SEASON REVIEW: OCTANE CATERHAM ACADEMY CHAMPIONSHIP – GROUP 2
Right up until the mid-point of the season, it looked like Pete Fortune was the man to beat in Group 2 of the Octane Caterham Academy Championship. The 54 year-old had been lightning-quick at Aintree to top the table and although only third at Curborough, in terms of total commitment he had everyone beaten hands down.
A group of four quickly established themselves as the quickest drivers. With something of an international flavour, Welshman Fortune held on to the top of the table for the first half of the season hounded by Austrian Michael Gazda, Kiwi Danny Killeen and home-grown hero Stephen Nuttall. Nuttall had won the Curborough sprint, taking him into the runner-up spot on the table having failed to podium at Aintree. Fortune won again at Snetterton with Gazda close behind, just as he had been at Aintree; but with Nuttall immediately following them, he retained second in the table, Gazda and Killeen equal in third.
With Killeen absent from the grid at Donington as he became a new dad, there was a little breathing space for the other three, though Nuttall and Fortune were starting to show Gazda their heels. Nuttall won the first race, though Fortune (battling back through the pack to second) was the faster man. Killeen was back for Brands and able to drop a round should still have been in with a chance. Unfortunately, a weight discrepancy dropped him to the back of the grid. A valiant fight back rewarded him with seventh in the race, but the top three were now exchanging podium positions. Gazda proved he still had the speed by winning and being the fastest man, but still Fortune remained at the top of the table, just two points separating each driver.
And then came Snetterton. An off-track excursion for the all-or-nothing Fortune pushed him well down the field without time for a come-back. Nuttall romped home, followed by Killeen (and Nick Portlock in the most jubilant third place ever seen in motor-racing), importantly robbing Fortune of the top spot. Going into the final round just two points separated Nuttall from Fortune and another two Fortune from Gazda. However, with third place secure regardless of the result and being the outside bet for the win, Gazda decided to let the other two fight it out. Instead, he moved up ‘two rungs’ to the Tracksport category for the final weekend of the year, where he would finish 18thand 10thin their two races.
Nuttall had finished ahead of Fortune in all three races to date, giving him a psychological advantage as they lined up for the last time. Even if the technicolour dream car of Fortune took its first race win, if Nuttall was directly behind, it would result in a tie-break. With three wins a-piece, Nuttall would take the crown by having taken two second place finishes during the year. Fortune needed to win and have a car between him and Nuttall, but it wasn’t to be. In fact, it was Killeen that took his first win with Nuttall only third, but Fortune lagged behind in sixth giving the championship to the man from Stockport.
Having sold out every year since its inception in 1995, the Caterham Academy has repeated the feat for 2013.