CATERHAM ACADEMY READY TO GRATUATE FROM 2019 AT BRANDS HATCH


We say this every year, but it’s always a joy to watch the annual crop of rookie drivers in both groups of the Caterham Academy graduate at the final rounds of the season, in the knowledge that most of them will return next season either in Roadsport or higher up the ranks. However, while in previous years we’ve always seen the final rounds take place at either Silverstone or Donington Park, this time we’re heading up the road from our Dartford home base to the speed bowl of the Brands Hatch Indy circuit in Kent. While one group effectively has the title sealed up, another is still up in the air and seeing both come to their conclusions will be thoroughly entertaining to watch.

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 up the ranks of the Motorsport ladder.

Let’s first of focus on the title that all but settled – the Green Group. The stats tell the story for themselves, as Alexander Conway has arguably been in control of the championship ever since the opening encounter in the Curborough sprint. His record stands at four wins, a 2nd place and a 3rd, which on accrued points effectively gives him the title as he holds a 29 point lead over the runner up spot.

However, the dropped score rule comes into effect this weekend for the finale and on those totals including the 10 bonus points for completing a day’s marshalling, it’s a mere six points between himself and James Venning. Effectively, wherever he’s classified in the race, Conway will come out on top as his worst score from the season is 23 points, so any points he loses from finishing behind Venning in the race will be replenished thanks to those he gains back from that previous worst score. The only way Venning can be champion is if Conway somehow ends up with a disqualification, which he cannot use as a dropped score, and Venning to score at least 7 points to overhaul him, as a tie would still see Conway as champion on countback of wins. With us on that? Yes? No? In simple terms, it will take a disastrous weekend to stop the inevitable!

While Venning does hold 2nd place with a sprint win and four 2nd places in the races, a DNF from Oulton Park means he can’t afford to lose any more points, otherwise he will come under threat from Dimitris Melas and Benjamin Miller. Just three points separate the pair on dropped scores, although Melas has a win under his belt from Snetterton and he can drop points, whereas Miller’s non-finish means he can’t afford another DNF. Both can leap frog Venning onto the podium if his fortunes take a nosedive and both have shown pace at times to worry the leaders, so keep an eye on both.

William Brunt is in touching distance of 4th place if results can go his way, while a superb battle for 6th looks set to take place between Roger Gaunt, David Morgan and David Gracey with four points separating and scores to drop. Dave Currey and Michael Kerley both look set to round off the top 10 with comfortable enough margins over those behind them to hold on.

So that’s the Green Group covered, but let’s take a look across the paddock at the White Group where it’s far from settled in the race for the title. All season it’s been a back and forth tussle for supremacy between Tom Wyllys and Blair McConachie and after sharing almost all of the race wins and 2nd places between them, they find themselves just two points apart heading to Brands Hatch, advantage Wyllys. Incredibly, both drivers scored what would be classed as their worst results of the season and therefore designated dropped scores last time out at Silverstone. After they both missed out on the win, it left everything nicely poised for the final round. So, how can each driver come out on top? For Wyllys, it’s simple – if he wins the race or outscores McConachie, the crown is his. This in turn leaves McConachie with the tougher task to work out what he needs to do to steal it away. The best scenario is for McConachie to win and take fastest lap, which would make him champion by one point no matter what happens to Wyllys behind him. It will be fascinating to watch the pair dice it out on track, but one slip up from either could see their title chances go up in smoke.

The next battle to watch behind the top two is the fight for 3rd place between James Fowler and Adam West, with eight points between the pair. Fowler’s advantage will make it tough for West to get the better of him unless James has a shocker of a weekend. Fowler has made more appearances on the podium this year, so should West even close down the points deficit to tie for 3rd, James would pick it up thanks to more 3rd place finishes. Behind them it’s tight for 5th as Christopher McMahon and Wes Payne come here tied on dropped scores with 106 each, meaning that it’s a simple case of one driver outscoring the other to claim the place – unless it goes to a tiebreak, in which case McMahon would take it thanks to his sole podium last time out at Silverstone.

The remainder of the top 10 should be a fascinating four way battle between Daryl Cresswell, Nick Allbones, Carl Jones and Harry Eyre, although the current form and advantage must be with Eyre after he showed a massive up turn in pace at Silverstone to take his first race win. He may well get the better of the other three provided he’s able to carry this speed into the finale.

Alongside the championship deciders comes an annual tradition within the Academy ranks – an end of season, non-championship Autumn Trophy race to see the drivers finish off their first year of racing in fine style. This is the first chance for drivers from both Green and White groups to race each other on track at the same time, and given the provisional entry list, it’s virtually guaranteed that both of this year’s champions will line up together on the same grid. A true chance to see which group produce the faster grid on Sunday!

Scott Woodwiss