Caterham SuperGrads - 28 March 2005

Dreadful qualifying, but made progress in the race, gaining the "best-improver" trophy along the way.


Thruxton Circuit - image courtesy of BMRC
Click on image for a 46MB .wmv video of the race
(Broadband only - not recommended for modem users!)

Preamble

Caterham Super Graduates? At the end of last year, I had every intention of following the "official" Caterham route of Academy, Roadsports B, then Roadsports Inters or A's. But for various reasons that wasn't going to happen, so I ended going the alternative route of the "unofficial" Caterham Graduates Club.

The main thing against this choice was that the first meeting was at Thruxton, where I'd never driven a car (though I have ridden a bike, albeit with crap results) - there was only one practice day, and it was full by the time we'd even thought about doing grads.

It usually takes me quite quite a while to get "up to speed" at a circuit, so this wasn't looking promising. The best I could manage was a "Lotus Elise Experience" - 13 laps with an instructor in an Elise.

Qualifying

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Ben Sturges follows me through the chicane

So we go out for our "25 minute" qualifying session. I intend to remind myself of the circuit, try to apply the instructors advice to the Caterham, and then build up some speed.

I'm having terrible problems with my gearchange into the Club Chicane. We don't use fifth gear anywhere else, and I'm struggling to change down into third. It's a mental thing - I don't normally have a problem going from fourth to third, but just because I've brought the stick down from fifth I think I've got to push it across to get into third. Several times I almost put it into first, before I crack this.

Just as I'm ready to go a bit faster, the checquered flag comes out. Huh? Our 25 minute session has been shortened to 15. Great.

My laptimer glowers at me with a pathetic 1:36 best time (I've been told to aim for 1:30). Sure enough, when the qualifying times come through I'm down in 25 place out of 27 drivers.


Race

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3 in a row
Remember, no green light. When the road goes off, GO! I'm still a bit slow starting, but get good drive away with little wheelspin. I take maximum advantage of this, and go hunting the gaps. If you're prepared to be just a bit aggressive, positions are usually easy to come by in the first few corners while everyone's getting bottled up. I must have passed four or five cars before we get to the Complex, and soon find myself behind Charles Elliott, who qualified way ahead of me (and would have qualified higher if his transponder had been working properly, but that's another story).

Then it's a battle. In the early laps, I make lots of mistakes. I screw up the chicane every lap, either messing up my gear changes, getting the lines wrong, or sliding and bumping over kerbs. But I start to get a load more speed round the crucial Goodwood corner. It's pretty scary through there and the ultra high speed Church, with the tyres right on the edge of adhesion and threatening to let go at any moment at 100mph plus.
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Ben takes advantage of my off-track excursion

I have an epic battle with Ben Sturges. He takes advantage of my inability to get the chicane right, overtaking me there or on the start-finish straight. In turn I beat him on the brakes or slipstream him on the back straight. I nearly hit him at one point when I'm lining up an out-break at the Complex, but the yellow flags are out and he breaks earlier and harder than I expect. Bet that would have made me really popular - crashing into someone under yellow flags.

I'm trying a bit too hard though, and the tyres feel like they're going off. This sends me off the track onto the old tarmac in the Complex, and Ben slips through.

Finally, in the last couple of laps, things start coming together. I manage to string a whole series of corners together without making a mistake, Ben starts to tail away behind me, and I start to catch Mark Gregory ahead. Sadly, though, there's not enough time to catch him and I cross the line just behind him.

Fifteenth place. Not terribly impressive, but enough of an improvement on my qualifying time to win me first place "Best Improver" in the class, and joint Best Improver overall. Winning me a nice little trophy and a voucher from series sponsor Grand Prix Racewear.

Conclusion

Well, I was fairly crap, but I was expecting that. Let's hope I can do better in the rounds to come. Meanwhile, I had a great race anyway, and I'm very impressed with the level of organisation and degree of friendliness in the Graduates Racing Club. It does seem far more like a "proper club" than anything else I've come across in the car world.


Next Round: Cadwell Sunday 8th May 2005.


Photo credits to come once I've figured out who gave me which. Sorry, guys, I'm just too disorganised!