The real thing

Af­ter months of span­ner­ing, fret­ting and road driv­ing, the Cater­ham and I are in­ally rac­ing. By Ben Miller

CAR (UK) - - Our Cars -

INTO THE HOLD­ING area for my first ever race and the cool calm that mirac­u­lously took hold for qual­i­fy­ing (14th from 25) has de­serted me. My heart’s go­ing so hard I’m wor­ried the valves might bounce. Af­ter an age – en­gine run­ning, sweat boil­ing up in­side Nomex – we form up on the grid. In a heart­beat we’re off around our warm-up lap of the short, sharp shock that is the Brands Indy cir­cuit. Then it’s back to the grid, red lights on, red lights out… Go.

The jour­ney here’s taken six months. Late last year I took de­liv­ery of a Cater­ham Academy car in kit form. In the post-Christ­mas win­ter months I did my race li­cence, bought a lot of ex­pen­sive equip­ment (around £2k on race suit, fire­proof un­der­crack­ers, Hans de­vice, boots, gloves, hel­met) and, as the big chill mel­lowed into spring, we tack­led a cou­ple of pre-sea­son events and two com­pet­i­tive sprints (21st of 26 in the first, 14th in the sec­ond) – all prepa­ra­tion for this, our first proper race (the Academy is only open to rac­ing vir­gins).

Wheel­spin – what feels like a good 10 min­utes of wheel­spin. Up to sec­ond gear, hit the lim­iter. Then some­how I’m through edge-of-the-world Pad­dock Hill with a de­cent turn of speed and with­out in­ci­dent. Through Druids, down to Gra­ham Hill for the first time and as three cars bat­tle them­selves wide of the rac­ing line I drive through to eleventh, then tenth on the run to Sur­tees. At this point I re­mem­ber to breathe again.

The car tight­ens as the rub­ber comes up to tem­per­a­ture, the gap to the gag­gle ahead shrink­ing as their in­fight­ing hurts their lap times. At Druids I’m close enough to think about a pass, move wide for a faster exit and… drop the clutch so grace­lessly on the shift down to sec­ond that the al­ready light rear end slews round in a half-spin. Poor Ryan Scar­ratt flies into the cor­ner be­hind me to be pre­sented with very few op­tions: go left for gravel, straight on for a Cater­ham broad­side or right for sal­va­tion – if he can make it. He nearly does, then there’s a thump as his rear sus­pen­sion meets my front wheel. I lose a cou­ple of po­si­tions be­fore get­ting un­der­way again, so an­gry at my­self I don’t even no­tice one bug-eye lamp point­ing lazily at the sky.

Over the next dozen laps I try to stay calm and make up a cou­ple of places. At the front an epic scrap be­tween Dan French, Matt Shep­pard, James Mur­phy, Cater­ham CEO Gra­ham Mac­don­ald (know thy prod­uct…) and fastest-lap man Toby Clowes keeps the crowd on the sun-drenched banks happy. Dan takes the che­quered flag. I cross the line for 12th, the over­whelm­ing joy of hav­ing fin­ished tem­pered by the fact Ryan’s car made it no fur­ther than Druids – this rac­ing thing is in­tense.

Run be­yond the kerb and MSV boss Jonathan Palmer gets very up­set

It’s this close through most Cater­ham races, with some con­tact in­evitable

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