CATERHAM SEVEN 270R’s AIM TO REPLICATE THRILLING OPENING ROUNDS AT CROFT
The Motul Caterham Seven 270R Championship was undoubtedly on everyone lips after the opening weekend at Silverstone, after the pair of races it produced were something spectacular. Even the likes of AMG-Mercedes Formula One drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas couldn’t help taking a look during a promotional filming day, which certainly suggests that Caterham racing catches the attention of even the highest level of drivers in the sport! While Lewis and Valtteri aren’t present at Croft this weekend in North Yorkshire, the 270R drivers most certainly are, and they’re hungry to pick up where they left off.
The Caterham Seven 270R race car sees the original Academy machine the drivers began with two seasons ago feature all of the relevant Roadsport upgrades from last year, but this time the vehicle receives quite possibly the most significant overhaul in its competition life. The windscreen and headlights are removed to ensure the car becomes completely track focused while an uprated ECU map brings a 10hp increase and a higher rev limit; stiffer track spec springs and dampers are also fitted to complete the “race car” transformation. With professional team support and driver experience also permitted, this is seen by many as Caterham’s “coming-of-age” championship.
So, what can we say about the opening races at Silverstone? Well, for one thing, both can be considered absolute classics, and many came away regarding them as two of the best races Caterham Motorsport had ever produced, let alone the Seven 270R Championship on its own. The lead seemed to change at every corner with at least half the field in the leading group in both races. In fact Race 2 saw 29 of the 32 cars on the grid that day packed together in something reminiscent of the Daytona 500! Not only was the calibre of the field a contributing factor, but also the nature of Silverstone’s National circuit. The long straights certainly suited the typical Caterham style of pack racing, and Croft’s similar character should hopefully produce more of the same.
The man who ended up on top of the points table when it was all said and done was 2018 Academy Green Group champion, Justin Heap. Having decided to skip Roadsport in favour of the slightly faster 270R spec, it proved to be an inspired choice as the 2nd place in Race 1 was followed by lady luck smiling down on him in Race 2. Picking his way through the last lap incident in front of him at Brooklands, Heap was able to head to the flag in the lead and claim victory to leave him leading the standings as a result. While he may be there now, the ultra-competitive line-up in this year’s Seven 270R grid means that staying there will be easier said than done.
Matt Sheppard was the winner of Race 1 by contrast, but his involvement in the coming-together at Brooklands in the Race 2 finish and subsequent classification in 22nd place means he isn’t the man in 2nd place in the points. That honour currently falls to last year’s Roadsport champion James Murphy instead, as he kept his nose clean to score 3rd and 6th respectively to wind up 6 points behind leader Heap heading to Croft. Even though James is a proven race winner already, he too had to fight for his spot in the leading group just like everyone else. Then again, James didn’t earn the nickname Superman for nothing!
That Brooklands incident mentioned above led to the top 10 taking up a somewhat unexpected order than the form book would suggest. Oli Pratt sits 3rd which doesn’t seem too surprising, but the drivers immediately behind may well be. James De Lusignan currently holds 4th place ahead of Daniel Halstead (another known front runner) in 5th, with Nilesh Parmar just behind in 6th coming off the back of what he would class as one of his best performances to date in a Caterham, having troubled the regular frontrunners all the way through the second Silverstone race. Neil Fraser heads Sheppard as mentioned above who wound up 8th, but 9th place is where we find 2017 Academy Green Group champ and 2018 Roadsport vice champion Daniel French, as he too was a Brooklands victim and lost valuable points also. Toby Clowes completes the top 10; however, it’s safe to say that if the form book reverts to type this table will look somewhat different come Sunday afternoon.
Others who sit far outside the top 10 but should be much higher include Gregory Monks, another graduate of last year’s Academy like leader Heap as he seemed to get lost in the never-ending shuffle throughout the order in both races. Andy Morgan is yet another Academy champion with work to do from 16th in the standings, while Caterham’s very own CEO Graham MacDonald won’t stand for remaining down in 21st. Also, keep an eye out for Heap’s fellow 2018 Academy champ Chris Moore who has much work to do to rise from 31st in the standings.
Whether or not Silverstone was something of an anomaly or a sign of what’s to come will be made clear across this weekend. With a brand new track surface laid just a few weeks ago, our 270R drivers will be lapping faster than ever, and the existing lap record held by the late and much loved Pete Fortune may be in danger of falling, which will be somewhat bittersweet if it does. Expect those who should be due to make up ground in the standings to be on it from the word go and here’s hoping we get a spectacle even half as incredible as the opening rounds produced!