CATERHAM 270R TITLE FIGHT RUMBLES ON TO DONINGTON PARK
It’s no surprise that with a field as competitive as that found in the Motul Caterham Seven 270R Championship, the battle for the title is still close with three race weekends left to run. The first of which is this weekend at Donington Park on the GP loop, as the drivers touch back down on British soil after battling the elements at their annual European trip to Spa-Francorchamps. There’s a chance that the weather could prove unpredictable, almost as much as the two winners were from last time out.
The Seven 270R is firmly established as the ‘coming-of-age’ championship for those progressing out of the Caterham Academy, through the Roadsport championship and now into a third year of Caterham racing. Unlike the lower categories, there is no restriction on professional team support or driver experience. The Seven 270R race cars have typically made their way up from the Academy ‘17 (or slightly earlier). They have now developed into race focused machines, with stiffer suspension and removal of the windscreen and lights (though they can be quickly refitted for road use) giving them a very similar look to their Seven 310R big brother.
So, about those two winners – over in Belgium, first place silverware didn’t go home with any of the main championship contenders that weekend as they all had their own mixture of fortunes. Instead, it went the way of Tom Allen and Caterham’s very own CEO turned racing driver Graham MacDonald. The former has ended up missing or non-scoring in a few rounds up to this point, but in most of the races he has taken part in, he’s usually been a constant threat in and amongst the top 5 runners, so a win isn’t too much of a surprise. The same could be said for the latter, although Macdonald had been hoping and wishing for his first championship race win ever since he started his journey two years ago in the Academy. Nevertheless, the 55 year-old fought hard to achieve it and also benefitted from being in the right place at the right time to get the job done at almost the 30th time of asking. That said, they’ll never hear the end of it in Caterham HQ all season now…
As for those who are in contention for the championship, Spa was either kind or cruel to them. Points leader Daniel French will certainly feel it was kindest to him the most, as he came away with 3rd and 4th to give him the lead by just three points. French will certainly have felt closer to 100% after he broke his fingers just before the start of the Snetterton weekend, although now here’s hoping it’s fully healed for the rest of the season. Second placed man Justin Heap had led the standings for a while in what is only his second full season of racing after becoming one of last year’s two Academy champions. He has adapted to the 270R spec incredibly well and has only finished outside of the top 5 once and made the flag every single time. In fact, Heap would still be points leader had he not been handed penalty points earlier at Spa, reducing his total by nine. These two appear to be the main favourites for the crown at this stage, although there’s a few drivers who may still have something to say about that.
Daniel Halstead scored 4th and 8th places at Spa to maintain 3rd in the standings and is always someone in with a shout for victory on his day. Having dominated the Croft weekend earlier in the season and won races in the lower categories, Daniel should never be counted out and he will be keen to get back to his best this weekend. Matt Sheppard will feel that had he not retired from the second race in Croft that same meeting, he would be the one holding the final podium spot. Nevertheless, he too has race wins to his name this season and will be hoping to have added to that tally come the end of the weekend.
Then there are those who have come close to victory, but just missed out for one reason or another. Greg Monks has also had to adapt to the 270R just like his fellow Academy graduate Justin Heap, and while it may have taken him a little longer he certainly has made his presence felt more than once with a podium at both Oulton Park and Snetterton. Neil Fraser has also stepped onto the rostrum three times including a season’s best of 2nd place last time at Spa and in the races where the result hasn’t quite gone his way, he has still shown flashes of brilliance with two fastest laps to his name as well. Next comes James Murphy, who some people would have expected more from this season after he just snatched the Roadsport title at the end of last season. His own adaptation to 270R doesn’t appear to have gone as smoothly as he would have liked, having only appeared on the podium twice himself but always just missing out when it came to taking his first win of the season. Here’s hoping that Donington is a little more kind to him and that he finally rediscovers the race winning form that saw him succeed so many times in 2018.
It’s going to a fascinating pair of contests on a circuit which rewards good momentum and pace. Donington is always a challenge with its natural sweeps, dips and blind corners that can catch drivers out if they take their eye off the ball for even a mere millisecond. The two hairpins at the end of the lap on the GP loop will also serve as prime overtaking opportunities, so prepare to see plenty of braking duels there over the weekend too!