Caterham Roadsport series: the lowdown
Fancy being a racing driver? By signing up to one of Caterham's racing series, you can. And that's exactly what we did. CAR contributor Jonny Smith and I signed up for a season of racing in this hotly contested series. Not only did we want to go racing but we also wanted to see if you really can get into motorsport cheaply, quickly and have a great deal of fun for not a vast amount of money. Total novices should join the Caterham Academy series. The package includes a 120bhp Caterham Seven, the cost of getting your race licence and all entry fees, and technical support at each race. The cost is £16,495 – damn reasonable considering it includes a £15k sports car.
Race on Sunday, commute on Monday
Because our Caterham is road legal - we even race with number plates in place - we've been driving it, rather than trailering it, to every race. We've also been attempting to use it a daily drive. Over the last nine months Smith and I have racked up just over 4000 miles. The Caterham is actually a lot easier to live with than I thought. Yes, wet weather driving is not much fun and creature comforts are limited, but it's such an engaging and enjoyable drive that even a run down the shops on a Sunday morning is an event. The car feels very different on the road – it’s difficult to get enough heat into the Avons to get them really sticky, and warm up the brakes sufficiently to bite like a pitbull. Its 1.6-litre Ford Zetec engine is not balls-out quick, but it is torquey and lugs the Caterham along with ease. The steering is pin-sharp, and with the exhaust warbling and the scenery rushing past, piloting the Caterham down a country road is a fabulous, visceral experience. But it's nothing compared with the on-track rush...
The Roadsport series
We entered the intermediate Roadsport series for a full season of racing – that's eight weekend events. Caterham helps with completing your ARDS course and obtaining your race license, so it's not a particularly daunting set of hoops to jump through. The racing is incredibly competitive – there's normally only a single second that separates the top ten drivers. Most take it all very seriously, and undertake a lot of race tutoring and pour a lot of money into it. Some even own their own teams. Whereas Jonny and I act the gentleman racer, taking it in turns to compete and not taking it too practising too hard.
Silverstone, Race 1
The Silverstone weekend was the penultimate event, with races on both Saturday and Sunday. Although I didn't qualify particularly well for the Saturday race – second last is nothing to be proud of – I had a great race. I pushed hard in the 20minute session and worked my way through the pack. And then calamity. I was shunted at Brooklands while trying to get past some crashed traffic and was booted off the track. The safety car was called out - the first time this year – but when the race re-started I was determined to make amends. I attacked and pushed hard, passing six rivals and slicing my way up to ninth as I passed the chequered flag. Excellent!
Silverstone, Race 2
I went into the Sunday race feeling sharp and confident. I reckoned that if I kept my nose clean I could make it into the top five. But what started out well soon turned pretty nasty. I got caught up in a major shunt when the leader spun coming out of Stowe. As I came around the corner, the cars ahead of me all scattered, parting to reveal the race leader sideways in my path. I yanked the wheel but slid sideways into the marooned Seven. It was a major collision that bent the chassis, shunting the roll cage several inches out of place. At first I was furious at being put out of the race, but soon became pretty shaken up. And for a week afterwards and my pelvis was sore and bruised. Sadly, the car won't be repaired in time for the last race of the season at Brands Hatch.
Smith and I have had a superb time this season. Although Jean Todt is never going to pick up the blower and offer either of us a seat, we both feel we've become far better drivers as a result of the competition. And it's an excellent means of fostering driving talent. But don't believe anyone who says that you can go racing on a shoestring. It's all relative, and in the expensive world of motorsport, a shoestring can cost a pretty penny. In reality the costs can rise very quickly, so that once you've factored in the cost of the car and the tyres, occasional spare parts, insurance and fuel, you'll need around £20,000 for a full season. Of course, you can always sell your Caterham after a season and recoup much of your money. But if you're anything like us, don't expect to recoup your money by landing a drive in F1...
Our results in full