Every year, Caterham Motorsport opens its grids to a fresh group of budding novice racing drivers looking to take their first steps into competitive motorsport, with the subsequent competition in question dubbed as the Caterham Academy. Having seen more than 1,000 people transition from sideline spectators to fully fledged racing drivers, with those taking part coming from all works of life but coming together with a common goal in mind – to race.

The Academy is reserved solely for first-time racing drivers, meaning that anyone taking part is not permitted to have held any form of a competition licence before joining. This means that every single driver competing starts on a level playing field against everyone else allowing an element of unpredictability and uncertainty, so anyone can succeed and indeed win.

For 2018 the Caterham Academy, supported by their title and media partner CarThrottle, began their new season this past Saturday with the first of two traditional sprint events at Aintree Racecourse in Merseyside, to allow the drivers to start to gain a grasp on driving their Caterham 7 competitively before moving on to circuit racing. Such is the size of the entry each year that the entire list of registered Academy drivers is split into two groups – the Green Group and the White Group. Not only does this mean two champions, but also an internal competition to unofficially decide which of the two groups is fastest.

Practice would see each driver get two runs to get a feel for the course before their competitive timed runs took place. Even though you can never really get a feel for who would be quickest, the times certainly did throw up a mixture of names to keep an eye on initially. The Green Group’s first practice runs were topped by Lars Alexander Hoffmann ahead of Greg Smith, but at the end of the second set of runs, it was Smith this time who would be top from Justin Heap and Ben Buckley. Over in the White Group, Dan Piper and Gregory Monks ran 1st and 2nd in first practice, while Tom Power and Chris Moore picked up the top two best times in the second practice runs. This meant that in reality, no-one knew who was going to win come the start of the timed runs.

With the Green Group running first and every driver allowed to complete four timed runs with the fastest of the four counting for each driver’s overall finishing position, Ben Buckley ended up taking the quickest time on Run 1 in 53.66 seconds, ahead of Tom Brown 2nd fastest and Greg Smith in 3rd. The second runs would see Smith and Buckley set precisely the same time with 53.57 seconds to be joint fastest, while Stuart Bell popped up as 3rd best on a 53.80. On the third run, Andrew Murgatroyd jumped up the order from nowhere and popped in a 53.52 to take the overall group lead, with Smith setting another 53.57 in P2 and Buckley 3rd best with the contest getting fierce. But none of the above would leave with the Green Group win as at the last knockings, it was Ben Lopez Appleton who stole the win by going fractions faster – 53.51 would be his best time which would push him to the top. Stuart Bell cemented his 3rd place overall with second best time in the session on a 53.53, and Buckley couldn’t better 3rd quickest on a 53.67. Thus it would be Appleton, Murgatroyd and Bell who would step onto the podium.

In the White Group, Gregory Monks began proceedings with best time on his first run with a 53.20, ahead of Dan Piper and Chris Moore. For the second run, fastest time of that session would be swapped around as this time Piper picked up P1 with a 53.21, but 2nd placed Moore was right behind him only a hundreth slower on a 53.22 as Monks wound up 3rd best. Moving into Run 3, the same three drivers were at it again with Piper doubling up on top spot with a 53.31, not quite as quick as his time on Run 2 but enough to again keep Moore and Monks at bay, again in that order. In the final run, Piper put the win out of everyone’s reach even further by saving the best until last; a 53.15 helped him take the overall win yet again ahead of Moore in 2nd, but this time Andy Tate put in his quickest time to complete the final run 3rd best. With Piper ending on top, Monks was lucky that his fastest time came on his first run as the 53.20 he set kept him in P2 after Piper knocked him off top spot. Despite his efforts and beating Monks three times, Moore couldn’t better 3rd overall as he just missed out on 2nd on a 53.22.

From here, the Academy moves on to their second sprint of the season taking place at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Corby, before all drivers begin their circuit racing careers at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit as they form part of the support package for the new TCR UK Touring Car Championship for that weekend. From there, both groups set off to tackle some rather high-speed circuits, with Snetterton on July 7th, Castle Combe on August 11th, Thruxton on September 1st and Silverstone International on September 22nd/23rd laying ahead of them.

Saturday saw all of this year’s brand new Academy drivers take a bold new step in their fledgeling careers as racing drivers. Rockingham will be the next test for them before they really hit the circuits to show everyone what they’re made of!


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