THREE WAY TITLE BATTLE SET UP FOR CATERHAM 270R AT BRANDS HATCH
It’s been an incredibly intense affair all season in the Motul Caterham Seven 270R Championship in a year that’s seen a great number of drivers either win races or head to the podium. With just one driver out of the top 10 having not stood on the podium at least one heading to this weekend’s championship finale, that alone is proof that the 270R field has been arguably the most competitive in the paddock and certainly in the last few years at least. What happens here at Brands Hatch is anyone’s guess, especially with how the points standings sit with just two races left.
The Seven 270R is firmly established as the ‘coming-of-age’ championship for those progressing out of the Caterham Academy, through the Roadsport championship and now into a third year of Caterham racing. Unlike the lower categories, there is no restriction on professional team support or driver experience. The Seven 270R race cars have typically made their way up from the Academy ‘17 (or slightly earlier). They have now developed into race focused machines, with stiffer suspension and removal of the windscreen and lights (though they can be quickly refitted for road use) giving them a very similar look to their Seven 310R big brother.
Daniel French leads the way heading to Brands Hatch on a quest to collect his second title in three seasons. Having clinched an Academy crown in 2017 and just missing out on Roadsport to James Murphy last year in dramatic circumstances, he holds a six point lead on dropped scores with the ability to drop points from two races. He’s had to battle not just his main rivals but also his own anatomy at times after he had to race with a broken finger at Snetterton – and STILL won a race! To put his task for this weekend into simple terms, all he has to do is ensure that Matt Sheppard in 2nd place doesn’t outscore him by more than 6 points all weekend. French winning both races will certainly seal the deal in that aspect, but even if by contrast Sheppard did the same with two fastest laps with French in 2nd both times to tie up the scores, French would still be champion on count back of 2nd places as both drivers would have three wins in that scenario. Plus, Sheppard has one DNF to count as a dropped score which means he will have less to fall back on should there be a setback.
But if we’re talking dropped scores, one man who could be in a prime position could be Justin Heap, last year’s Academy Green Group champion who has revelled in only his second season of racing full stop. A constant threat at the front of the field, he in fact would sit in 2nd place if the standings were solely decided on total accrued points. He currently drops 43 points, more than anyone else in the championship, meaning that any misfortune could allow him to claw back a few more points if necessary. It’s a 16 point deficit to make up on dropped scores, which could be doable if Heap was able to outscore French by enough points, although French has points from a 6th place at Donington as a drop score that he can fall back on should he have a tough race.
An outside bet to make it two titles in as many years is James Murphy. After dramatically clinching the Roadsport title last year from under French’s nose, 2019 has been something of a subdued year for Murphy in a season that seemed to promise much before it began, yet hasn’t delivered as much as even he would have expected. Having only picked up two podiums before Donington, Murphy corrected that fact by storming to two much-coveted wins to catapult him back into loose contention for the championship. He will need a bunch of luck to make it happen though, as he’s 22 points off the lead which means that 2nd or 3rd may well be a more realistic target. The last of the top 5 is Greg Monks who is only five points away from Murphy and could even snatch 4th if results fall his way and against others.
Daniel Halstead will be hoping to round off a mixed 2019 season with success having picked up two wins earlier in the season with a double at Croft and would love to break into the top 5, as he looks to rise from 6th and make up a 6 point deficit to Monks above him. Neil Fraser finds himself in no man’s land in 7th with sizeable gaps to drivers above and below him, while Toby Clowes and Chris Moore will have a duel for 8th place to settle with four points separating them heading to Brands Hatch. Oli Pratt also looks set to seal the final top 10 placing, provided Caterham’s very own CEO Graham MacDonald doesn’t steal it away by the end of the weekend. Then again, Graham will probably still be buzzing after his first championship race victory back at Spa so whatever happens, he’ll still be satisfied with this season!
There’s enough possibilities in this three way fight for the championship to make sure that those involved keep the spectators on the edge of their seats. If this is season as the series which Caterham drivers come of age, the fact that three champions from the last two seasons are all in the mix shows that these drivers have all matured to produce a fantastic spectacle. Let battle commence!