GUEST BLOG: ON TRACK FOR THE ACADEMY WITH ROB OLDLAND #6

GUEST BLOG: ON TRACK FOR THE ACADEMY WITH ROB OLDLAND #6

We're back again for another update with Rob Oldland.  Excitement levels are ramping up and the Academy Championship season is about to start, but how much does it cost to get going? Here Rob breaks down how he's got on track, racing virtually and some of the smaller costs you might not think about. 

 

“No news is good news” remains the situation as I write this month’s update. The provisional revised race calendar that was announced last month remains unchanged, although the British Touring Car Championship is still to announce its calendar, which could yet impact ours. With fingers crossed, let’s take a look at some of the things I have been up to during the month, discuss what else you need to consider financially to compete in the Academy and finish by looking forward to what I have planned before my next update here.*

*The BTCC calendar has since been confirmed and Caterham remains unaffected

 

Just before writing last month’s update, I purchased a PC to replace the XBOX which I had been using for my budget race simulator.  There were two reasons for this decision:

  1. On the PC I would be able to practice all of the tracks as they were available to download.  The XBOX only offered mainstream tracks.
  2. Chris Hutchinson (Caterham Motorsport 310R 2018 Champion) had set up CaterhamRacer.com - a virtual race season for Caterham Motorsport drivers to come together and drive the initial 2020 Caterham Motorsport calendars.

There were two races per week. 420Rs on a Friday evening, and Academy every Monday.  The race meetings were broadcast live on YouTube, complete with commentary from Chris and Scott Woodwiss.  Scott is a professional motorsport commentator and would usually be providing the commentary you would hear over the PA systems at the race circuit. 

With the high racing standards of actual motorsport drivers, cars looking just like the real thing, and professional production - the result was superb racing to watch, and if you have not yet done so, I would encourage you to take a look at Chris’s website and YouTube channel.  Anyway, I had been watching the first few races of the virtual season, knowing that if I had a PC I could participate, so that’s exactly what I did!  As a competitor it’s intense, the desire to progress up through the order consumes you.  This allowed me to learn my craft, control my mindset and learn where to position the car on the circuit to defend or overtake.  My wife Anita watched the races live online and said, if she feels that anxious watching me race on a simulator, whatever will she be like when I’m on track and going wheel-to-wheel for real?

Let's get back to the Caterham Academy in the real world.  From the beginning, the reason for me writing these articles and starting my YouTube channel was to share my journey of completing motorsport season on a relatively small budget, and during the season to update whether I was successful (or not!).  Before taking the plunge and signing up for the Academy, I did some homework on additional expenses I'd need to consider.  Additionally, fellow Club member Garry Hooton joined me to visit Snetterton during a race weekend offered by Caterham for people who want to find out more about getting started.  This was a great opportunity to speak to the Caterham team and to drivers competing in the Academy. To validate my thinking, my thanks to Stu Hatzel — Stu will also be driving in the Academy this year and kindly shared his planned budget and expenditure sheet with me. It was reassuring that Stu’s numbers and thinking broadly followed mine. Let’s take a look at each area to consider:

 

The Car

While the options list is significantly shorter than other cars in the range, an important decision to make is factory or self-build.  While I have owned several Caterhams previously, I had never built one.  To build a car to race was very appealing and it would give more knowledge to help get the car ready for race weekends and effect trackside repairs. 

From a budget perspective, however, this doesn't return the saving you might assume.  Looking at the 2021 price list, the factory build option is £2,395 for your road-legal, turn-key car, which is less than I spent on IVA, IVA presentation, post-build rectifications etc.  That said, I am so thankful I chose the kit option on this occasion. 

Another significant cost that I minimized was on paint, as I decided to vinyl wrap the car myself, costing less than £100.

 

 Rob's daughter, Abi, approved of the kit build 

Race Seat

It's likely you'll need to remove the Tillett seat and replace it with a race seat as either 1) it will not be comfortable or, 2) you will not meet the regulation 5cm clearance between the top of your helmet and the top of the roll bar.

Again, you have a couple of options depending upon budget — bead seat or bag seat.  Without a doubt, if budget allows, go for a bead seat which will last for many years and look great.  However, you can expect to pay anywhere between £750-£1,400.  I opted for a ‘bag seat’.  It looks awful and is likely to only last me one season, but I made it for less than £50.  A well-fitted seat is likely to better protect the driver (ribs in particular) in the event of an impact.

 

Wheels, Tyres, Brakes and Anti-roll Bar

You are likely to use two or three sets of tyres throughout the season at £300/set.  A second set of rims is a good idea so you are prepared for wet conditions.  A new set of tyres will be significantly faster in the wet, whereas a used set of tyres with less tread will be quicker in the dry.  A brand new set of rims will cost around £600. 

You are also likely to use a couple of sets of brake pads during the entire season, so budget £250.  One option that you do have within the Academy regulations is with the anti-roll bar. As standard, you are provided with the ‘orange’ bar, with the option of the ‘red’ one. While no bar is ‘quicker’ than the other, the stiffer red bar will provide you with better feel in the dry, while the soft orange bar is better to run in the wet, cost £73.

 

Car Setup

Worth every penny and, in my mind, essential is to get the car correctly set up, and for this you will need a specialist.  Caterham and their dealerships will be able to provide this service, or, as Caterham owners, we are blessed with many independent specialists across the UK who can help. Budget around £300 for the geometry to be correctly set up within the parameters of the regulations and for the car to be corner-weighted.

Race Gear 

I discussed this at length in March’s update so will not go into too much detail — race suit, gloves, boots, balaclava and helmet with a frontal head restraint device. You can purchase this for around £1,000. In reality, I spent £2,000 due to my ‘mid range’ selection of gear and the purchase of x2 race underwear.

 

Forward-Facing Camera

The regulation requires a recording from the driver’s view; something like a GoPro is perfectly acceptable.  In reality however, you are likely to be tempted by a data/video logger such as Racelogic’s VBOX.  This then presents two options, VBOX Lite priced at £1,438 or VBOX HD for £2,460. For your extra thousand pounds the main difference (there are other more minor benefits) is the quality of the video.  The VBOX Lite provides you with quality that’s good enough for review and coaching, whereas the VBOX HD will look great if you wish to share on YouTube etc. 

 

Transport 

During my research last year I had decided that I would have to drive my Academy car to and from events.  “But what if you crash?” I hear you say… Well, part of the Caterham Academy package is the provision of track support.  If your car is damaged, Caterham provide the technicians at the circuit to get you going again wherever possible —  you pay for the parts.  If the car is beyond trackside repair, Caterham will get your car back to Crawley and to your home if you have no other means.

This was my only real option at the time as my other two cars are a SMART car and an electric car, great for the environment, not so great for towing.  If you are budgeting for a trailer you can expect to spend in the region of £2,000 for an open trailer, or significantly more for covered options.  However, here lies a massive lesson — sharing. What I found is that when I started to speak to fellow members of the Lotus Seven Club, there were members really wanting to get involved.  Initially this was for the build.  Garry Hooton, Derek Marson and Scott Greenwood all owners and members were really keen to get oily and helped me so much to get the car built. 

As a result of this and noticing my transport situation Derek asked how I was planning on getting to and from the circuit.  Not keen on my answer, Derek suggested “If you don’t mind me tagging along, I would be more than happy to use my VW van and trailer”. I could not believe the generosity and immediately gave full disclosure that the first two races were due to be in Scotland and North Wales. Derek replied that he would love to get involved.  Garry has also kindly given up his time and will support me in race preparation and during each event. This has not only helped with a tricky transport situation, but also provided a great social experience to enjoy throughout a whole year and added so much to my enjoyment.  Thanks guys, I appreciate your help so much.

 

Track Time 

While all of your race entry fees are included in the Academy package, there’s likely to be additional cost of track time.  The Friday before each race weekend is testing; I hadn’t initially intended to participate, but having spoken to existing drivers, test days are a great opportunity to prepare for the race as the format is sessioned along with other Academy drivers. The cost of test days varies from circuit to circuit, but a budget of £1,500 would be about right.

Additionally, you are likely to want to get more seat time by attending track days.  As I’m sure you will know, the cost of track days can vary greatly, with the Lotus Seven Club delivering great value.  I have chosen to take advantage of evening sessions to keep the cost down and to help balance the Academy/life balance!  I have six track days booked, costing approx. £1,000. You may also opt for driver coaching and if I had additional funds, they would be spent here.  You can expect to spend £250-£500/day plus expenses for a coach; I could only afford a single day, but my time with Jamie Unwin was money well invested and I’m hoping to be able to find the funds for some additional coaching during test days if at all possible.

 

Accommodation 

With events across the country, you are likely to require accommodation which for some events.  You are usually able to camp at circuit although this is currently not possible due to social distancing restrictions. Caterham provide drivers with an excellent handbook including options for hotels close to each venue. I have budgeted £500 as I’m more than happy with a Travelodge or Premier Inn.

 

Other Bits

A long nose shower cap and a handbrake cover were purchased from Soft Bits for Sevens, totalling £170. Changing of wing mirrors to Racetech and centre mirror to Longacre totalled around £120 from Demon Tweeks.  Four cans of oil and four oil filters for servicing between track time were around £150.

 

Damage

Left until last and impossible to predict.  The likelihood is that at some point(s) throughout the season, you will sustain some damage.  How much, how often and how badly, cannot be calculated. The best you can do is budget or insure against it.  If you chose to insure, expect this to cost around £3,500 for the year with an excess of £2,500.  In reality, this insurance is for what’s known as ‘the big one’ such as chassis damage/replacement.  I have decided not to insure, we will find out if that was a wise choice or not during the season. However, I have budgeted £2,500 for damage throughout the season with my contingency plan being my credit card!

 

In Conclusion

As you can see, there are many additional expenses to consider for a season of racing. Two final points however: many of the costs really are optional but you will find yourself getting sucked in and not wanting to be left behind; many of the physical purchases will last you many seasons of racing, or have a strong resale value so you can recover some of your costs.

Looking forward to the month ahead, the great news is that we are able to get back on track. In my next update I will report from Brands Hatch on my first track evening since lockdown, on the Caterham Motorsport test day at Castle Combe and on my final track day at Bedford Autodrome before the season starts. Until then, stay safe.

 

To read the full article which originally appeared in Lowflying, the Lotus Seven Club magazine for Caterham and Lotus Seven enthusiasts – you can find out more here -www.lotus7.club.

Rob is a keen Caterham enthusiast. It took him 25 years of dreaming before he was actually able to own his first Caterham and now he's on Caterham number 4. Working his way up through the range from Roadsport, 420R and 620S, Rob has now embarked on the exciting journey of the Caterham Academy as an introduction to motorsport. Rob will be writing monthly blog posts following his progress in his first year racing Caterhams.