2016 SEASON REVIEW – THE CITY MAGAZINE CATERHAM ACADEMY: GREEN GROUP
Steven Tozer probably didn't imagine he'd become a champion in his first season of racing – Photo: SnappyRacers
The Caterham Academy is a unique series exclusively for novice drivers. An all-inclusive ‘introduction to motorsport’ package of Ford Sigma powered road-legal race car, race licence, technical support, the racing itself and perhaps most importantly, the guidance of the Caterham team at every stage. The 125bhp car uses an open diff, 5 speed gearbox and low-grip tyres to ‘teach’ car control. So successful has the formula been that over twenty-one years, approximately 900 ordinary people have become racing drivers through the Caterham Academy and each year, two identical Academy championships are run in parallel to cater for the demand; a ‘Green’ group and a ‘White’ group.
The friendly rivalry between the two groups of the 2016 Academy resulted in the Green group being inexplicably referred to as the ‘fluffy bunnies’ by the White group throughout the season, although when it came to competition, things became very Holy Grail-esque rabbit-wise. In fact, by the last round, there was just a solitary point between the top three drivers. Essentially, whichever of them finished ahead, that driver would take the championship.
That honour would go to Steve Tozer, although he was actually beaten to the finish line by Pete Walters in a frustratingly curtailed race. Tozer came to the Academy as a track driving virgin, having nothing but a short gift-experience on an airfield as track experience, but second place behind Walters in the Donington showdown secured the crown for the man from Huddersfield. Along the way, Tozer and his bright orange car only failed to make the podium on a single occasion, following a final corner error in the Academy’s first race at Rockingham (allowing Walters to snatch the trophy that could have been his.)
Tozer’s title rivals at Donington were Pete Spencer and Tom John. Spencer’s banzai style in the sprints almost took him to the podium in both and marked him out as someone to watch in the races. And right the predications were, as he would take the coveted first win at Rockingham, plus fastest lap for good measure. Tozer and Spencer would go on to alternate wins until the last round. Meanwhile, Tom John, who had marginally more track day experience than Tozer at the start of the year, had drawn first blood with victory at the Aintree sprint. At race-two, Snetterton, a spin saw him drop to eighteenth, but even within the Academy’s short fifteen minutes race, he was able to recover to third and it was John, not Tozer or Spencer who was being tipped for the championship, but not taking a race win would prove crucial.
It was not always a three horse race though, with each driver having an off day. Ian Johnson, whose day job is at Williams Grand Prix, struck gold with a highly competent performance to win at Curborough, but oddly could not come close to this again during the races. Meanwhile, Matt Gray drove his car to (and mostly from) every event and was a top five regular.