CATERHAM ACADEMY PREPARES FOR BRANDS HATCH CHALLENGE


2020 has already been a memorable season for this year’s latest class of drivers in the Caterham Academy, for a number of reasons. This weekend, however, it’s set to make a little bit of history, as for the first time ever, the Academy will be contesting two championship races on the same weekend instead of the regular one-day format that the drivers are usually familiar with. The venue for this momentous occasion? The speed bowl of Kent that is the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, a place that is sure to leave the drivers’ eyes on stalks the first time they tackle Paddock Hill Bend at full speed!

The 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-five years, over a thousand ordinary people have become racing drivers through the Caterham Academy and indeed up the ranks of the Motorsport ladder.

Looking back at Thruxton and starting with the Green Group, the result of their race in Hampshire wasn’t quite the obvious double podium for main rivals Tom Cockerill and Chris Skillicorn, a fact that was cemented when the two made contact on the run to the Club chicane on the final lap. Incredibly, Cockerill still managed to cross the line first while Skillicorn’s rallycross adventures left him limping home in a lowly 13th place. A comfort for Chris is that at least he’s found his dropped score (for now, anyway) to utilise when the season finishes at Donington Park as the points battle is sure to come down to the wire once again. For now, though, he has to make up a 14 point deficit to Cockerill and only has three more races in which to do so. Both are evenly matched having taken a win each from the first two races before Tom broke the deadlock, so Chris’ objective will be to even things up at least.

Splitting the pair at this current time is London-based Turkish racer Deniz Erkan-Bax. So far he hasn’t finished lower than 4th place and was a benefactor from the Skillicorn-Cockerill contact at Thruxton to inherit 2nd in the process. Having proven to be an incredibly consistent front runner from the start, the nine-point deficit he’ll have to reduce may seem pretty tough when he’s coming up against Cockerill, but his ability to capitalise when those around him are caught up in drama could work in his favour if the same happens again this weekend. Toby Boyes is also keeping himself in touching distance of the top three as he currently ties with Skillicorn on 61 points but sits behind courtesy of Chris’ win at Cadwell Park on countback. Toby might drop away a little this weekend as he may expect the top three to all be on form, but again like Erkan-Bax, he may try to put himself into a position to capitalise on the mistakes of others.

Colin Gould could also play a part considering he’s only a point behind 3rd and 4th positions and his constant presence around the middle of the top 10 and the fringes of the top 5 could mean he can take away some valuable points this weekend from both races. Andy Lund has certainly had his moments, but there have been times when overenthusiasm has gotten the better of him more than once. If he can reign it in a little and focus on quick, consistent lap times, there’s no reason why he couldn’t begin to make life difficult for those above him in the points table. In fact, he also heads up a very busy second half of the top 10 in points. Rob Oldland will hope for a strong weekend to feature in his YouTube vlog series and to also break the deadlock between himself and James Hall, while Peter Mott and Ian Hapgood complete this segment of the table with three points separating them and Hapgood only a point ahead of Gwyn Jones in 11th. These guys are never usually far away from each other, so expect them to be stuck together all weekend enjoying some frantic position swapping between them.

Moving over to the White Group, Thruxton’s events appear to have really shuffled up the head of the table. Leaving that weekend, it was Taylor O’Flanagan who emerged as the leader by just a point over Simon Shaw, the pair almost looking like teammates on track together given that both of their cars are yellow. Both of them have a win under their belt and a score of 23 points from another, although O’Flanagan leads by virtue keeping up a 100% podium record with 3rd at the Oulton Park opener, while Shaw finished just behind in 4th and finished 3rd at Cadwell but clinched the fastest lap point in the process. The pair are part of a very competitive top 5, with a realistic chance that any of them could be champion come season’s end in a few weeks at Donington Park.

Hugo Bush has managed to collect a pair of 2nd places from the first two races, but had to settle for a 6th place at Thruxton with the hope that a shorter but equally quick circuit like Brands Hatch will help him back onto the podium again. Domenique Mannsperger, the German rookie in the field, has already shown his prowess with a brilliant Oulton Park win in the wet, but since then he hasn’t visited the rostrum again but has shown great pace at Cadwell and Thruxton. In fact the latter would have been just as good as Oulton had he not thrown it away by sliding wide at the Club chicane. With two fastest laps to his name as well from three races, he clearly has the speed, so if he’s just able to focus it a little more on consistency once again, he can be a winner.

The last of the current top five drivers in the points is James Walker, a.k.a Mr JWW on YouTube. So far, he’s proven his ability to run towards the front as he claimed a front-row starting spot for the Oulton Park season opener, but hasn’t quite had the same amount of luck when it comes to race results. His best so far is a 3rd place from Thruxton last time out but he will feel he should have achieved more and will hope to use Brands Hatch as a chance to potentially score his first win, provided he can get the measure of his rivals around him. His closest pursuers for 5th place in points are Ian Brown and Nick Timpson, sitting two and six points behind respectively. Both will hope to take advantage if any of the current top men in the table slip up in either race this weekend and they could take over in a flash. The rest of the top ten looks to currently be a personal battle between Sam Gibbons, Jack Woodgate and Ryan Meager, the trio only separated by five points between them. While Gibbons holds the advantage for now, it could be a different story come Sunday afternoon after both races, considering that even the likes of Lindon Sugar and Christopher Broom could also get in on the act too.

Scott Woodwiss