TOP LINE CATERHAM SEVEN 420R CHAMPIONSHIP HEADS NORTH AS CROFT BECKONS
The Avon Tyres Caterham Seven 420R Championship didn’t fail to disappoint in its opening two races at Silverstone, as both encounters were thrilling back and forth affairs between the top names on the grid. Now, more of the same is expected this weekend as the drivers venture to Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire for Rounds 3 & 4 of the 2019 season.
The Seven 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.
The man who showed he had all of the skills at his disposal turned out to be John Byrne as he, like Gordon Sawyer in the Seven 310Rs a step lower on the roster, was unable to be shifted out of 1st position for almost the entire weekend – and boy, did his rivals try their hardest! Lap after lap, Byrne seemed to have a little something extra to keep the chasing pack at bay, as he batted back all advances from numerous passing attempts to take both wins. He netted the 50 points to go with them and also a further 3 points for claiming the first ever Super Pole (more on that shortly) to hold a 9 point advantage at the top. A familiar name made also an instant impact on their return that weekend, as former double champion Aaron Head reappeared in a championship that he’d once dominated. As such, it wasn’t quite the same story this time around as he had to fight a lot more to earn the results he wanted. He had to settle for 3rd and 5th in both races, along with a fastest lap. This still puts him 2nd in points heading into this weekend, returning to the circuit where he clinched his second 420R title (known back then as Superlight R300).
David Henderson was the other man to achieve a fastest lap at Silverstone, and this went with the 6th and 2nd places scored over the weekend to place him 3rd in points. Henderson only missed out on victory in Race 2 to Byrne by a mere 0.029 seconds at the chequered flag, so depending on what his testing form reveals, he could end up as Byrne’s nearest rival. As it stands, however, Byrne looks to be an initial favourite on his bid to give team boss and reigning double champ Danny Winstanley the first title as manager of his own DW Motorsport team.
Tim Dickens, lying in 4th after Silverstone, also narrowly settled for 2nd place after his advance on Byrne on the final lap saw him miss out by 0.038 seconds himself, although the former 2015 Tracksport champion indeed showed he’d lost none of his skill after missing most of last season. Jamie Falvey, the 270R champion of last season, was undoubtedly a name on everyone’s lips come the end of the weekend as the opening meeting of his second season in Caterhams saw him net an impressive 5th and 3rd places to wind up at the base of the top 5, with the promise of more strong results as the year goes on. The 2018 vice-champion in Seven 420Rs was William Smith, but 6th after the first meeting shows just how much the competition has stepped up compared to last year. Henry Heaton is another who spent last year getting to grips with his new car and he was always in the lead pack all weekend and will hope to make progress from 7th in points, equal with a certain Sir Chris Hoy.
Justin Armstrong and Alexander Koeberle complete the top 10, ahead of more notable names to watch out for such as Rob Watts, Chris Aubrey and Tom Eden. Further down the table is where we find former race winners and champions in the lower ranks that appeared to struggle somewhat in finding the nuances of their new machines, with double champ Russ Olivant, Alex Jordan and Chris Bates all expecting to end up much higher in the standings with (hopefully) a better understanding of their Seven 420Rs.
As a reminder, Saturday morning’s qualifying session will be split into two parts this season as Caterham Motorsport introduced the new Super Pole format at Silverstone for the very first time. The rules are simple – the top 10 drivers from the main qualifying session will then go forward into the Super Pole shootout, where they will line up in the pitlane in reverse order and then released on track at identical time intervals. Each driver will get one single flying lap to set the fastest time possible, with the order setting the top 10 places on the grid for Race 1. Also, the Super Pole winner will score three championship points, 2nd place will score 2 points, and 3rd will receive 1 point. An extra incentive in their quest for the title!
Andrew McMillan’s 2014 lap record of Croft looks set to be in danger, as the new track surface recently laid down will undoubtedly allow these purpose-built Caterham race cars to make the most of their blistering pace. The target time of 1’29.254 may or may not be an easy one, but that won’t stop our drivers from going flat out to try and beat it!