DONINGTON PARK MAY 8-9 PREVIEW: CATERHAM SEVEN UK CHAMPIONSHIP
The 2021 Caterham Seven UK Championship gets ready for what looks set to be its most exciting, intense and hard-fought season for many years, as a mix of top drivers from 2020, graduating drivers from the lower ranks and old faces returning for another chance at glory all combined to compete in arguably the fastest specification of Caterham race car the manufacturer has ever produced. With the moniker of British Caterham Champion on the line for the second year in a row, a thrilling opening to the season at Donington Park this weekend is virtually guaranteed!
Caterham’s premier championship has firmly established itself as one of the most competitive and exciting race series in the country and it’s now a National Championship courtesy of Motorsport UK. From 2021 bespoke Avon Slick and wet tyres will be introduced to increase the race performance and the pace, along with uprated suspension and an increased engine rev limit. The Championship is a grid of quality drivers, most of whom have worked their way up through the Caterham ranks, ensures that the top-level Caterham racing is amongst the most exciting on offer. Unique to the Seven UK Championship on the ladder, a SuperPole shootout takes place after the regular qualifying session for the fastest drivers, with a bonus 3 points awarded for pole position, 2 points for P2 and 1 point for P3.
So, who are the contenders lining up for this amazing season ahead of us? Well, one of them that doesn’t appear to be making a return is double defending champion John Byrne, after he won the top title in 2019 and 2020. Whether he’ll appear at some point later this season remains to be seen, but right now it means that we’re essentially guaranteed a brand new champion. The question is – who could it potentially be? Two drivers who will certainly be hoping it’s them are the men that finished 2nd and 3rd behind Byrne in points last season – Henry Heaton and Stephen Nuttall. Henry managed to do something in 2020 that no one else could, which was to beat John Byrne to a race win! Fittingly it came at Donington Park, which can only be a good omen for Henry has he bids for success in a championship he’s spent the last few seasons steadily plugging away at. Stephen Nuttall, on the other hand, has plenty of experience winning Caterham titles in the past, hence his nickname as the “Roger Federer of Caterham racing”. He’s won a crown in all of the first four steps on the factory Motorsport ladder and to pick up the Seven UK title this year would complete the set nicely. But we all know in a championship as fierce as this, at this level, it won’t be that simple.
Both Henry and Stephen will have some company from last year as Gordon Sawyer also makes a return to sample the upgraded 420R. He’s taken home championship gold of his own after he clinched 310R honours in 2019 and was another driver to keep Byrne honest during the season, particularly towards the latter stages. Other drivers back in the grid for 2021 include Rob Watts who took a podium finish at Thruxton last year and Neil Fraser who managed to clinch a top 5 finish as his best result.
However, it’s the new and returning drivers on the entry list this weekend that are certainly going to add some exciting elements to the season opener. From the graduating drivers up from 310R come both last year’s champion Greg Monks and his closest rival James Murphy, two men who know all about winning and are going to be deadly in the right form on race day. Monks is of course fresh off a title-winning season while Murphy is always lightning quick at whichever level of Caterham racing he finds himself at. There’s a reason why he’s nicknamed Superman as some of his performances can lead to you believe he’s from another planet!
David Yates is another Caterham Motorsport regular and he too has chosen to step up to the thrilling new spec of 420R race car this year. He’s no stranger to the podium and has frequented it many times before, but whether or not the learning curve of his new car will be steep enough to require a couple of weekends to get into the rhythm remains to be seen. Everyone will have to be on their best behaviour on track, however, as the big boss man himself will also be with them. Since starting his own racing journey back in the Academy, Caterham’s very own racing CEO Graham Macdonald has followed the same path that so many of his customers have taken up the ladder and now in 2021, he finds himself at the very top. He will be looking to put all of his experience and everything he’s learned to good use to finally secure a first championship win on UK soil. He has won a race before at Spa-Francorchamps in 2019, you know – we don’t think he’s mentioned it very much at all since then, honest…!
How about two formidable returning drivers making a comeback to the Caterham ranks to spice things up further? 2016 Supersport champion (back before it was called the 310R Championship) William Smith is back on the grid for the first time since 2019 when he finished 6th in the standings that year. Always a quick racer, he will be looking to hit the ground running and make his mark on his first race weekend back for more than 12 months, provided he can get to grips with the new spec of car quick enough. Also making a welcome return is 2018 310R champion Chris “Cheesy” Hutchinson, who ends his two-year sabbatical to have a crack at the top flight. He heads to this weekend with limited running in his new car but if he can get a clean trio of races under his belt, then that is sure to give him plenty of confidence for the rest of the season ahead.