After the Caterham Autumn Trophy double header at Donington in October I strapped the car to the trailer, drove it home, put it in the garage and left it for a couple of months. It was time to forget racing and spend evenings and weekends with my family. I had burnt plenty of brownie points over the course of the year and wanted to earn them back by having good quality time with my wife and children. Apart from the Caterham Awards Dinner in November, I didn’t think about Caterhams or racing for weeks at a time.
Just before Christmas I dragged the car out of the garage and took it down to Caterham Dartford for its Roadsport upgrade. This consisted of a set of Avon CR500 tyres (replacing the rock hard Avon CR322’s that we ran in the Academy) and a valve spring upgrade for the engine (necessitated by the lower profile, grippier, tyres and done to protect the engine from over revving). I gave the brake bias valve a miss as I didn’t think the cost worth it, but did buy a rear anti-roll bar kit to stiffen up the rear of the car. The grand total for this work came to a not inconsiderable £1,300.
The work was completed in a day, so the following morning I popped back to Dartford with the trailer and loaded the car straight on, ready for a trip around the M25 to DPR. Here the car spent a few hours having the suspension set-up adjusted to account for the new tyres (which have a much lower profile, so the ride height needs to be adjusted) and the rear anti-roll bar fitted. This little lot relieved me of a further £240.
The cost of the upgrades is not insignificant, but then I have learnt over time that nothing to do with cars, and particularly racing them, is. As you will see below, the upgrades fundamentally change the way the car drives, so I consider the cost a relatively small price to pay for another years racing.
Since the end of last season and having the upgrades made my time in the car was limited to; a brief run out on New Year ’s Day to the local VSCC meet, and an hours blast out through rural Hertfordshire on the one warm day of the year so far. It was therefore too early to tell what the car would feel like on the track, but on the road it felt noticeably different.
With the thicker Green front anti-roll bar fitted and the rear roll bar set to its stiffest setting the car feels really planted on the road. Much of this will be down to the new tyres, which offer vastly more grip than the old Avon CR322’s. The offset is that it rides harder and tramlines more, but these are compromises worth making, even on the road, let alone the track. The reduced rolling radius of the tyres also changes the gearing slightly, so the car is now much more keen to rev (it is just about possible to red-line it in top now), so it accelerates more keenly too.
Overall it feels like an altogether more alert and responsive car, but the chassis is now better than the engine. It will be great fun on track, but a part of me is now longing for slightly more power (can you ever have too much?) to really give the chassis a proper workout.
At Rockingham the Caterham guys had told me that the radius arm bolts were lose, so I started my winter preparation with a complete nut and bolt check across the car. This took a good half a day, but thankfully revealed that all was still well and nothing was going to fall off any time soon.
I also used this time to replace the front wing stays for lowered versions. With the new lower profile tyres the wings on the old front stays were sat a good couple of inches above them and whilst this isn’t a problem it did look slightly odd. The change was relatively quick and painless, with the only fiddle being the need to disconnect the front brake hoses and therefore bleed the brakes again. With new lowered wing stays and fresh front wings fitted (the old stays and wings will be used as spares) the car looked great again.
Final preparation a few weeks later involved a good clean of the car, which was starting to look like it would benefit from a few hours with a polishing rag and some aluminium polish. Removing the old race stickers and replacing them with new ones took a whole day, but after a good clean the car looked like new again. Other than that all is well. I know a number of the guys have had their gearboxes re-built, but with limited track mileage completed last year mine still feels fine and I will see how I get on with it before making that investment.
I just can’t wait to get the old girl back out on circuit again.
The awards dinner in November was a fantastic event, with several hundred people from the world of Caterham racing present and the 2013 Academy crew well represented. Caterham had made a big effort and brought along not only examples of the 7 range, but also an SP300 and a 2012 F1 car. My rather drunken request to sit in it was met with laughter and a rather cheeky response that I wouldn’t fit.
The videos, speeches and presentations made the atmosphere of the evening fantastic and got us all excited to get back out on circuit for the following season. I am sure this was a big contributing factor to the record number of Academy drivers signing up for the Roadsport championship, with some 40 plus drivers making the move up, including Group 2 champion Stephen Nuttall. It is going to be a brilliant year!