June 29, 2020
Motorsport 2020: Academy Test Day Recap
Earlier this month we popped over to Castle Combe for our first time back on the circuit since March – so for us that felt like almost an eternity. Why did we head to the circuit you ask? Well, it was to officially kick off our first 2020 Academy Season.
The Test Day is one of the first moments all of the driver get on track in their own cars at the same time. We took the opportunity to catch up with a few of this years competitors, along with some familiar faces….
Graham Macdonald, Caterham Cars CEO
Former Academy Driver, current 310R Competitor
Fun Fact: Did you know he won a race at Spa once?
“This is the first serious event for our Academy drivers, the test day. Our drivers go out in four groups, and the idea is for them to improve their lap times, understand cornering techniques and knowing when to brake.
“It’s a great way to begin. If you can understand what you are doing here, it’ll set you up in great stead for the rest of the season. I’m loving it here today, being in racing myself, I’m able to go around the paddock and give drivers hints and tips. So far everyone has been very grateful, it’s at this point in the season our drivers absorb the information as they’re desperate to learn and understand. Anything we can do to help is a great sense of satisfaction.”
Tell us a little more about what you’re looking forward to this year…
“I’m looking forward to the first race – due to the epidemic we are missing the sprint event, so they’re in at the deep end at Oulton Park. It’s a fantastic circuit, one of my favourites, but like [Castle] Combe it’s very unforgiving. They’ll have to be on their game, they’ll have to be concentrating. Plus, the weather should be good, there is nothing better than Oulton Park in the sun.
“Because of the way the timetables have changed, we’re going to have almost a full grid every weekend. From Academy right through to the 420’s – it’ll be a great experience for everyone, especially the Academy drivers.”
I believe you'll be back on track again this year, stepping up in the 310 series?
“I am indeed! I say this every year, but I hope this suits my driving style. I’m quite aggressive, however with a limited-slip differential, it should help me carry speed through the corners. I’ve got a lot of tough competition, and there are a few guys out there that are really quick. I’d like to be up there, challenging myself. If I can get a few podiums, I’ll be happy.”
Is there anything you’d like to say to our drivers?
“For Academy, it’s about concentrating and it’s about learning. Listen to everyone’s advice and make sure you take it. Everyone will have a story, everyone will have a piece of advice, if you take it together and assimilate it, there’s a benefit there to be had.
“For the guys I’m racing with, watch out, I’m coming for you. I know you’re quick, but I’m going to try and beat you this year…”
Ron Mounsey, from South Wales
2020 Academy Competitor
Fun Fact: All the cars in his family have ‘666’ on the number plates
So, first things first, how did you get into the Academy?
“Well, my wife has always wanted me to race cars – so it’s a good excuse. I decided that at my age it was time to do something about it. I looked at the race series and decided as a first time, the academy was a good position for me, and we bought a car. Also, this is our closest circuit believe it or not, only 2 and half hours.”
Is this your first Caterham?
“It is indeed! Unfortunately, I haven’t been out much due to lockdown, this will be my first time on track with this car. I’ve got a few track days coming up, so today is a bit of a test session to see if our settings are right, and to see where we are – it’s the starting point for me really.”
What are you looking forward to this season?
“To finish mid-field would be great! I’m probably the oldest competitor in the championship, so to not be embarrassed that’s a place to start.
Taylor O’Flanagan, from St Albans
2020 Academy Competitor
Fun Fact: Taylor is one of our youngest competitors on the grid
We’ve spoken to a few competitors today and there is a bit of a running theme, is this your first Caterham as well?
“Yep, it’s my first Seven. It’s quite special as my grandad used to have a Caterham which he built when he was a bit younger, it means a lot to our family. I’m looking forward to when they can eventually come along”.
What helped you decide to take the plunge into racing?
“I’ll be honest, I just always wanted to try it. I love motorsport, I love cars, it’s something I’ve wanted to do.”
Is there anything else that you’re looking forward to over this season?
“Getting out there really, being able to try out motorsport. The competition itself I guess, there’s so much happening it’s hard to choose. I’m planning on staying on after the Academy”
We then caught up with Taylor again after going on track.
“We’ve just finished our second session of the day, I’m feeling really good about it. It’s a nice sunny day, the car is feeling good – it’s just awesome.
“Everyone is out there timing today, but we’re all going at our own pace. The purpose is to get a feel for the car, plus it’s the first time we’re all out together. It’s really cool to be out there with all the other Caterhams and to get a feel of racing for a little bit.
“I’ve already learned loads. Definitely. Through every single corner, it’s the first proper time I’ve been on track in my Seven.”
Jack Woodgate, Head of Sales Development at Caterham
2020 Academy Competitor
Fun Fact: Jack won the staff draw for the Academy season
How come you choose to enter the running’s to enter the Academy?
“I’ve been with Caterham for five years now, so I’ve always been (non-directly) involved with the racing side of things, I’ve come to a lot of the rounds and so on. A few years ago we started running a staff lottery scheme, I put my name in the hat, took the plunge, and here I am.”
Have you managed to get out on circuit much since your Academy car was ready for the road?
“Before lockdown, I managed to practice quite heavily. So I’m in pretty much the same boat as everyone else today, having not been on track much recently. I’ve taken the car out on the road a few times, but no track stuff. Today, is the first time in a while I’ve been in the car.
“I’m looking forward to getting back into it, there’s a few nerves as well though.”
It sounds like there’s some tough competition out there, what are your expectations from the season?
“For me, it’s about being competitive, but also about having a good time. I can’t throw a huge amount of time at practicing, getting tuition and stuff like that, but if I can be competitive and enjoy it – I’ll be really happy.”
Following a few sessions of testing, we grabbed Jack for another chat to see how he was getting on.
“I’ve just been out for my second session; we’re doing 15 minutes stints. I’ve just got back in, and I can’t wait to get out again. I’m slowly getting quicker every session, but I need to shave a little more time off yet.
“Everyone seems to be on a similar level. Due to lockdown, and being out of the cars for a while, everyone is still getting into the right headspace, getting used to being out on track. Everyone seems quite handy, so the competition is going to be quite strong.”
Lindon Sugar, from Williams Automobiles in Bristol
2020 Academy Competitor
What was it that made you want to take up racing?
“I’m in these cars nearly everyday, so being able to drive one properly is a real boost in confidence – and also, to be a racing driver – who wouldn’t want that?”
Have you been out on track much before today?
“I’ve been out in Thruxton in this car, but I’ve been out a couple of times before. This is completely new to me to be honest. It’s good fun though.”
What are you expecting from this season of racing?
“The whole experience is something I’m looking forward to. Racing competitively, I think is something that will be pretty awesome. Coming out the end of it with more experience, driving a car, and going fairly quick too, is the main thing for me.
“The other thing I noticed as well is the sociable side of things, I’ve already made loads of new friends through this – it’s only the second time we’ve met. It really is great, I thought the waiting around would be boring, but you find yourself chatting to loads of people.”
How did your first session go?
“Yeah it was okay, I didn’t spin – so not to bad. It’s about getting used to the car before you push it, the car moves a lot underneath you, so it’s something you need to not be frightened of. I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Rob Oldland, from Kent
2020 Academy Competitor
Fun Fact: He’s owned multiple Caterham Sevens in the past, swapping the most powerful Seven we’ve made for the least powerful in our line up for a very good reason…
So, I’ve heard that this isn’t your first Caterham…
“Yep! I’ve owned a Caterham for quite a few years, started off with a K-Series Roadsport, then a 420R and most recently a 620S. They are awesome cars. I actually enjoyed having less power, you could have more fun – which got me thinking about the Academy car.
“It would give me something that’s a similar spec to my old Roadsport, and for the same amount of money, a chance to go racing included. It was a brilliant opportunity to giving motorsport a try. I knew a couple of people that have done the series before, and it’s always left me tempted – thinking ‘I’ve got to do this one day’. I’ve now made it happen”.
What have you learnt from today so far? Have you been on track a few times before?
“I have yeah, I’ve probably done about 20 track days over the last few years. This is my first time properly on the Castle Combe circuit, we we’re here for our ARDS day last year – other than that I’ve never lapped it. Today I’ve been finding my way, it’s one of those circuits that is might quick, and some sections can be problematic, or costly, if you get it wrong.
“It is a test day today, not a race day – so slowly building up. Today, for me, it’s about more seat time, getting a feel for the car, I’m not trying to set a lap record.”
Is there anything you’re looking forward to this season?
“I’m nervously excited. It’s this real funny mix of emotions, I can’t wait to get started. But in equal measures, if I’m being really honest, I’m nervous. I don’t quite know what to expect, and I can only imagine being sat on that grid for the first time – what is that going to feel like? I’m really excited to just get started and try it, it’s only a months’ time – so I’ll know what that’s like very soon.
In terms of what I want to get from the season, I spoke to people in last years’ academy, and I realised that the people at the front of the grid, we’re having a great fun…. There was a pack in the middle of the grid, having their own race and having fun too, and then a group at the end that was having a race too – having a brilliant time. For me, enjoying it is better than result. If I can move up the order, that’s of course what I want, but the most important thing for me is to have a great time. That’s what I’m here for.”
You’re also sharing a lot of content as the season goes on, could you tell us a little more about that?
“What I’m looking to do is share my story this year. Motorsport is seen as an expensive thing, and certainly a luxury. With that in mind, I did the sums and realised I wouldn’t be able to do it – so I looked at it in a different way to see how I could afford to. Speaking to previous competitors, I got a real good idea of how much a season could cost.
“I’ve sourced a sponsor, and we’re also raising money for charity. SOAR is an electric go-karting track in Gillingham, without their help I wouldn’t be here. Along the way, we’re going to raise the same amount of sponsorship for the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance. If I can race and raise money for charity, then that’s a brilliant thing.
“I’m sharing this story on YouTube and my website, and everyone is welcome to get involved. Drop me a message, ask me questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’m sharing everything from start to finish, and hope to encourage others to take the plunge this time next year.”
Here's a few more snaps from the day, courtesy of Snappy Racers.