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Driver profile: John O'Brien

Championship: Caterham SuperSport Championship
Team: DPR Motorsport
Sponsor: Professional MotorSport World Expo


John's blog

Season Finale: Rounds 13 & 14,
Silverstone International

PMW’s MD told me I’d hate the Silverstone International circuit in a Caterham. I disagreed, right up to the point where qualifying began…

In regard to the statement I posed about Silverstone at the end of my last blog entry; “It’s effectively going to be a test of whether I can put a season’s worth of experience to good use…Only one way to find out”; the outcome was no. No I didn’t.

Within sniffing distance of the top ten finish I’d been aiming for all season, the weekend had to go well – I’d picked out who I needed to out qualify, and with steady progress being made through the Friday practice session, I was quietly confident about the task in hand. Countering all of this, however, was severe jet lag having returned from vacation the day before, which ultimately meant I could only stomach three of the four sessions out on circuit, before calling it a day in the interests of self-preservation!

Having contested this round last year, PMW’s MD told me I’d hate the Silverstone International circuit in a Caterham. I disagreed with him at the time and right up to the point where qualifying began… Whether it was because it was effectively ‘end of term’, or whether it’s simply the nature of the circuit, people seemingly approached qualifying like a race. Two of my flying laps were ruined by people attempting to reovertake after a draft, or substantially slowing through Vale and Club corners, which negated any draft you may have gained down the back straight and compromised any run out on to the start/ finish straight. As a result, I qualified an atrocious twentieth out of 32 runners.

Race one was as frantic as the proceeding qualifying session. Making another strong start, I found myself challenging for 15th by turn one. However, Roy Gray had a coming together with another driver mid-apex, which meant the pack scattered in a moment similar to the chaos at Oulton Park, last time out. The knock on effect was as I turned in for the corner, my path was blocked by several cars forcing me way out on to the run off. At the end of lap one, I was down in 23rd already seven seconds off the leaders. By the end of lap four, I’d fought my way through to 18th and closed the gap to the pack in front by over a second. On lap five, as we ran through Vale and in to Club corner, I found myself closing on to the back of the pack in front. Under braking for Club, the car in front braked some 200 yards earlier than I, or anyone else for that matter, had braked all weekend, and on a diagonal path through the braking zone… Having had a strong drive off Stowe I was travelling significantly faster than him and I was left with nowhere to go, other than straight in to the back of him. The impact was quite sizeable, and enough to pop the Caterham’s radiator. Race over, and a lengthy wait in the freezing drizzle from behind the safety barrier ensued.

Race two was the following day, and I was starting dead last, and it was raining. Given that the only time I’d ever raced the car in the wet, it ended in the barrier, I wasn’t that positive. But, as it was the last race of the season, what did I have to lose now the top ten target was effectively dead in the water? As it transpired, I wasn’t dead last as one car had been excluded from the previous day’s race as a result of overtaking under yellow flags.

Lining up in 31st place, I made another great start and jumped several rows before we had even crossed the start/ finish line. By the end of lap one, and despite a small mistake that allowed two cars back through, I’d still gained eight places. Feeling much more settled in the car, it set the theme for the race as I continued to make progress toward the front. However, the dreaded drafting that I’d been warned about meant that every time I thought I’d broken clear of the chasing pack, I’d be swamped by cars on the entry to Stowe, every single lap. However, by choosing a different line to everyone through Club, I was able to pull a gap down the home straight to give me some breathing space.

By the mid-point of the race, the lead gaggle of six cars had a forty-second advantage over the squabbling, chasing pack; seventh through to twenty-fourth was covered by just over fifteen seconds. Stuck in the middle of this bunch, I was desperate to make my way forward and had made it as far forward as 11th, before my progress was halted by being unable to find a way around fellow-DPR runner Ian Sparshott. On the last lap, however, Paul Lewis divebombed both Sparshott and I from a long, long way back on the way in to Village. Narrowly avoiding the front of my car, he collided heavily with Sparshott, with the two slowing right across my path. This allowed Richard Noordhof to sneak through the carnage and gain several places. Theoretically, I emerged from the corner in the same place I’d been in on the way in, and made it around the rest of the final lap without any further drama. In the end, I crossed the line 12th. From a 31st start place, in only my second wet race, I was proud of that.

However, when the amended race results were published, I found out I had been slapped with a five second time penalty for breaching track limits, which dropped me down to 18th. The weekend, and results, I thought surmised this season pretty well. Flashes of brilliance, if I do say so myself, interspersed with silly mistakes that ultimately cost me in the championships standings.

It’s been a truly phenomenal season; the level of competition is eye opening, the level of driving, largely, has been great, and the professionalism of the championship, as well as the teams involved is something to behold for someone who spent the previous three seasons sitting on an empty trailer in between races. I want to extend a personal thank you to: PMW’s MD and British GT driver, Graham Johnson, for giving me the opportunity to compete in the Supersport championship this season; and the entire DPR Team for continually providing me with a car that flattered my ability, as well as not grimacing in front of my face when I inevitably brought it back missing a wing/ nosecone/ or in the case of Zandvoort, most of the front end.

This has all left me pondering what to do in 2016. As much as it pains me to admit, another season in the Caterham isn’t financially possible unless I find a new sponsor between now and the start of the season, which given the sums involved, may not be that easy… So I’m left wondering, do I take my newly found race knowledge back to the MGOC and see how it translates to FWD? Or do I finally let go of the trusty MG, and find something that the skillset directly translates in to?

Whatever the outcome, I will be babbling on about it here on the PMW website!

Rounds 11 & 12: Oulton Park

After missing Friday practice, Oulton Park was always going to be about race two. Which is good, as the first race was one to forget for PMW’s Editor…

Despite wanting to approach Oulton Park in full attack mode, the reality was that it was always going to be a compromised weekend. Due to work commitments I had to forego Friday testing, meaning the first time I drove the notoriously unforgiving circuit was in qualifying – for which I was accompanied by freezing fog. The poor weather resulted in most of the earlier qualifying sessions being red flagged, due to a number of large and quite often spectacular accidents, which ultimately meant our session was trimmed down to just eight minutes.

Those four laps were enough for me to qualify 17th out of 29 runners – something I was more than happy with. The short running also highlighted a tendency in the car to snap in to oversteer through the faster sweeping left-handers of Cascades and Island Bend. However, due to the lack of running it was hard to distinguish whether it was being caused by the weather and track conditions, the car’s set up, or my lack of familiarity in driving a RWD car around the undulating circuit.

Given Oulton Park’s condensed timetable (noise restrictions in place thanks to the local Church, mean most club and national events take place on a Saturday only), the time between finishing qualifying and the start of race one also meant that any major revisions or repairs to the car would be out of the question. With this in mind, the approach was to steadily climb through the pack and settle for a decent finish that’d place me further up the grid for race two.

That’s what happened too thanks to a strong start. Having altered my start technique following successful launches in the dry and wet at Brands Hatch, I’ve been able to reduce wheelspin to almost nothing, enabling a much swifter, and cleaner get away. Springing past the row in front, I found myself challenging for 14th by the first turn. The constantly varying width of Oulton always makes for an interesting run down ‘The Avenue’, through ‘Dentons’, and in to Cascades and despite several close misses, I made it on to the long straight of ‘Riverside’ in a strong position. However, rounding Island Bend and several plumes of tire smoke bellowed out in front. Phil Jenkins had been forced in to a spin, and his car came to a stop at 90° to the track. Blocking the entire circuit, cars scattered absolutely everywhere, meaning those further back (myself included) were forced on to the grass by those taking avoiding actions.

During the ensuing carnage, I bounced heavily across the infield, which meant that the rear anti-roll bar became dislodged on one side. The car quickly became undriveable, with the snap oversteer getting progressively worse each time I tried to lean on the rear through Cascades. Twice the car progressively broke away before violently snapping through the last moments of the slip, pitching the car in to a spin. This meant that for every step I was taking through the pack, I was then taking two backward. Getting frustrated with a car that simply wouldn’t behave, once again I began overdriving the car, and on lap 12, dived down the inside of fellow DPR runner Paul Mortimer. Locking up, I slid straight on and took to the escape route. At the time, I believed myself to be in front as we entered Knickerbrook chicane, so I didn’t hand the place back. After clearing Mortimer, I found myself unable to catch those in front, and I dragged the car home in a lowly 21st place overall.

Failing to give the place back, combined with the two spins, and one venture over the track limits, was enough for the clerk to slap with me with a time penalty to drop me back behind Mortimer, as well as three points on my race license. Had I known that Caterham multiple any penalty points by three and detract them from the championship point’s standings, I may have argued my case stronger. Especially considering the divebomb at the very start of the season that caused over GB£6,000’s worth of damage to my car was deemed ‘a racing incident’ by the same clerk…

Nevertheless, the red mist truly kicked as a result of having to start race two in 22nd place, and with a revised set up on the car, I was feeling much more confident in parc ferme. Getting another strong start, I managed to jump the row of cars in front of me on the run to turn one. This progression continued pretty much lap after lap, as I chipped my way through the grid. At the end of lap 5, I had made it to the front of the small pack I was racing in, in 14th place. 13th, however, was over four seconds down the road, and I had a swarm of cars filling my own mirrors. Within two laps, I had gapped the chasing bunch and was just 0.1 behind 13th. Within two laps I’d worked through the pack and in to 9th, but trailing 8th place by over four seconds. In clean air once again, I clocked laps consistently two seconds quicker than those in front and closed right up within two laps once again. With just three laps left, Nick Portlock ahead of me made a move on Lucy Redding as we entered turn 1. However, he clipped the left rear side of her car, with the right front of his. Lifting the car clean in to the air on a section of track where the speedo is well over three figures, he hardly slowed down and made heavy contact with the tire barrier on the circuit’s outside. Backing right off to avoid the flying debris and the now fishtailing Redding, allowed her to build a small gap again, which was enough to hold me to the flag. The same lap, Danny Kileen made heavy contact with the tire bail that had been placed on the outside of Knickerbrook chicane. Ripping the front right of his car clean off, it handed me 7th place in the closing stages of the race.

After the dismay of the morning the afternoon was the ultimate remedy, and despite not grabbing as many points as I first anticipated, I left the circuit in a relatively good mood. A top ten finish at the end of the season is still theoretically possible, but standing in the way of that are the tow heavy straights of Silverstone International. It’s effectively going to be a test of whether I can put a season’s worth of experience to good use…Only one way to find out!

Season Finale: Rounds 13 & 14, Silverstone International

Rounds 9 & 10: Brands Hatch, UK

Brands Hatch was a weekend of highs and lows, in terms of my performance, and the weather…

Saturday (Aug 22) was qualifying and Race 1. Qualifying, initially, went better than anticipated and I found myself on the front row of the grid for a good fifteen minutes of the session. With the track getting warmer and tires degrading more, I thought it was a given but I slipped down to seventh by the end of play.

The race was much later in the day, and by that time track and ambient temperatures were getting extremely warm. I had hoped that the warmth may have played on people’s minds in regards to tires, but the race itself was typically frantic. I made a decent start, but Danny Killeen made an absolutely staggering start from the row behind, and as we headed in to Paddock Hill, I found myself squeezed on the inside. By the time the squabbling had settled a couple of laps later, I'd dropped to eighth. Save for the leader who had made good his escape while the squabbling occurred, the following nine cars were separated by just over two seconds for more than 12 laps before I started to get impatient and put a move on the guy in seventh.

Sadly, he had other ideas, and he hung me out to dry as I tried going round the outside at Druids. This allowed a couple of cars to dive up the inside and I found myself down in tenth. I managed to make it past a couple cars, before Phil Jenkins slowed with an issue, handing me another place. At this point, I came up behind Nick Portlock in sixth, and from lap 14 to lap 34 I couldn't find a way past him. Lap after lap, he consistently put his car in the right position making overtaking impossible. But, a couple of laps before the end of the race, I put a move on him on the start-finish straight, and noticed that by the time we got to the line, I was marginally in front. However, because the cars are so evenly matched, it was impossible to complete the move through Paddock Hill. Banking that thought, I made sure that when the last lap board came out, I was within striking distance. Getting a solid drive out of Clearways, I got alongside him on the run to the flag and reclaimed sixth place by just 0.024 of a second.

Race 2 was on the Sunday, and what a difference a day makes! The weather took a significant turn for the worse, and it was scheduled to rain substantially around five minutes before our race was due to start. In typical fashion, it did just that.

Somehow, however, I absolutely nailed the start. Considering I've only done two practice sessions in damp conditions, no one was as surprised as I was at the launch! From the sixth place grid slot, I managed to jump the second row completely from the line, and found myself in fourth by the time we hit Paddock Hill. As the pack tentatively headed up to Druids, Andres Sinclair took a wet line and managed to go around the outside of the lead pack, and slipped into third. Now down to fifth, I managed to retake a place the following lap by getting a good tow down the home straight. The same lap, I mirrored Sinclair’s very wide line through Druids, took advantage of the very high grip level and closed up to the back of him in third. On the exit of Graham Hill, he made a small mistake as the rear of his car stepped out, and I managed to gain another place. We made it round just two more corners before the safety car came out, following Paul Mortimer’s rather dramatic roll down Paddock Hill.

After four laps behind the safety car we got going again, and once more, I nailed the restart. Getting good traction and a solid tow from Clive Richards in second, I moved to the very outside of the track for the run into Paddock, and found enough grip to skip around the outside of second, and first. Somehow finding myself at the front of the Caterham Supersport pack, in my first ever wet race may have distracted me somewhat, as under braking for Druids, it all came undone.

Attempting to take the wet line yet again, the car locked up completely on standing water, and aquaplaned towards the barrier. I rejoined in fifth, and despite the rain beginning to intensify further, I managed to claw my way up to the back of Danny Killeen in fourth. As we entered Clearways he ran wide. Darting to the inside to avoid contact, I found yet more standing water, lost the back end of the car and ended up doing a perfect 360° spin in front of the entire chasing pack. Somehow, I managed to only lose two places but I had a feeling this was how the day was going to play out.

The dismay continued as I lost the rear end at Graham Hill bend a couple of laps later, which dropped me to 20th overall, before the day reached it miserable climax another couple laps later. Braking where I'd been braking for Paddock Hill all day, the car aquaplaned again, but this time slid in to the very leading edge of the gravel trap, beaching itself.

It was a really disappointing end to what promised to be a solid points scoring weekend. But, it was my first ever wet race in an RWD all in all, I've taken to considering it as a practice session, albeit a rather public one.

There are just two rounds left on the calendar now, Oulton Park in a few weeks’ time, and the end of season bash at Silverstone in mid-October. I'm currently 12th in the Championship just 12 points behind 10th. My aim all season has been to finish in the top 10, and if I put in good performances at Oulton Park (September 19) and at Silverstone (October 17 & 18), I do think it is achievable.

Next event: Oulton Park, September 19

Rounds 7 & 8: Castle Combe, UK

Two strong races at the Wiltshire circuit proved to be the perfect remedy to the Zandvoort hangover…

Having undone all the hard work of Donington last time out in Zandvoort, Holland, Castle Combe had to go according to plan. That plan was simple: achieve good, solid points and, having been warned by the DPR Team and PMW’s MD – keep it out the wall!

Having spent two days testing at the circuit, qualifying hit a slight snag when I was late to the holding area. Missing the pre-determined slot in the pack that would ensure a healthy tow down the straights, I had to take up position towards the back of the 30-car field. Despite finding myself towing others far more than being towed, I still managed to pop in a time good enough for tenth, when running in clean air.

Race one took place under relatively blue skies, a stark contrast to Friday’s sodden test session. As the lights built, Simon Ledger jumped the start from the row behind me – for which he was later penalised – and moved ahead of several others. However, with my own strong start I quickly found myself jostling for eighth place by turn one. By turn two, the tightening Esses chicane, I lunged down the inside of William Smith, who was in his own battle with Alistair Weaver. A compromised entry for all three of us allowed Matt Dyer to place his car perfectly and sweep around the outside of us all.

Approaching Tower Corner, Clive Richards span out of position and the chasing pack scattered to avoid contact. Keeping with the leading bunch, two laps later a mistimed attempt to sweep around the outside of Weaver backfired when I locked the front right wheel, carried straight on through the chicane’s exit road and lost two places. Within two laps I had the places back, but at the same time, the even faster recovering Richards had appeared in my mirror.

Taking the decision I would lose more time defending the place for the next twenty-odd laps, and considering that the leaders had already made good their escape, I offered up little resistance to his move through The Esses. The intentions were simple – latch on to his bumper and effectively bump-draft our way back up to the lead cars. The plan worked, and within three laps, we were back up with the lead bunch. The following lap, we had both taken Weaver, and I was once again back up to eighth. However, on Lap 16, I managed to overcook my exit from The Esses, lost the rear end and span out of eighth place. Luckily, the guy in tenth was a further ten seconds down the road by this point, meaning I was able to retain the top ten finish. Just.

Race two was the following day, and the threat of rain created an uneasy feeling across the paddock. Luckily, the rain stayed away and the racing was just as intense as the previous day. Another strong start saw me pushing for seventh as we approached the start/finish straight’s slight kink at Folly. Squeezed on to the grass by the pack, I had to get out of the throttle meaning I was effectively mugged by those behind me, and emerged from lap one down in twelfth place. A botched attempt to reclaim twelfth over Avon Rise the following lap saw me lose two further places.

Annoyed at myself, and slightly aggrieved at being forced on to the grass on the opening lap, meant that the red mist soon kicked in in an attempt to reclaim further places. By lap 7, I was up to eleventh, two seconds clear of the chasing pack and just 4.3 seconds behind the overall leader. By lap 13 I was up to eighth, but two laps later the safety car was brought out, owing to several stricken cars scattered around the circuit. Four laps behind the safety car ensured the pack was in for a four lap dog fight to the flag – four intense laps later, we’d gapped the field by five seconds, and I crossed the line in eighth, just 1.924s behind the winner.

Combe proved to be the perfect antithesis to Zandvoort and my confidence in the car is back to where it was after Donington. With just three rounds left on the calendar – incidentally, all at other favourite tracks of mine (Brands Hatch Indy in August, Oulton Park in September and Silverstone in October) – the motivation is high and the fight on to get the PMW Expo-backed car in to a strong championship position by season’s end.

Next event: Brands Hatch Indy Circuit, August 22-23

Rounds 5 & 6: Zandvoort, Holland

PMW’s editor comes unstuck on the European leg of the Caterham calendar, destroying the car two days before the race even began…

The European leg of the 2015 Caterham SuperSport championship required me to race outside the UK for the first time in my life. It also meant a trip to one of the most daunting circuits ever to grace the Formula 1 calendar – Zandvoort.
Arriving at the circuit, I was met with almost perfect conditions, leaving little excuse for a poor performance, despite my nerves.

After my first run around the 2.6-mile circuit, a couple of things became apparent. The topography of the circuit and the way the track flows makes it a demanding challenge, but one that is completely engaging to drive. The rough surface and the proximity of the barriers just adds to the mix. For those who haven’t ventured to Zandvoort before, it’s almost like a blend of Oulton Park, Castle Combe and a street circuit – the latter particularly through the daunting turn three, Hugenholtzbocht, where the outer concrete barrier runs right along the edge of the tarmac.

My first session showed some promise, with my data engineer explaining that my braking points were exactly where they needed to be. However, it was my braking into turn six, Sheivlak, and my overall transition back onto the throttle after the braking phase, which was leaving me lagging behind the leading bunch.

In the next session I only narrowly avoided the barrier at Sheivlak on my out lap. Assuming the brakes would be up to temperature, I’d attempted a much later braking point. However, since changing to new leather OMP boots, I’ve not felt entirely comfortable with pedal feel. The uneven approach to the turn resulted in my foot sliding clean off the metal, and the car heading straight through the gravel with the speedo well into three figures.

Once a few wheelbarrows worth of gravel had been cleared from the car back in the pits, I headed back out and managed to crack the 1 minute 59 second barrier I had been chasing. A red flag quickly followed, this time at turn eight, Renaultbocht, by once again getting overly confident in the braking zone.

After lunch, I returned to the car determined to keep it on the black stuff, and crack the 1:58 barrier that I had now been set. Soon, however, it all came undone in a rather dramatic fashion at turn two, Gerlachbocht. Heading through the left-right flick that peaks on a crest, the car’s rear end suddenly stepped out, resulting in a heavy impact with the tire wall. The force of the impact tore the left front tire from the steering column, embedding it into the frontal section of the chassis, destroying the radiator and nose cone.

Initial diagnosis was that the car would need a new ‘long-nose’ section. Sadly I had crashed at the one circuit outside the UK on the Caterham calendar, and the chances of anyone carrying a spare were beyond remote. Enquiries around the paddock came up fruitless, so my race weekend was over on Thursday practice.

A week later, the car was stripped to reveal the full extent of the damage. The chassis had twisted in four places, the left-hand engine mount had been forced back around three inches, and even the tub had been bent. Nevertheless the car is being fully rebuilt by the talented DPR Motorsport for the championship’s return to the UK and the fast-flowing circuit of Castle Combe.

Rounds 3&4: Donington Park GP circuit, May 9 & 10 2015

It was very much a case of what could have been, at Donington Park this past weekend. One fluffed gear change in race one and then the safety car in race two scuppered what could – emphasis on could – have been two podiums in only my second time out in the car. The Leicestershire circuit is one of my favorites, but this would be the first time I’d be competing on the full GP loop. I’ve had a picture of Senna’s MP4/8 from that infamous 1993 European GP as my computer’s wallpaper for a while now, providing adequate inspiration each time I log on, and I was feeling confident heading in to the second race weekend of the year.

That being said, it’s surprising how much difference three corners can make. Through the opening part of the lap, which I’ve completed many times before, I was matching fellow DPR driver, Stephan Nuttall, on times. But through the new (to me) GP section, I was losing almost a second to him during Friday practice.

Despite this, and the fact that the mid-morning session brought some rain with it for the opening laps, qualifying saw me somehow nail a great lap to place me seventh on the grid.

Race One, and I got a good start from the inside of the grid. Keeping with the leaders, I had a strong run through Redgate, so much so that I had to take avoiding action on the exit to avoid running in to the back of Nuttall after he was held up by a car in front of him. Finding myself bouncing across the grass toward Hollywood, I quickly refound the circuit, but had lost one place to Simon Ledger.

The following lap was good and I found myself closed up to the back of William Smith’s 47 car. Next lap, I went the long way around – heading down the Craner Curves and up in to sixth. By the end of lap 3, I was just 0.2 of a second behind fifth, and just 1.4 seconds behind the leader. However, taking the double apex’d Coppice flat out in third gear was highlighting a syncromesh issue on the upshift to fourth. This one gear change was repeatedly undoing my hard work through the opening half of the lap, and ultimately dropped me off the back of the leading pack enough to never really be in a strong enough position to capitilize on the tow down the back straight. It also meant I was a sitting duck to those behind me, with both Smith and the charging Tony Mingoia exploiting this by the end of lap 6.

Up front though, and the leaders’ squabbling meant the second chasing train of cars, which I was now in, was catching up again. Despite being down in eighth place, the lead was just 2.8 seconds up the road. However, on lap 13, again frantically trying to select fourth on the exit of Coppice, I momentarily selected second and the car snapped violently to the left – somehow, I caught it, but by the time I’d stopped stirring the gearbox in search of a ratio, I had dropped off the back of the leaders again, to the tune of almost three seconds. Thankfully, there was a six second cushion back to ninth.

Lap 14 saw Andres Sinclair retire with clutch failure, gifting me seventh. And as the race entered the last few laps, the leaders had a coming together entering the Fogarty Esses. Nuttall, Smith and Danny Killeen’s contact meant that all three entered the final two laps with some form of damage. As two of the three cars slowed over the course of the lap, I was able to get through to fifth and found myself behind Danny Killeen as we came to the end of the penultimate lap. Heading through the Fogarty Esses again, Killeen span, moving me up to forth. Sadly, Mingoia was too far down the road for me to catch for a maiden podium, but after the mixed season opener, I was more than elated with forth… so much so, I managed to bend the steering wheel by punching it with my recently broken hand as I took the flag!

Race 2 took place at the end of the following day. The long wait until 5:00pm meant that all weather types came and went, leaving me guessing as to what I’d be greeted with. Thankfully, it was dry but cloudy. This time, starting from the outside for turn one, I unsurprisingly lost a place as the pack swept through Redgate. I again managed to keep with the leaders over the opening five laps, at the end of which we were separated by 0.9 of a second.

However, on lap 8, the safety car was brought out due to a car stuck in the gravel at McLeans. After three laps behind the safety car, the lights on its roof went out. Having not attempted a rolling restart in the Caterham before, I managed to buzz the rev limiter in second gear, on the exit of Goddards, completely ruining my run down the start-finish straight and leaving me in the clutches of Sinclair, who didn’t need a second invite to take the place.

At the end of the opening restart lap, as the pack swarmed into the Fogarty Esses once again, the leaders bunched, with a contact puncturing Sinclair’s radiator. During the madness, I dived to the outside, and momentarily found myself in third. Getting a bit giddy at the prospect of a podium, I outbraked myself heading into Melbourne, but managed to emerge in fourth place. However, the restarted race lasted all of one further lap before it was red flagged. A serious crash at the Melbourne Hairpin behind us had left one car stricken, practically on the racing line; while it was an understandable decision, it was a frustrating end to an awesome weekend’s racing. Sadly, this frustration was exacerbated by the red flag roll back not taking our final lap in to account, meaning I was officially classified fifth – despite finishing fourth.

Still, the two races far exceeded expectation, and the healthy points haul now means I’m sitting seventh in the table.

(Image courtesy of Matt Ford - MRF Photogenics)

Rounds 1, Snetterton 300, April 18 & 19 2015

With an all-new championship looming for me this season, and zero seat time in 2015 prior to the event, it’s easy to understand why I was so nervous on the journey over to Norfolk. After three years of competing with the MGOC Championship, an opportunity to step up to the Caterham Supersport Championship presented itself. Never one to turn down an offer as enticing as this, it was agreed (after a torrid mid-season run during 2014) that I would withdraw from competition for the remainder of the year, with the sole focus of preparing for 2015.

A hectic program of pre-season testing was planned, as the switch from FWD to RWD would take some understanding – if I was to be competitive at least. Most competitors in the Supersport category have progressed through Caterham’s well-established ‘in-house’ ladder of ‘Academy’, ‘Roadsport’ and ‘Tracksport’ championships before ending up in the Supersports – meaning a minimum of three years RWD experience. Myself? Just one test session toward the end of 2014. Nevertheless, it was all about the pre-season to close the gap.

However, and in keeping with my level of ‘luck’, I had the ring metacarpal in my right hand kindly broken for me, by a fellow journalist, on a new car launch early January. Several months of hospital and physiotherapy appointments replaced the envisaged track time…

With this in mind, the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday prior to the Snetterton round were earmarked as test sessions. Continuing my run of luck, this was narrowed down to just the Friday as a result of work commitments.
Qualifying – and the lack of seat time showed. Everyone I had spoken to beforehand had mentioned the importance of the ‘draft’ in Caterham racing. Finding myself trying to get out of the way of a LOT of very fast drivers, I spent most of the 30 minutes looking for some breathing space. The downside of this is no drafting. On a circuit which lays claim to having the UK’s longest straight, this was more than counter-productive, and I found myself in my worst starting position, ever: 21st out of 28 runners.

Feeling more than a little disheartened about this, following a strong end to Friday’s practice runs, I looked at the timing sheets to find that I’d slipped to that place in the latter stages as many other competitors had snuck in a drafted lap.

Nevertheless, for race 1 I lined up 21st. To counter the entire pre-season’s run of bad luck, I absolutely nailed the start. I’m not usually one to blow my own trumpet, but in four years of competition, it was by far and away the best launch I’ve ever managed. Launching past Jurgen Rigterink off the line, I quickly found myself tucked up behind Paul Mortimer’s 45 car, as we headed toward turn 1. Getting a good run through the gears, I moved over to the right to pass, only to find fellow DPR runner Nick Portlock had missed a gear off the line and had fallen back through the grid quite rapidly. This slowed a gaggle of cars behind him, and switching quickly back to the left-hand side of the circuit, I managed to get around a couple more cars.

On the run through turn 1, ahead of me Gavin Crawford ran a little wide, forcing Mortimer to lift, gifting me another place on the run down to the heavy braking zone of turn 2. Tucked behind Crawford for the runout of two and up to three, we both made it past Dale Head, before the train of 28 cars worked their way through the infield section of Snetterton. As we snaked out onto the back straight, I was finally in a close enough position to take advantage of a draft down the Bentley Straight. As we approached the transitional, left-handed braking zone of Brundle, I went the long way around Crawford, which placed me on the inside for the tight right-handed of Neslon, and I’d gained another place.

By the end of the first lap, I was up to 14th. By the end of the second lap, I was less than 0.4 seconds behind the 65 car of Tony Mingoia, who was residing in 13th. Lap three saw Simon Ledger spin on the exit of Oggies, dropping him down the pecking order, and promoting me to 13th. The following lap, the 93 car of Andres Sinclair overcooked it on the run in to Agostini. In the commotion that followed, the train scattered to avoid contact, meaning Mingoia and I slipped past the number 4 car of Richard Noordhof. Another lap, another casualty and the number 47 car of William Smith fell to the back of the grid, gifting another place. At this point, I finally made it past Mingoia on the run-in to Agostini and up in to 9th. However, this placed me in front of him for the run down Bentley, and once again, I fell foul of the Caterham’s natural overspeed when drafting. It was shortly after this point that the safety car was brought out following yet another incident on circuit. After four laps behind the safety car, we were back racing. Attempting to go the long way around Mingoia at turn 2 backfired, as Noordhof slipped down my inside. And that’s how we stayed until the flag finally fell three laps later. A hectic, frantic and amazing introduction in to Caterham racing provided everything I hoped it would – and more.

Following a strong run through seasoned racers, I was on a bit of a high heading in to race 2 the following day. However, my ‘luck’ reared its ugly head once again and I was out of the race after just five laps. The clerk of the course has ruled it as a ‘racing incident’, however I’m not sure I agree with the outcome. Under-braking for Agostini, the 26 car of Roy Gray attempted… well, I’m not sure really.

The outcome was a lunge from an impossibly long way back, a miscalculated turn-in, and his car promptly being launched up the back of mine, tearing a 4in piece out of my car’s rear panel in the process, as well as snapping the lower suspension arm on the left-hand side, ripping the rear wheel arch clean off, scratching the roll cage, denting the bonnet and frontal panel, smashing the nose cone, and removing the front wheel arch too. It ended my race on the spot, and leaves me facing a sizeable bill before the next round at Donington in just a few weeks’ time.

It was a sad – and unfortunate – end to what proved to be an amazing weekend of racing. Ignoring the damage and premature ending to race 2, my immediate take-away thought from the championship is that the competition is fast and hard but, largely, fair. The racing is a lot more calculated than what I’ve been used to so far too – moves need to be processed for their respective pros and cons, and timed to perfection. Pulling out of the draft that fraction of a second too early can undo a lap’s worth of hard work, and the wrong gear on a corner exit can see several places lost. A lot was learnt at Snetterton, and I’m heading to Donington a lot more confident. So 2015 is set to be a very interesting year! Bring it on I say!

Archive: 2014 Blog, 2013 Blog, 2012 Blog

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