CATERHAM ACADEMY READY TO GRADUATE FROM DONINGTON FINALE


The Caterham Motorsport Academy class of 2020 have had a whirlwind first season of racing, especially given everything that’s happened outside of motorsport, and now the time has come for them to graduate in the best way possible – by racing, of course! Donington Park is one of the traditional venues for a Caterham season finale and while their more experienced counterparts will carry on afterwards, the Academy makes its final stop here this weekend.

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.

This year, both Academy groups find themselves in a rather unique situation. Heading to Donington, none of the current championship leaders in both are on the entry list to race on the Saturday. This is simply because both have accumulated enough points and score strong enough results to allow them to sit out the last race and gain back the score they would have had to lose had they competed. So in reality, Donington will be all about who takes vice-champion status and completes the podium.

For the Green Group, Tom Cockerill has a substantial 17 point lead and by missing the last race, it will mean the 3rd place from his second Brands Hatch race will in fact count towards his final total, given that a non-score from this weekend will be the one he drops. So, regardless of what everyone else does, no-one can knock him off the top spot. With Cockerill now champion-elect, the focus switches on who joins him on the end of season rostrum and in what order. There’s a single point between Deniz Erkan-Bax and Chris Skillicorn, but the advantage may well be with the latter due to having less points to drop, given that contact with Cockerill left Skillicorn limping to the flag in 13th place and thus only has to let go of 12 points at this stage compared to Erkan-Bax’s 20 points for coming 5th in the previous race. Both are very evenly matched on pace, but when it comes to finding that little bit extra, Skillicorn’s win from Cadwell Park proves that he can be every bit as quick as Cockerill when required.

Toby Boyes isn’t too far away in 4th place just four points behind Skillicorn and he has a rather comfortable advantage over 5th place downwards, meaning that if either of the two drivers in front of him in points slip up, there’s a chance he could take full advantage and jump up a spot. Gwyn Jones and Colin Gould look as though their own private battle for the final top 5 place could be rather entertaining in its own right, with Jones ahead of Gould by 3 points and with confidence riding high after he took his first win at Brands Hatch. Gould, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to better 4th place all the way back at the wet Oulton Park opener and his consistent run of early top 5 finishes helped to ensure a steady stream of points flowed towards him, with his only blot in the copybook being the second Brands pace where he couldn’t quite match his result from the day before. Filling out the rest of this top 10 are Andy Lund, Rob Oldland, James Hall and Micah Lazarus, all separated by nine points between them and open to changing up the order in any form, results permitting.

Let’s cross to the White Group, where their champion-elect Taylor O’Flanagan has decided that, off the back of taking a double win at Brands Hatch, that he too can do away with troubling himself out on track and will not start the final race. His lead may only be seven points to second place, but it’s just enough to make sure that even if Simon Shaw wins the race with the fastest lap, O’Flanagan’s 3rd place from Oulton Park was a strong enough “worst result” to mean that he would still be in front by three points at the end of Saturday. It won’t be official until the chequered flag, but Taylor has looked mighty impressive this year for a freshman driver.

Shaw, meanwhile, has had plenty of high moments himself, including a race win of his own at Cadwell Park. No matter where he’s started in every race so far, he’s always been in the conversation for the race win and while he can’t be champion now, he can at least maintain 2nd place to secure vice-champion status. There are, however, two very formidable drivers who could spoil the party for him – Domenique Mannsperger and Hugo Bush. A win in the wet at Oulton helped Mannsperger begin his racing career in the best possible, but he hasn’t been able to replicate that since. He’s certainly come close, but maybe there’s a chance he can put that right at Donington. Bush, meanwhile, has yet to reach the top step so far but three 2nd places mean he’s been tantalisingly just one place away and has also captured the last two fastest laps as well. Does that mean he could end his season with that coveted first win?

James Walker, also known as Mr JWW, appears to have thoroughly enjoyed his first-ever season of racing and has managed to stand on the podium once so far at Thruxton. He would definitely like to round off his 2020 with some more silverware and a strong qualifying effort will certainly help him take a step towards that. Ian Brown was in the mix of victory at Brands Hatch before mishaps left him salvaging finishes no better than 5th from the weekend, although he has picked up two 4th places this year too. A podium should definitely be possible and if he can replicate his form from last time, he stands a very good chance.

Rounding off the top 10 in points moving to Donington are Nick Timpson, Sam Gibbons, Ryan Lovett, all of whom have been a constant presence in the second half of the top 10 runners in any race. Usually, they can be found squabbling amongst themselves, although we probably shouldn’t expect the order to change much, if at all, once the chequered flag falls.

Alongside the regular championship season finale for the Academy drivers, they do also get to graduate from the first step on the Caterham Motorsport ladder in fine fashion. Being a yearly tradition, Caterham put on a special non-championship Autumn Trophy race, which pits drivers from both Academy groups against one another for the first time and acts as a precursor for what to expect in next year’s Roadsport ranks. Both champions-elect Cockerill and O’Flanagan will be present, meaning we may get the very real prospect of the pair lining up on the front row against one another for their inaugural face-off. An exciting way to end the term!

Scott Woodwiss