After beginning their first season of racing in fine style over the first two events, this year’s crop of fresh rookie drivers in the ever popular Caterham Academy now joins up with the rest of the Motorsport roster in the paddock this weekend for the second circuit event of 2019 at the magnificent Oulton Park in Cheshire. So far, the Curborough sprint and Cadwell Park have given us an initial insight into who’s quick and who needs to pick up the pace, but a true drivers’ circuit like Oulton will really give us a chance to see who’s on top.

The Mirror Caterham Academy is a unique series exclusively for novice drivers.  An all-inclusive ‘introduction to motorsport’ package, it includes a 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 in the last twenty-four years, over a thousand ordinary people have become racing drivers through the Caterham Academy and indeed.

With two groups to squeeze into one preview, such is the size of the Academy entry each year that they’re required to separate them to allow every driver to race, let’s focus on who to keep an eye on in each one, starting with the Green Group. At the moment, it’s a dead heat in the points standings between Alexander Conway and James Venning after both have taken an event win each at this early stage. James was able to draw first blood by winning art Curborough, but when it came to the race itself at Cadwell it was Conway who came out on top, albeit with Venning in tow just 1.8 seconds back. Early signs suggest that these two will be the men to watch throughout the season and whether or not they can both keep up this run of momentum remains to be seen. Alexander’s car will look familiar to some Caterham Motorsport fans, as it bears a striking resemblance to dad Trevor’s car that competes higher up the ladder.

Ben Miller occupies 3rd place in the standings at this stage after proving to be the most consistent runner behind the top two with 5th place in the sprint and a 4th place in the Cadwell Park race. Consistency is key in any championship campaign so Ben will be looking to remain a frequent sight in the top 5 placings throughout the year. Dimitris Melas comes next after a 9th place at Curborough was followed up by an impressive Cadwell showing to pick up 3rd place, perhaps showing that circuits may be his strength compared to point-to-point competitions. He shares this spot with Roger Gaunt, who has also been able to bank strong scores from the first two rounds placing in 7th at Cadwell despite starting a place higher on the grid. David Morgan and William Brunt come next with both drivers having finished ahead of Gaunt last time and merely separated from each other by a single point. At this early stage, any of these top 7 drivers could prove a threat, and Oulton Park may start to give us a clearer indication of who is truly in the running.

Now we move across to the White Group, where the story has played out in a somewhat identical way. Much like their counterparts in the Green Group the top two have both scored a victory each, however this time there is a break in the deadlock thanks to a fastest lap. Blair Mcconachie was the man to top his group at Curborough in the sprint, while Tom Wyllys would come out on top at Cadwell Park with each driver finishing behind the other in the respective events. But thanks to Blair’s fastest lap in Lincolnshire, this has earned him a precious extra point to help him attain a single point lead over Wyllys heading to Oulton Park. James Fowler has also been a beacon of consistency by joining both drivers on the podium each time with a pair of 3rd places, just five points off leader Mcconachie and four behind Wyllys.

There’s another tie for 4th and 5th places between Wes Payne and Daryl Cresswell with 37 points apiece, however it’s Payne that sits higher in the standings due to scoring the stronger result at Cadwell with 7th place over Cresswell’s 8th. Both will be keen to throw themselves into the mix with the frontrunners this weekend if their pace can afford them to do. Just behind them come Adam West (sadly not THAT one!) who is fresh off the back of a top 5 finish in his first circuit race, Christopher McMahon who picked up a strong 4th place at Curborough to kick off his first season of racing, and Carl Jones who did well to score 6th place and just miss out on the top 5 placings a few weeks ago. Plus, another notable name in the White Group field will be George Hay, the brother of former senior championship coordinator Abi and son of former Caterham, TVR and Le Mans racer Richard, who makes becomes the fourth member of his racing family, along with mum Sandi, to take to the track!

It’s always fascinating to watch our novice drivers battle it out on track together and learn the ways of racecraft as they gain more and more experience and knowledge with every lap they drive. One thing is guaranteed, however – one driver in each group will get the honour of becoming champion in their very first season of racing. Let’s find out who it’s going to be!

Scott Woodwiss


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