CATERHAM EUROFEST REPORT
Nestled amongst the Dutch sand dunes, Zandvoort is recognised as one of the best circuits in Europe and it played host to the Caterham Eurofest last weekend.
A typical North Sea coast morning drenched the track for R300 qualifying, making it a game of timing, ultimately won by DPR Motorsport’s James MacLachlan, making the best use of the drying track ahead of his main rivals for pole and the championship, Paul Wilson and Jamie Orton.
MacLachlan retained the advantage at the start, though Wilson and Orton were all but on top of him, with a slight gap the fourth place car of Brannan. Back down the field, an out of position JJ O’Malley stalled at the start dropping himself to second from last and setting himself a near impossible challenge of making it back to the front though this would be helped by a spin by Trevor Carvey (who had qualified a personal best 6th) at the unsighted right hander of Sheivlak, resulting in him being collected by Peter Ratcliff, bringing out the safety car.
In a rare display of post-safety car brilliance, Wilson timed the restart to perfection, pulling out of MachLachlan’s hole in the air to be almost alongside as they crossed the line and then held his nerve under braking into Tarzan to take the lead. The SPY Motorsport driver’s time at the front was to be a short one however and MacLachlan would repay the compliment at Tarzan a few laps later, with Jamie Orton close enough behind to drop Wilson to third, then fourth when Jon Packer made his challenge for the podium. Out of view in the dunes, it would be all change over the final laps as Orton found his way back past MacLachlan and made some breathing space too, while Wilson put Packer back into fourth.
Tyres, savaged by a fifteen lap battle of constant challenges, had now given up their best and the leaders spread out a little. Behind them, O’Malley’s superb recovery had taken him to ninth behind Simon Young at the tail of a four car battle. With the cars in ludicrously close contention, O’Malley saw his chance to really make a difference, but contact with Young on the run into Tarzan catapulted him skywards (not for the first time this year) and into the gravel. Young lost parts of his Caterham, but fortunately not his position.
The lead three were well spaced at the line with Orton first, MacLachlan second, Wilson third, Packer fourth and Mark Shaw fifth. O’Malley’s early charge through the field saw him set a lap record of 1:53.978 that wouldn’t be bettered.
Jamie Orton wanted a more relaxing drive in his black and gold Fauldsport car in Sunday’s race and made sure of this by putting air between himself and the MacLachlan/Wilson duo at the start of the race, allowing him to knuckle down to 30 minutes of faultless driving. The race became focused purely on MacLachlan and Wilson, who conversely, didn’t have a molecule of air between them when either nose to tail, or side by side.
Wilson held the early advantage, but at two thirds distance MacLachlan started a lap-long overtake manoeuvre at Tarzan that finally materialised at the end of the lap, only to have Wilson snatch it back, out in the dunes. As the race drew to a close, MacLachlan timed his move to perfection and challenged through Kumhobocht and Arie Luyenduk Bocht onto the home straight. The pair crossed the line in unison, with the commentator and observers awarding second to MacLachlan, though the timesheets would show a dead heat. Confusion reigned at the podium, though MacLachlan’s second was declared final. Behind them, Shaw picked up a creditable fourth and O’Malley fifth, a just reward for his speed over the weekend.
Orton’s double victory now puts him into the lead of the championship 6pts ahead of Wilson (182pts).
Thirty two cars lined up on a grid drenched in sunshine, with Ian Payne on pole followed by Reece Somerfield and Jeremy Webb. What followed was a fierce and fraught battle throughout the entire race, with four cars unbearably close, contesting the lead. Payne quickly realised that he would have to defend and defend hard he did, with Somerfield, Webb and Ben Whibley (who had worked his way up from ninth) attacking relentlessly, with every corner considered an overtaking opportunity. Webb eventually pounced down the inside into Tarzan and momentarily jumped in front of Payne, but as they entered S-Bocht later in the lap, Payne had reclaimed the lead.
Steve Day was unable to make the most of his fourth place grid slot and also unable to score any points as slight contact early in the race meant that he damaged his radiator and had to retire. Rob Cooper was also unlucky, falling down the order from fifth to last after an off track excursion.
The lead quartet continued to dispute the podium positions to the very last moment. Payne crossed the line, 0.093 ahead of Webb, second. Whibley held his nerve and fought off Somerfield to snatch third. Somerfield missed out on a trophy but claimed fastest lap and great respect for a momentous drive.
Race two was chance for the leaders to see if they could topple Payne. The Stancombe Vehicle Engineering duo and major championship players, Steve Day and Lee Wiggins were both starting from the back after DNFs in race one, drawing attention to both ends of the grid. But almost as soon as the race was underway it was halted due to a safety car intervention caused by Sean Byrne careering straight into the barriers at Hugenholtz Bocht. Once the circuit was clear the race was able to commence, Somerfield made the best of the post safety-car confusion and pulled away from Webb and Spy Motorsport driver Payne as they crossed the line, although he was not able to create much of a gap and by the time they reached Sceivlak the trio were back together.
Three abreast down the pit straight and dicing for position around Tarzan became the norm for the remaining laps. Payne slipped back in front with Webb and Somerfield vying for position behind, all three jockeying for the lead. Meanwhile, as expected, Wiggins and Day steadily made their way up the order overtaking the majority of the field.
Payne finally took command of the race and secured a double victory, Webb came home second with Somerfield completing the top three. John Saunders finished a brilliant forth, with Ben Whibley rounding out the top five.
Webb now takes a commanding lead of the championship on 176pts, with Wiggins 26pts behind, now that early leader Jamie Orton has retired from Supersports to concentrate on his R300 campaign.
Qualifying took place in very difficult conditions as the track (new to all) was wet although the rain had stopped. The greasy conditions suited 19 year-old Aaron Head, who clinched pole with a 3.5 second advantage over Jon Mortimer. Wesley Fox having to settle for starting third on the grid.
The leading three cars, Head, Fox and Mortimer broke away a little from the chasing bunch allowing them to focus on attacking rather than defending. An ‘edge of your seat’ performance ensued from Fox and Head, swapping the lead at almost every corner with Mortimer determined to hold on. Kurt Brady moved up the order from sixth not only to close up on the leading pack but also to vie for the final podium slot.
Meanwhile, the fifth place battle between Matthew Whate, Andy West, John Toshack, Joel Wymer and Chris Bingham was almost as exciting as the race for the lead. Close, clean racing from all produced side-by-side, nose-to-tail action as they glided around the Dutch circuit. Unfortunately at mid-distance, Andy West disappeared from the scrap through a spin, after loosing the battle of controlling a slightly bent, misbehaving car which had been damaged in testing.
As the race reached its climax, Head squeezed Fox to the outside edge of the pit straight, the pair continuing side by side into the banked Tarzan hairpin. Head chose the wider, higher line while Fox stuck to the low inside line. Head snatched the lead on the exit with Fox stuck to him like glue.
With only two laps to go Jon Mortimer’s race came to an end as his car remained stranded at Arie Luyenduk Bocht after running wide and hitting the rough kerbs triggered his fuel cut-off, allowing Brady to inherit third position.
Victory went to championship leader Fox as they crossed the line with Head only a tenth behind. Behind them Toshak finished forth and Bingham snatched fifth. Brady was awarded the fastest lap and a new lap record 2:02.953.
Race 2 was another thriller from the Roadsport competitors, the lead trio, Fox, Head and Brady separated by only a cat’s whisker as they dashed down the straight and dived into Tarzan lap after lap. Fox and Head swapped the lead almost every lap while Brady remained in third nipping at their heels, not afraid to show he was there with the occasional, brief look to the inside. Mortimer, who started last after a DNF in race one, would be ‘one to watch’ and he did not disappoint as he catapulted his way through the order, up into fifth by lap five, a brilliant drive from Nottinghamshire based driver.
The battle for victory intensified during the race with nothing to separate the leaders. Inch perfect driving from the trio resulted in electrifyingly close racing and a sprint to the flag. Head managed to slingshot his car ahead of Fox as they exited the last corner and powered down the straight to snatch the win, this time it was Fox who was a tenth behind in second and Brady a firm third. Toshack finished a lonely fourth with the recovering Mortimer in an outstanding fifth.
Fox remains top of the table by a large margin, with Brady now in second and Whate up to third.