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