perfect, or as close to perfect as I could get, is that I want to get my “lid” painted with my own livery – more on that later too!
I looked at a couple of brands for the fireproof underwear but decided to stick with OMP to match the suit. Being an "all the gear, no idea" driver at this point I decided to keep all the rest of the kit matching too, so chose OMP gloves and boots. By taking advice from Dave I chose better quality boots and gloves than I had intended to, for example opting for leather boots to provide a better chance of maintaining the finish of them rather than cheaper suede ones. By contrast, I ended up with a cheaper Hans device, than the one I thought I would choose, I chose a Stand21 for the simple reason that it fitted me and my shoulders the best.
How is the build going?
Many of my fellow drivers have opted for their cars to be factory-built meaning that Caterham build the car at the factory and deliver to the customer via their dealer with the IVA completed and road fund license included. Others have opted, like us, to build our cars.
The car gets delivered as the body along with parts in about 16 boxes. The body arrives with roughly 40 hours of work already completed at the factory, the bodywork has been married to the chassis, the dashboard installed, brake lines fitted and the loom attached.
The build is being completed by our Technicians Connell and Ben and as of right now the roll cage has been fitted, the shafts and suspension installed and the engine lifted in.
Have I got a Flat Floor? Caster is not sugar. In non-covid times the setup morning would be held at Caterham HQ but as we are still under Government restriction the session was held on Zoom instead. This training explained to us all the meanings behind some of the engineering terms for car setup and what affect the changes would make.
It turns out that Flat Floor is actually a good thing and is the general term used for balancing the car and adjustments to the wheel geometry. It also turns out that Caster is all about the angle by which the wheel is pushed from the car and is not a type of sugar!
Whilst I have worked in Motorsport in the past and have followed F1 and other formulas for many years the session was useful to clarify the terms which matter to the setup of my racing car.
The Build continues
Like many builds whether they be a vehicle or a building have stages when progress is being made but it doesn’t really feel like it’s getting any closer to being completed. Ben has been busy connecting cables, fitting seatbelts, installing seats and lots of other finishing jobs.
We are getting very close to firing up the engine for the first time as liquids have been poured and topped up, now time to bleed the brakes and clutch.
The ARDS Day Test
It was exciting to be finally meeting in person half of my fellow drivers for the year and some new faces from Caterham.
Following a welcome and briefing we were split into four small groups, my group started with a briefing from Darren about car setup, regulations and more about what to expect on a race weekend.
The second session was the best bit in my opinion, we headed over to a different area the track and were handed the keys to a BMW. All of the computer aids had been removed or switched off and we were sent out with a brief to go as fast as we could around the short course which was covered in an oil like substance. We quickly discovered that we needed our hands to be as fast as possible with the steering wheel to avoid a spin. After a few fun laps we were brought in to discuss our experience and be guided on best practice to perfect the delicate art of drifting. The advice we were given seemed too simple, one, when you feel the loss of traction dip the clutch and two, look much further ahead than just the corner you are navigating. Amazingly these two simple things meant very little hand movement was required and whilst I had not suddenly become a drifting god the difference in control was astounding. I would have loved to have spent the rest of the day doing this but the ARDS practical and theory tests loomed.
After a lunch spent getting to know some of the other drivers, we were off on track in small fleet of red Fiesta’s for the track practical test. I was taken out by one of the circuit instructors who drove a few laps first to guide me around the lap and the ideal line and gears. Then it was my turn to take control. The aim was to prove I can be safe on track for both me and my fellow drivers, so I was driving well within mine and the cars capabilities. After a few laps the instructor explained that he would go quiet for two laps, during which my skills would be assessed – it wasn’t very likely, but I had to ensure I didn’t have a spin as that would be an instant fail of the test. Thankfully my laps were all clean and the instructor was pleased with my driving and made particular note of my braking.
The final section of the day was the theory test, I had to be 100% on flags to pass.
I had expected to be presented with pictures of the flags and to write the correct meaning of the flag, but the test was the other way around. As well as questions about all twelve flags there were also 30 odd multiple-choice questions related to a race weekend and track racing.
The tests were marked straight after and thankfully and excitingly we had all passed – we had all become Racing Driver Licence Holders!
It all felt more real after the day and official a few days later when our Licence cards arrived.
First taste of competition – The Curbourugh Sprint
The day before had been spent getting the finishing touches to ensure the legality of the car, as I do not yet have a towing licence my car was transported up by our driver Albert the afternoon before. Due to my having been off for nearly three weeks over Easter I had not yet had the opportunity to put miles on the car or even sit in the car properly with all of my race gear on so the first run out was going to be interesting!
The drivers briefing was scheduled for 8.30am so I decided to arrive early so I could practice strapping myself into the car properly, I am glad I did as I discovered by anti-submarining straps were about two foot too long. Thankfully Lee from Caterham was on hand to take my seat out and make the necessary adjustment to the straps.
The Clerk of the course briefed us about the format of the day then guided us around a track walk. The track walk was particularly important as the route around the track was not straightforward.
Time came for my first run, we would have two practice runs during the morning sessions followed by three timed runs through the afternoon. I had left my helmet in the truck over night so it was cold and this caused it to fog up despite leaving a little air gap for the visor, EXCUSE ALERT, so my first lap was very slow as I couldn’t see where to go properly! My first run was 85 seconds, slow but at least it was clean.
I was much better prepared for practice 2 so after a reasonable standing start I felt confident to up the speed compared to the first run, it turns out that I was too confident and too fast too! I unsettled the car going through the first turn and lost it in corner two. Thankfully, despite it feeling and sounding bad, the rear wheels had stayed withing track limits so after reversing and re-joining the track I completed the rest of the lap and actually improved by 2 seconds.
Something changed after lunch and for my first timed run I again managed a clean lap which resulted in a significant reduction of time down to 74 seconds.
I hadn’t learned from my experience in the morning and for the second timed run I tried too hard and despite being clean I was sliding the car too much which actually slowed me down so I ended with a 75 second run.
With encouragement from Albert I tried hard for the final run and managed to get around in 73 seconds, despite the leaders hitting 66 seconds I was really pleased given that I had only sat in the car properly for the first time that morning and most of the field had completed over 1000 miles in their cars. I was also pleased with the progress made throughout the day – the Caterham team keep encouraging me that faster times will come and by the season end the grid is a lot closer together.
One of our clients is racing this year too, Freddie is driving car 66 within the White Grid. Freddie hinted at his potential track speed when he set a blistering time in the Caterham simulator which we had in the showroom when Freddie signed up to the championship, his speed was confirmed with a third place for the White Grid – the first taste of motorsport silverware (it was actually a glass trophy this time!) and champagne! Nice one Freddie!
The Academy Package includes a Test Day which was at Mallory Park and as our first race was to be at Mallory at the other end of the week so I decided to use this as my race test day.
Mallory in an oval circuit with a hairpin stretching out of one corner. We were split into our White and Green groups with the whites going out first. It quickly became apparent that the cars were too loud for what was a quiet day at the circuit. Thankfully we were still able to run but without the hairpin, a chicane was introduced near the end of the back straight so the circuit still has some interest.
I managed to dial into this circuit quite well, in particular the first corner Gerrards which is a long right-hander. I found the quickest way was to take it in fourth gear with a slight lift after the main straight then progressively reapply the power, this took me out wide but the grip came to me and guided me well to the apex. The chicane was good fun but as I have not yet learned the dark art of heel and toe I kept squealing my tyres – and for this, I got black flagged – three times!
A bit annoying about the sound issue but a very useful day to prepare for our first race weekend.
First Race – Round 1 - Mallory Park
It was damp for qualifying in the morning, I had confidence in the first few corners but this session was my first driving the full circuit which now included the hairpin. My main aim was to stay on track and complete at least the three laps which is the minimum required to qualify, after that, I aimed to be as fast as possible and qualify as best as I could.
Live timing showed me in 18th place which is pretty much what I was expecting, albeit I had hoped to be a few places higher!
Our First Race
I didn’t have too many nerves, our first lap or Green Flag lap was from the pits with us then being lined up by the marshals in our grid positions – I was grateful for this as I am not sure I would have found the correct place otherwise. I was expecting the grid to be two long staggered rows but it was more like four staggered rows. This didn’t matter to me at first however it became annoying as soon as the lights went out. The start process begins when the last driver has lined up which is signalled by a marshal waving a green flag to signify all is well. At that point 5 red lights go on for anything from 2 to 7 seconds, when they go out, we go. So, I saw the lights go out and wanted to go but it seemed that the drivers surrounding me did not react as quickly and as I was boxed in I had to wait for them to go before I could get going too. At the time this seemed to be a long time but reviewing the footage it must have been half a second if that! I lost a couple of places and use the first couple of laps to settle in and maintain my position. On lap 3 I picked up Charles Vincent in car 59 which began a 9 lap battle for position. I felt I was quicker, particularly on the long sweeping Gerrards corner but I lacked the pace and perhaps the bravery to lunge into a corner or sling past on a straight. I was trying different lines and approaches to corners, but nothing was working. However, at the end of lap 12, Charles made a slight mistake coming through the last corner into the main straight which compromised his speed down the straight, this allowed me to go for it and at the end of the straight going into Gerrards, I took the inside line to take the position. Charles saw me and courteously gave me the space I needed, and I was through. Brilliant, a self-made overtake, one of my season's targets achieved within race one!
The next few laps were all a good pace and on laps 18 I lapped John Vincent in car 28. Then, later on, on the same lap, as I was approaching the hairpin I was shown the blue flag meaning that faster drivers were coming through. I slowed down and stayed as wide to the right as I could which allowed Marc Jones in car 2 through first, he was closely followed by a chasing pack of five cars.
Over the next couple of laps a few other quicker drivers flashed past, including the Championship sponsor Paul Woodman in his Lovercars car 69 and our client Freddie Chiddicks in car 66 who were enjoying a very close fought battle for 6th, Paul eventually won out but by one of the tightest margins, I have ever seen.
I took the chequered flag on lap 21, what an amazing feeling and another of my targets achieved – finishing a race (and in one piece).
After the cool-down lap which included lots of waving and thumbs up to the marshals, we were guided to Parc Ferme. What an atmosphere, all cars finished the race and there were smiles all round – we could all now call ourselves racing drivers!
I started 18th, dropped to 20th, pulled one place back and finished 19th.
Round 2 – Race 2 & 3 – Knockhill
I understand that the Academy has not competed at Knockhill for a while, despite the long journeys for most competitors I think we were all looking forward to what many describe as an “epic” circuit.
I had a three-session test day booked for the Friday before the race weekend, session 1 gave me my first experience of the blind entry to corner one, the onboard youtube footage of racing there really doesn’t prepare you for the elevation change. Further around the lap, you get the uphill blind chicanes – wow! I went into the gravel whilst finding my lines and braking points but that is what testing is for. In session two I caused a red flag when I went too deep into the first corner and spread the cones from corner two across the track, for me the red flag wasn’t shown yet so I kept going at speed into the hairpin and had a slight off there too! I could then see the red lights and flags along the straight. I went into the pits and was told off but I can only act on a flag if one is shown!
When the cones had been put back and we were allowed out again I drove well and got my times consistently in the 1minute 4-second zone. The driving wasn’t pretty but it seemed to work.
During the last session I tried to be consistent, smooth and accurate, I had expected that to bring speed but it worked out 2 seconds slower! Taking the track by the scruff of the neck and putting additional faith in the car seemed to be the only way to be rewarded here.
As usual, we would have 15 minutes and would need 3 laps to qualify. I didn’t feel quite as brave as I had done on Friday morning but kept the car on track and qualified in 21st position for the afternoons' race.
Amazingly, the weather on Friday had been okay and mostly dry but the weekend was sunny too.
A good start but I didn’t capitalise on it and struggled to keep up although I did manage to pick up one position, the race was rather uneventful aside from being lapped by the front runners of the 12th lap. That was when I stupidly let through a driver who I thought I should be blue flagged for but it was for position! C’est la vie! I finished 21st and therefore would be 21st on the grid for race two on Sunday.
Where race one was mostly uneventful, this race certainly made up for it! I was in a better mood today to drive a bit harder and be a bit more aggressive. I had another good start and kept up well with the pack and within a few laps, I had made an overtake and gained another position through another driver having an unfortunate spin. I was driving well and consistent with my times and holding my position well. And then… four of the fast boys at the front crashed which caused a red flag, there seemed to be a lot of damage to cars, but all drivers involved were okay. A race result can be declared when 75% of the race has been reached but we still had 6 minutes to go so after a long wait we had another green flag lap before a fresh grid restart. Despite my normal good start, all I managed this time was lots of wheel spin and a slow launch as a result, this however might have saved me! I arrived over the brow of corner 1 to find a cloud of dust and tyre smoke and what I think was at least four cars spinning and bumping into each other, I came to a standstill to ensure I avoided any contact and picked my way through the debris strewn across the track. The race was again black flagged and this time the chequered flag was also shown. The initial result, and mainly as a result of the crashes, put me in 15th place. Racing can be cruel at times but selfishly I was and am grateful for my best result so far and the associated haul of points.
It took a while for the Clerk of the Course and the BRSCC to publish the final race classification – amazingly I was upgraded to 14th position!
Silverstone next time out, and we get to drive with the White Group as well!
Round 3 – Silverstone GP – Race 4
The format was open pitlane for testing which means that we could go out whenever we want throughout the day and for as few or as many laps as we like at a time.
After making a few adjustments to the car I headed out on circuit, I spent the first couple of laps getting used to the track, trying to learn which corner was coming up next. I also had to acclimatise to it not only being Caterhams on track but Porsche GT3s, Aston Martins and other much more powerful racing cars with closing speeds far higher than mine. It was a bit off-putting however the general rule is to stay on the racing line, so you are predictable for faster cars to make their way around you safely.
Learning the track was tough, some of the corners are very similar looking but demand very different approaches and whilst I was finding my way I went far too quickly into some and was forced into the vast Silverstone run-off. What the circuit did allow me was the space to practice putting in more acceleration when I was starting to lose control, I had been advised it was the best thing to do but had never been brave enough to try, sure enough, it works!
I got my times down to 2 minutes 45 seconds but the fast boys were getting down to 2 minutes 35 seconds, a lot of work to do but actually this is a similar pace difference as this is a much longer circuit than the previous races.
There were ominously dark clouds incoming on the horizon but despite rain being forecast it seemed to be holding.
This would be the first time all of the Academy cars would be on track together and as Silverstone is a long circuit I and some of the other backmarkers had planned to head to the assembly area last so we would not be in anyone's way and could go at our own pace without having to keep a constant lookout for fast cars on flying laps.
The plan, however, did not go to plan. Firstly, the heavens opened and soaked us and the track and secondly, we somehow managed to line up mid-pack.
Our green flag lap was my first experience of driving the car in proper wet conditions and even went off on the runoff! We had to complete at least three laps to qualify and although that was in my mind I was also thinking that this is the day I could be brave and get a great qualifying result. I put my foot down and went for it. I was making good time and got a short toe down Hanger Straight then lost it at Stowe and had a full 360! The new plan was to go steady, keep trying to find grip and get the three laps done! I qualified 43rd on the grid and 21st of the greens.
We had been enjoying lovely sunny weather ever since the heavy rainfall of qualifying, but there were more dark clouds on the horizon and a few drops in the air. I had my fingers crossed that it would stay dry as I wanted to push as hard as I could rather than tiptoeing around in the wet.
Thankfully it stayed dry and we were all able to go for it.
Being so far back it was a bit hard to see the start lights so although I had a slight delay, my start was good and I had the outside line into the first corner. My progress was somewhat hindered by a couple of cars having a coming together which allowed some other cars to get ahead of me. There were a couple of other spin collisions on the lap which were signposted by the marshals waving yellow flags. I made back the lost places and started to find my rhythm.
One of the cars which were out of place was Robert Beke pedalling car No. 13 from the White Group, I could see he was about the length of a straight behind which I managed to maintain for a while but Robert found his pace and managed to catch up, I thought I might be able to keep him at bay but he found his way around. I was tempted to push hard to get the place back but he was quicker than me and he was in the white grid so aside from pride it wouldn’t get me any more points.
In the closing minutes of the lap, I came close to Alan Bateman in his Lotus 78 inspired car and wanted to try to overtake him be he was driving well and he is also of the white group so it wasn’t worth risking any potential move for position.
We managed to get 8 laps in for our 20-minute race and I could now say I have competed at Silverstone on the full Grand Prix circuit. It was brilliant to have driven alongside the white group and experienced such a full grid, as I had finished this race I now have 4 classifications towards the required 6 to lose my novice cross!
Round 4 - Brands Hatch
I was without the trailer for this round but as the cars are road legal I got my first experience of driving the car to a race weekend.
The drive from Suffolk to Brands was great, you get quite a few looks when you’re on the road is a fully livereied race car! Without the trailer I had to commit to tyre choice before I left, as the forecast looked wet I opted for spare set of “wet” (fully treaded control tyres).
No trailer meant no cover both for my kit and the car. One of the great things about Caterham racing is the friendliness of the paddock, thank you to Louise Deason for allowing me space under her owning for the day.
Another example of the friendliness came after the first session of the day. Graham Macdonald, the Caterham CEO, races in the Super Seven Championship (at Academy level we refer to these chaps as the fast boys) and was wandering through the paddock and asked how I was getting on, I said I was enjoying it but slow. Graham offered to review my fastest lap footage and offered a few tips – turn later into Paddock Hill turn and hit the valley in the middle of the curbs at Surtees. I might ask Graham for advice more often, I was a second quicker in the next session – thanks Graham.
My first red flag! – I was fast approaching Paddock Hill bend when I got distracted by our sponsor Paul Woodman exiting the pits. The silly part is that Paul would not have been in my way into the corner but I decided he might have been. In looking over to him I missed my braking point and went straight into the gravel at the end of the Brabham Straight. The barriers are very close at this point of the circuit so the gravel is very deep, design as such to slow cars quickly. Tragically, during a race the previous weekend volunteer Marshal Rob Foote was killed at the Marshal point at this point of the circuit when an out-of-control car left the circuit. As a mark of respect all Caterham cars ran with an Orange Army sticker on the nosecone – the Orange Army is the nickname given to the teams of Marshals who are in the main volunteers who give up their time to allow racers and track day drivers the race and enjoy their cars on track. Thank you to Rob and all of the other Marshals who allow us to race and help to keep us all safe.
Yet another example of Caterham paddock friendliness came before the final session of the day. Will James who is in contention to become the White Grid Academy Champion gave me a few more tips about how to drive the circuit, the main advice was to avoid using second gear for the slow corners. The advice from Graham and Will combined to help me go from a 1:01:05 in the morning to a best of 58:99 during the final session – thanks Will and good luck in the Championship.
Testing had been on the Thursday leading up to the weekend so I had been back home and was again up early to drive to the circuit. By the time I had reached the end of my village it had begun raining and by the time I had reached the nearest town it was pelting down! A few miles down the main A road thoughts of turning back home were entering my mind but despite being soaked through I though best to continue.
The rain continued to poor all the way to the circuit and didn’t let up until minutes before our qualifying session. Whilst queued in the pit lane I was thinking to myself that I didn’t want to be the one to go off so my plan was to be very tentative on the green flag lap and then ensure I get in three clean laps to qualify.
My second red flag – the morning of a race day starts with a drivers briefing and the advice/instruction given by our Race Clerk Kelly was ringing in my ears, build up your pace, be careful we’ve only got 15 minutes.
I made it out of the pits and around Paddock Hill bend but halfway down the hill on the way to Druids I lost complete control, it was as if the car was on ice. I slid off the track into the neatly swept gravel trap and was beached. I wasn’t alone in loosing control, five other drivers behind me had spun on circuit or reached the gravel but I was the only one to be stranded. The Marshals were thinking I would be pushed out and sent on my way but race control had ordered a lifter and a loader to pull me out and take me back to the Caterham pit garage. The track was inspected to see if coolant had been spilt but the conclusion was deemed to be a lack of skill in the extremely slippy conditions dealt in-between the full wet and dry.
The Caterham team checked the car over and ordered me back in the car whilst they completed checks to the brake lines. I had to complete three laps to qualify and all I was thinking was that I would probably end of coming off the track at the same place straight back out of the pits. Thankfully I headed out and made it past the danger point and then proceeded to complete 6 laps, I wasn’t last either!
Amazingly, the rain cleared and the track was dry for our 4pm race. I was really pleased that I had decided to come and the track had dried out, I would be able to put my learning from testing to practice.
A great start and I took two places from the off, at Druids Richard Persey in car 81 took a place back and after first lap I got into a rhythm and was keeping close to the back of the pack.
What felt like a long time into the race I was feeling the mental strain of the pace and was hoping the race was coming to a close, I was shocked after I glanced over to my kitchen timer to see there was over 12 minutes remaining, we weren’t even half way through! I think my driving began to be a bit ragged in placed but I think I was managing to maintain my pace.
One of my goals for the season was to finish on the lead lap, this goal was achieved at Silverstone but short of a crash this is almost a given on the full International circuit, the real goal was to achieve this on a short circuit such as Brands Hatch Indy. On lap 19 at the exit of Druids I was shown the blue flag and whilst I was disappointed to not be achieving my goal I was please to see that the lead driver was Freddie Chiddicks in car 66. They say the worst thing to do in motorracing is to take out your team mate and whilst you are not allowed to be withing a team for Academy, Freddie is a Krazy Horse client so I wanted to be especially sure I didn’t hinder him or make contact. I ensured I hugged the inside of Graham Hill Bend to all him through. I expected a flurry of the chasing pack but Freddie was in a class of his own and was the only driver to pass me. Well done Freddie and good luck with the championship.
Up north to Croft next!
Round 5 – Croft
I had decided to take car setup more seriously before I had left for Croft so I was thinking more about tyre pressures and fuel levels. My normal setup is to stick all four corners to 28psi (cold) and fill the tank before qualifying and what ever isn’t burnt off would be my race level. This time out I wanted to be running at the best pressures for the circuit and only the fuel required for each session.
The first couple of laps of the first session were used to learn the track layout - I had also watched more youtube footage of previous Academy driving at Croft as part of trying to take this experience more seriously but track time is the best way to learn it. Others had been testing the day before so whilst I was learning I also had to maintain a speed which I wasn’t perhaps comfortable with yet although this probably helped me find a reasonable starting pace.
The second session started well but a few laps in had my first crash! I was passed by a quicker driver on the main straight and I was able to tuck in behind him and help build up my speed by following his faster lead, we had gone through the fastest first corner and subsequent chicane but I wasn’t expecting him the brake at the apex of corner three and though a lack of skill I lost control and as a result I pranged the pillow clad barrier. I could immediately tell that the front nearside was damaged and the wing damaged however I was surprised to see my rear nearside wing further down the track! I didn’t think the impact was very hard and nowhere near the rear.
I managed to drive the car a few hundred yards to an area of safety, thankfully I hadn’t caused a red flag. I got the car back to the Caterham garages and Darren and his team quickly assessed the damage and arranged the parts order and the repair. The team did a great job and the car was ready for the final session of the day. All was good again until, as I was strapped in the car and ready to go, I discovered I had lost my balaclava! Thankfully I keen a spare but my pit was in another area of the circuit and the final 30 minute session of the day had already begun. I was keen to be out on track as I had missed the majority of the second session so rushed back to get the spare and made my way to the track, the kind marshal at the assembly area checked for traffic then waved my onto track. I got a couple of laps in but was a bit flustered and stupidly went far to quickly into the first corner and beached the car in the gravel – red flag and my session over!
I had confidence that I could be of reasonable pace but was conscious that I had to complete three laps to qualify. My plan was to go out and give it 95% to ensure I stayed on track and achieve the minimum 3 lap requirement, I drove well and felt good. I actually felt pretty quick and was expecting solid times, I was expecting what had actually happened. I was a massive three seconds off the pace of the next driver and was dead last!
I was back on my “slick tyres” (still road legal but worn down all conditions control tyres) and felt confident that being able to chase the pack would bring me pace, I was also braced for the front runners to be waved through from lap 13 onwards.
My getaway was pretty good but I got a bit too much wheelspin which hindered my acceleration to the first corner. I could have been more aggressive but I had already gained one place and wanted to stay safe and gain any other places throughout the race.
The drivers ahead were maintaining good pace and I was coming under pressure from Ian Summer is car number 44. I could tell that Ian was quicker than me but on lap 7 I made a slight error into Chicane and Ian was very close behind and in taking evasive action from my fault he had a spin. I thought the pressure was off but a couple of laps Ian was back on my tail. I wasn’t used to being chased for my position under sustained pressure I was too hot heading into Hairpin which compromised my exit speed and allowed Ian through on the main straight. I wasn’t able to reciprocate Ian’s pace and thought best to drive within myself and ensure a safe finish to the race. Oddly, on lap 11 Ian had a strange spin after Chicane which gave my back the position.
Time was running out and whilst Ian was fighting back I held the place. Sadly, Ian Kendle had stopped off track close to the end of the race but this did give my another place.
Testing had been tough and qualifying was poor but the race was great fun and ended in my second best result of the season. Significantly this finish means I have now completed the minimum number of races to remove my novice cross. I will have to ask the Clerk of the Course at Snetterton for permission to remove the sticker.
I can hardly believe it but next up is the season finale at Snetterton.
The Finale – Round 6 – Snetterton
Testing – I had been around Snetterton in a Caterham a year or so ago so at least I had a general idea of the track layout and how to take the corners. Four good sessions, my times got quicker through the day and I felt good for qualifying the following day.
Was this my biggest rookie mistake of the year? Our driver briefing was early for this round so I was at the circuit for 7.30am, following the briefing at 8am I get setup, cleaned the windscreen, changed into my race gear and relaxed before heading down to the assembly area. In the assembly area we were lined up in a block whilst we waited for the track to become free. I keep the engine running whilst we were waiting to ensure everything was at operating temperature, it was then that I looked across the dials and saw that the fuel was only just above red! I thought I would risk it and head out rather than venture back to my garage to fill up with fuel and potentially miss the first few minutes and risk not having time to complete the minimum 3 laps required.
I was checking the gauge regularly and the level was holding up quite well until 4 laps in when it was right at the bottom, I decided not to take the chequered flag, this turned out to be a wise decision as we were weighed in parc ferme and I was only 1kg above the minimum weight threshold.
Note to self – always check fuel level before heading out and don’t ever assume you filled up the night before!
Race 1 of the Weekend
I had qualified last, 22nd place so had plenty of work to do but I was hoping for a good start and to be able to build up positions from there.
This was the first weekend where I actually had supporters – two very special VIPS as-well! My two young daughters, Florence and Margot, had been brought to watch and support by my parents, this was the first motorsport event for the girls and the first time all four had been able to come and watch me race. Further support came Craig Jarvis and his wife Julie, one of the 10 drivers we have signed up for next years Academy.
My start was good but then got lots of wheel spin so couldn’t take as much advantage as I had wanted but still made up places by pace and more through drivers spinning off at the first corner.
I finished 17th and therefore would start 17th for the final Academy Championship race of the season.
The Championship – it was between Freddie Chiddicks in car 66 and Geoff Newman in car 33, gong in Geoff was ahead by one point but Freddie won the race and took the additional point for securing the fastest lap too and taking it to the final race to decide the championship winner.
Race 2 – The final Academy Championship race
We had three drivers who hadn’t made it to the end of race one so would be starting from the back, whilst all of us back markers want to keep our positions we all agreed it made more sense to let them through and concentrate on racing drivers we are closer matched to on pace.
The forecast had been for dry all weekend but for the hour leading up tot the race it rained, I made the decision to switch to wets.
Heading out on the green flag lap the majority of the track was dry or drying but Nelson, Bomb Hole and Coram were all wet.
I had a go start but was boxed close to the wall and drivers ahead were slow away and I had to brake twice before even crossing the line!
I didn’t have the confidence to push in the wetter parts of the circuit so wasn’t able to push anyone ahead and finished 19th.
The Championship – Geoff won the final race and on the last lap took the fastest lap too, this was enough for him to secure the championship with the narrowest margin of just one point. Congratulations to Geoff and well done to Freddie, both drivers have set the bar high for future Green Group front runner drivers.
Congratulation to Charlie Lower for winning the White Group Championship and well done to Harry George for a very hard-fought runners up position.
The Experience Overall
The excitement began with the ARDS pack arriving in the post, this was the trigger for me, and I think for the others that this was real – we would be going racing and would become racing drivers.
All drivers have been part of a WhatsApp group which in the early stages was full of introductions and delight when people posted about their noteworthy event such as their racing suit arriving, they were finishing their car builds or simply getting a bottle of suit cleaner in their Christmas Stocking! Questions were getting asked and support given, in a covid era this was the way we got to know each other as a group and start the banter too.
The racing – I had expected most people to treat the Academy as fun and just turn up for qualifying, enjoy lunch, race then head home. I had decided that I must have one day of testing at each tracking in the lead up to the race weekend but many were booking multiple days and hiring driving coaches too – this was going to be more serious than anticipated.
Driving Highlights – I thought my Brands Hatch drive was good but it was probably topped by the drive at Croft, a much tougher circuit and a good battle with Ian Summers in car 44.
My favourite drive was the Autumn Trophy, no pressure of the Championship, great weather, and no tyres to save – just go for it!
Continuing into Roadsport?
This is fairly obvious, of course I am going to continue into Roadsport!
Professional images by Insta tag @snappyracers
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