CATERHAM ACADEMY READY FOR HIGH-SPEED LEARNING AT THRUXTON


It’s crazy to think that despite everything that’s gone on in the world so far this year that’s forced the season to start later than planned, the condensed schedule for this season’s Caterham Academy drivers already sees them on the verge of gaining their third signature on their licences in the space of just over a month. After two technical challenges in Oulton Park and Cadwell Park, the rookie racers finally get a chance to stretch their legs as they head to Thruxton Circuit in Hampshire this weekend to experience what these cars are like 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.

The Green Group contest is already becoming a firm two-way competition in terms of outright pace, as so far it’s been all about two men – Chris Skillicorn and Tom Cockerill. While Cockerill managed to snatch the first win of the year at Oulton in the rain, Skillicorn got his revenge at Cadwell by passing him in the final couple of laps, and with both registering a win and a 2nd place each, they head to Hampshire level on points. One of them has to break the deadlock, but finding out which one will be entertaining, to say the least, provided they don’t get too closely acquainted to each other! London-based Turkish driver Deniz Erkan-Bax has managed some very consistent results already with a 3rd and a 4th to put him in P3 in the standings, only six away from the top two and in a prime place to capitalise should either of them trip up this weekend. 

The only other driver to stand on a Green Group podium so far this season is Gwyn Jones, who managed to top best of the rest behind Skillicorn and Cockerill with 3rd at Cadwell Park. The first two races have produced decent results on tricky circuits, so how will he fare at a faster layout like Thruxton? Colin Gould will also be one to look out for as he sits in 4th in points having finished in the top five in both of his races, while Toby Boyes, James Hall, Andy Lund and Rob Oldland will also be looking to make further improvements as they bid to climb a little further up the table and possible attempt to crack the top five places.

It’s a little more frantic over in the White Group as unlike their Green counterparts, it’s not just two drivers running away with the top results. Despite being separated by nine points, the top five drivers all appear to have a genuine shot at competing for the crown and there’s every chance that Thruxton will produce a third different winner in as many races. Taylor O’Flanagan is on top, but he too shares the lead with someone in the form of German debutant Domenique Mannsperger, with the former winning a thrilling race at Cadwell Park while the latter braved the wet Oulton Park conditions to come out on top superbly. The pair’s main competition comes from Simon Shaw and Hugo Bush, the duo enjoying a fantastic race long scrap with the points leaders in Lincolnshire and each scoring a podium finish for their troubles. Someone else who is yet to show their true form has to be James Walker, aka Mr JWW. The automotive YouTuber has looked impressive over the first two races and one has to wonder that a faster circuit like that at Thruxton might just favour him given his prior experience of driving supercars on a regular basis. He appears to be getting to grips with the little Caterham very quickly, given that he started on the front row at Oulton, and while the races haven’t quite worked out in his favour, this weekend could be a chance to put that right.

Outside the top five in the White Group, there’s a close fight brewing for 6th downwards between Ian Brown and Nick Timpson with both just missing out on a top 5 finish each but remaining on the fringes and hoping to make a breakthrough. Other consistent drivers appear to be Alex Vincent, Sam Gibbons, Ryan Meager and Jack Woodgate, and all of them will be hoping to carry on the learning process the Caterham Academy both requires and provides in order to get faster with each lap they drive and improve their results in the process.

Scott Woodwiss