Today was a reasonably early start in order to head down to the Caterham South showroom near Gatwick for 09:00. The seminar is the first official event providing an opportunity for the drivers to meet each other and the Caterham team. We started with coffee and a chance to mingle with the other drivers. I recognized some faces from the facebook group but it was great to actually talk to people. Different colored name tags were used for each for each of the grids (white and green) and you also sat down with your own group for the talks. This was a nice way of getting to know the other 27 drivers will be racing against for the year.
The morning started with introductions from the team, followed by a Q&A session on what was involved and how the year would be structured. After a quick coffee break, we headed back to talk through the ‘other aspects’ of racing. A whole bunch of previous Academy drivers had also kindly made the trip to provide their insights. With a full range of experience (from Academy through to 420r’s – 6 years down the line) this was a nice addition providing some ‘real-‘life’ views. We covered topics such as race insurance (is it worth it?), trailers, test days, car setups, bead seats and driver tuition. Caterham added the seminar based on previous feedback and it is certainly a useful addition to the program. I had heard some of the points before by speaking to Academy drivers previously but this was a great leveler allowing the whole grid to start with a similar amount of knowledge.
We then broke for a very tasty buffet. Caterham had also invited along VBOX Motorsport , Jon from Snappy Racers, and Dave from Demon Tweeks so the lunch break was a good time to browse. I already have a VBOX (they are great, get one), so didnt’t spend much time there. I spent the most time with Dave trying on gear. You can’t really buy helmets or suits without trying them so this was a great chance to confirm sizes. With helmets, I know from the motorbike that different manufacturers suit different head shapes. It is possible to have an Arai shaped head or in my case a Shoei shaped one. Unfortunately Shoei don’t make car helmets so I needed to find a new one. After trying on examples from Arai, Bell and Stilo it felt like an XL Stilo was the one to have.
After lunch there was a bit of a wrap-up of the Q&A sessions and then the self builders stayed on for a bonus session on the IVA process. A key feature of this talk was the timelines of the IVA process. Caterham want cars to be IVA’d and registered in time for the handling day in March. Counting back, this means the IVA needs to be booked by mid January to cater for the worst case scenario. It looks like us builders are going to have a busy Christmas! Fortunately Caterham provide a service to inspect, rectify any IVA issues and then put the car through the inspection. For me, this is a no-brainer as it feels like the IVA process has the potential to cause a whole lot of hassle.
We also got to look at a car Caterham are building. This was really helpful giving us the chance to see how things like wiring and hoses were routed. A key take-away was that you can’t really use too many tie-wraps. Anything that could rub, chafe or catch fire needs to be secured and protected. Hence it was recommended to tie-wrap every 3cm and you must use grommets whenever wires pass through the metal.
Overall a great day and one that has me even more keen for things to get going next year. Just the small matter of a car to build now!
Oh, I also found out my race number for the year – 42! Well racing is surely the answer to most things 🙂
Well, it has arrived! After a long old wait, I am now the proud owner of a truck full of Caterham parts. Ian has a streamlined process and the two of us unloaded the whole thing in under 30 mins. Only two items took the pair of us to lift, the gearbox and the chassis. There can’t be many vehicles whose chassis (and body) is light enough be lifted between two people! We rested the chassis onto the wheels at first and then lifted each end in turn onto the axle stands in their final position.
I didn’t manage to get much more done today beyond unpacking the various boxes to see what was what. Other Academy builders have mentioned that opening all these boxes feels a bit like Christmas, and they are right! Each box is a surprise, and a particular highlight was finding the bright red box for the Momo steering wheel.
With the seminar only 3 days away, the delivery is a timely one. I don’t think I will manage to get much done in the next couple of weeks however this means I now at least have a shell ready for the vinyl wrap.
One more day to go before ‘D'(elivery) day!
Here is a time-lapse Caterham build video I made a few weeks ago to celebrate. I am hoping to create a time-lapse of the actual build and spent some time this weekend preparing the camera for that. I also had a dry read through the manual in anticipation of delivery. The vinyl wrapping still needs to be finalized so there won’t be much progress on the build initally. The wrapping process is easier if it can be carried out on the plain shell. Fortunately this weekend is the seminar so that will help fill up the weekend.
With only 6 days to go, I am reflecting on my choices from the options list. To be fair, most of the normally extensive options list don’t apply due to the tight regulations for the academy. Here is a rundown of my choices and the reasoning behind them:
- Self-build – For me this is one of the key elements of Caterham ownership, particularly when buying from new. I want to have built a car at some point in my life so a factory build would seem a missed opportunity. I am still fairly inexperienced when it comes to car maintenance, so this will give me a chance to build up my skills.
- Black-pack – This includes black headlights, windscreen surround and exhaust guard. I prefer the understated look of these in black and find them more modern looking than the chrome.
- Bare Shell – Caterham will paint the car in any colour you want however as this is a race car I want to a more distinct livery. To achieve this, I will be getting the shell vinyl wrapped before building. Vinyl will hopefully prove more robust and amenable to small repairs over the course of a season compared to paint.
- Black Composites – Wings have a bit of a reputation for being consumable items in Caterham racing. Apparently the spares truck only stocks black ones so their seems little point going for a different colour here.
1 year, 1 month and 27 days ago.
That is when this story begins. One Sunday afternoon when I drove to Gatwick to view the ex-Academy car Caterham South had in stock. The Academy is the starting rung on the Caterham motor sport ladder. Take 56 novice drivers, give them a race licence and pit them together over 7 rounds to crown a champion. A ban on ‘past race licences’ and tightly controlled regulations helps ensure a level playing field and close competition throughout the grid.
At 6’4″, I was concerned the standard car would be too small. My previous experiences had been in the larger SV version and this was comfortable but not exactly roomy. I was also worried the 125bhp Academy car would feel tame compared to the 210bhp R400. With that in mind, I bombarded Charlie Fraser with lots of questions that afternoon:
- Is the competition really that close? Yes, qualification times from previous races give an indication of how close it is. A couple of seconds typically separate the top 10.
- Will I fit in the car well enough to drive it? Yes. I will need to wear race boots and it is a tight fit, but definitely do-able. The roll bar height shouldn’t be a problem and replacing the seat with a foam one will help.
- Does the car feel fast enough? Yes, it felt good on the brief test drive. Even the lower powered cars give so much feedback that the drive is engaging. Sure, there isn’t much at the top end, but the corner speed should make up for that. The other 27 cars on the grid should also keep me occupied!
- Are the spec tyres that bad? Yes, pretty much. Caterham deliberately chose so that drivers get used to racing at the edge of grip. Low grip tyres break traction relatively easily so there is more chance to catch and control the slide. In comparison with sticky slicks, the speeds would be much higher and the breaking point ‘snappier’. This gives less chance to react and learn what the breaking point feels like.
- Can you really build it yourself? Yes, the grid is typically a mixture of both options, and each has its pros/cons. Self-builders will suspect their car hasn’t been set-up quite as well as a factory build. Factory builders are not as familiar with the car should any issues crop up at the track (Caterham do provide track support though).
- Am I too late for 2017? Yes, at this point I would be one of the first for 2018 (not the first – there are some even more keen than me!). This does have an advantage for self-build as you get a bit more time to complete the build before the first test session.
Charlie did a good job, and I came away from the afternoon buzzing. The only remaining question was the man-maths necessary to convince myself this was a viable option. Rather predictably that didn’t take long, and within a week I had signed up for the 2018 season and paid the deposit securing myself a place in the 2nd week of build.
That was 1 year, 1 month and 27 days ago and now my kit is confirmed for delivery on 15th November. Eeek, this is where it all begins!