Autumn Trophy – Sunday 21st October:
Despite the Academy season being concluded at Rockingham a few weeks previously I, and a number of the other Academy drivers, couldn’t resist one last race. Caterham have made a bit of a tradition of throwing on an extra races (or two) at the end of the year for those that haven’t had quite enough excitement and want to pick up an extra signature to enable them to upgrade from a National B to a National A race license (this also allows you to lose your novice cross).
This year Caterham organised the Autumn Trophy, via the BRSCC, at Donington on the 21st of August. Over 35 of the Academy guys signed up (both Group 1 and 2) for the 20 minute qualifying and two 20 minute races. It would be the first chance we would have to see how Group 1 and 2 compared against each other and as a result there was even more banter and bravado than usual. In all honesty I was a little nervous as the Group 2 guys had been very, very quick this year (in all honesty quicker than Group 1 at some events) and I thought things could get slightly out of hand with such a large grid of people who hadn’t raced with everyone else there. I needn’t have worried.
I made my customary early start from home to get to Donington in time for scruitineering at 8.30am. I left in the pitch black, drove through a sea of fog and arrived at a very dark and murky Donington just before 7am. I busied myself getting the car ready and trying not to wake those sleeping in camper vans who had come up for the Friday test day….I didn’t do a very good job and managed to make lots of noise, but at least it meant I could scrounge a cup of tea from one of my fellow competitors. …thanks Tristan.
After sign-on and scruitineering we all went back to the paddock to wait to be called for qualifying. There was lots of standing around getting cold and very frustrated by the incessant buzzing of 2 stroke karts being warmed up (after a while they sound like that rather annoying crazy frog advert from a few years back). Three hours and a few pints of tea later the fog still hadn’t lifted and as a result no one had made it out onto track. At this point we seriously doubted whether we would get onto the track at all, but just as we were about to give up hope and head home the weather gradually started to improve. A hastily revised schedule had us missing qualifying altogether (grid positions were decided by championship finishing positions) and our races would be shortened from 20 minutes to 13 minutes. It was far from ideal, but at least we would get to race.
Given my finishing position in Group1 and the fact Stephen Nuttall (the Group 2 winner) was not there, I was very generously gifted pole position, with the very fast Peter Fortune next to me and Danny Kileen behind. In all honesty I thought both of the guys would leave me behind, but as the lights went out Pete dashed into the lead, only for me to dive up the inside of him and back into the lead at the first corner. From there until the flag Pete, Danny and I swapped the lead on at least 6 separate occasions, being joined by Matt Dyer who kept us all very honest right to the flag. It was a fantastic race. Very close, but very clean. Pete was quicker through Old Hall, but both Danny, Matt and I seemed to be able to hold him through McLean’s and Coppice and as a result we were slipstreaming each other like crazy down the back straight and into the Esses, where most of our overtaking was happening. At the end of the race I found myself about ½ a second clear of Matt, who was about ½ a second clear of Pete, who was about ½ a second clear of Danny. On the cool down lap I was buzzing from a brilliant fight, with guys I hadn’t previously competed against at a circuit I love driving. I really wasn’t complaining that our race was 7 minutes shorter than it should have been….it had been brilliant!
Grid positions for our second race, the last of the day, were set by our finishing positions from the first, so I found myself very fortunately on pole again. We started the race in the dark (at least it was well past sunset if not pitch black), which gave us the experience of having a virtual night race. This time I made a better fist of my start and led for the majority of the first lap, only to be passed by Pete and Danny into the Esses at the end of lap 1. I spent the next couple of laps chasing them down, only to see them collect each other at Riches on the start of the 4th lap. It was an unfortunate incident, but thankfully not too serious, with Danny continuing and Pete retiring with minor car damage. I just managed to miss the accident, but was slowed and immediately under pressure from Matt, who passed me at the end of the lap coming into the Esses. Matt was driving very defensive lines, so on the following lap I decided I would have to do the same to him, but around the outside. Matt made this move much easier for me by going into the Esses to hot and spinning in front of me. Again I narrowly missed him and was immediately pounced upon by Nigel Board, who took me going into Riches. I followed him closely down through the Craner Curves and through Old Hall, before regaining the lead at McLean’s. From there to the finish 2 laps later I tried to gap the chasing pack and keep out of trouble, but in the dark with lights glaring at you through your rear view mirror it makes the cars behind seem much closer and more menacing than in daylight, putting even more pressure on. At the end of the race I crossed the line about 2 seconds clear of the chasing pack for another very satisfying win.
After a brief interview from the circuit commentator it was back to Parc Ferme to find out that Matt had recovered well from his spin to score another 2nd place and Nigel had brought his car home in 3rd place for his second podium of the year. It was a fantastic way to end the season and I now felt satisfied that I could hold my own against the quickest guys in Group 2, which I hadn’t been sure of beforehand. It isn’t really that important, but it was nice to know and makes me realise that we are going to have a hell of a battle in Roadsports next year….I can’t wait.
After a very long and cold day I was keen to pack up and get home as soon as possible, but not before saying goodbye to a great bunch of friends, many of whom I hope to race with next year and those who I don’t I hope to stay in touch with. Thank you chaps, I couldn’t have hoped to meet a nicer bunch of people…you helped make an exciting year a truly memorable one. At the end of a year where I achieved a boyhood dream (I keep saying this, but it really is true) I drove home to put the Caterham away for the winter for a well-earned rest and to spend some decent time with my family, without whose support I couldn’t race.
The wait for 2013 and Roadsport starts here!