For anyone climbing the ladder in Caterham Motorsport’s ranks, there’s only one end goal for the majority of drivers who begin their journey down in the Academy. Right at the top of the roster sits the ultimate test for those who take the typical route of moving up through the levels, no matter the age, experience level or starting point. The Avon Tyres Caterham 420R Championship houses the best of the best, as some of the roster’s top drivers battle it out in purpose-built race cars in a fight for supremacy. You’re guaranteed never to be short of excitement here.

The 420R race car itself is a pure thoroughbred. Rather than take the Academy car a step further, this purpose-built machine is designed to be faster around a track than any other vehicle in Caterham’s range. Instead of the regular 1.6 litre Ford Sigma engine used in the lower ranks, a 190bhp 2.0 litre Ford Duratec engine is swapped in instead. Couple this with semi-slick Avon ZZR tyres, a 6-speed sequential gearbox, limited slip differential, plus racing suspension and brakes and you have a recipe for one of the fastest one-make championships in the UK. Succeeding here takes real skill.

Many of this year’s contenders would have breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the news that reigning two-time champion Danny Winstanley was electing not to return to driving seat, but instead to the pit wall to run his own team within the championship. One has to wonder how much success he could achieve outside of the cockpit and if he could reach the same level as a team boss as he did when driving. But just when everyone else thought it was safe to go back into the water, a familiar foe returns to reclaim what he believes is rightfully his.

Having ruled Caterham racing in the days before Winstanley’s domination, former two-time champion Aaron Head returns after an absence that saw him racing a historic Porsche amongst other machines. Now, unable to stay away from the lure of the championship he achieved so much in, Aaron will be on the prowl for a third top-level title. That said, his perennial rival David Robinson isn’t present and in his place comes a new crop of challengers that may force Aaron to realise that the landscape of the championship has changed while he’s been away.

Looking at those who are expected to be the top of the timesheets, the list reads like a who’s who of Caterham champions from recent times. William Smith missed out on the title last year to wind up 2nd in points, and while he may have initially believed 2019 was his for the taking, Head’s return may make him think twice. Still, the former Academy and Supersport champion will start as a key name. Tim Dickens and Henry Heaton are two drivers very familiar with each other having entered the Caterham paddock at the same time and while Heaton has a season in the 420R under his belt, sporadic appearances for Dickens mean he has some work to do to catch up. As for championship winning newcomers, last year’s 270R champion and Team BRIT driver Jamie Falvey fancies a crack at the top level after an impressive debut year, while Russ Olivant can boast Roadsport and 270R titles in his resume as he bids to match the best in the series.

Then you have to add on to that a whole host of new and returning drivers that could also spring a surprise or two given a chance. The duo of Rob Watts and Alex Jordan came out as the top 420R team in the recent Team Enduro and appeared to show strong pace throughout the 4-hour race. With both stepping up from 310Rs, they’ll be keen to be on the pace from the outset. Chris Bates take the plunge as he jumps from 270Rs having taken two wins in the second half of the year, while Alexander Koeberle hopes to build on a 2018 season that was very much a learning year. Plus there’s another notable name coming back to the grid as former Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist turned racing driver Sir Chris Hoy returns to the track carrying the #7 and given a chance, you know the former European Le Mans Series LMP3 champion will be on the pace with the best of them.

As if the racing was exciting enough, qualifying may be about to get a lot more interesting too. New for 2019, the 420R Championship will feature a special SuperPole shootout at the end of the main qualifying session. The top 10 from that session will line up at the end of the pitlane in reverse order and head out on track at suitable intervals. Each driver will get one single full flying lap to set the best time possible, with the results setting the top 10 starting positions for Race 1. The pole sitter will also earn 3 points for their troubles, while 2nd place earns 2 points and 3rd wins 1 point.

What you will see here is Caterham racing at its fastest. These cars are truly for experts of their craft and ideal for the Caterham racer who has come all the way through from the bottom of the ladder to the top and wants their abilities and skill level tested to the highest degree. The fast and relentless pace these cars produce can make them difficult to keep up with at times, but with a line-up that oozes quality, all the signs point to 2019 being a classic year for Caterham’s top tier.

Scott Woodwiss


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