From one driver to another - What you need to know before competing in the Academy

From one driver to another - What you need to know before competing in the Academy

In 2019 Caterham's Finance Manager Adam West took part in the Caterham Academy. Adam's Academy journey didn't have the smoothest start but that didn't stop him finishing in the top 5 for his group. As Jack Woodgate our Head of Sales Development prepares to undertake the 2020 Academy he had a chat with Adam to run through everything he needs to know ahead of taking to the track... 

Jack Woodgate (JW): Tell me a bit about your Academy story

Adam West  (AW): My academy journey didn’t get off to the best start…before the season even started I was on my way to the handling day at Silverstone (also the first time I had driven the car) and I accidentally drove into the back of another car at a T junction about 5 minutes away from the circuit. I busted the radiator and the front wishbone which meant I then had to be rescued by Alex in the trailer and then spent the whole day looking on from the side whilst everyone else was having fun in their cars, tackling the slalom courses and doing practice starts.  Which carried over into a poor finish in the first round, the Sprint at Curborough.

It did get better after that though. Well, not right away, I managed to lock my car keys in the boot of my car on the test day before the first circuit race which meant I had no phone, wallet or change of clothes until my girlfriend came up with the spare keys early on the morning of the race. I had to go to dinner in my race suit!

So, the first race was at Cadwell Park which is a really scary circuit but a brilliant one once you get to grips with it. To my surprise I qualified 3rd, and then finished 5th in the race. Not too bad for my first outing. 

The second race was Oulton Park. I qualified 2nd and then finished 3rd. My first podium! My first trophy and I got to spray some champagne as well! I started to think, OK, this is the first of many but unfortunately not. That was my first and last podium of the season. I narrowly missed out on 3rd in most races for the rest of the season actually. Snetterton I qualified 2nd, finished 4th. Donington, I was running in 4th and then span at Old Hairpin, ended up finishing 7th. Silverstone I finished 4th and then the final race at Brands I finished 4th. So I was also up there but just didn’t have enough to get another podium. (I also locked my keys in the boot again at brands!).

I finished 4th overall in the Championship, 4 points off of 3rd place. Which I am actually quite gutted about, but at the beginning of the season I was aiming to just be in the top 10 so overall I am very happy and I loved every minute of it.

 JW: I’m just starting to prepare for the season… what are your top tips for me?

AW: Try and get as much practice in the car as possible I guess. I was so slow at the beginning when we done our exclusive test day as I had little time in the car, by the time I got to Cadwell I had a bit more practice. The people who were familiar with their cars or familiar with Caterham’s had a big advantage at the start of the season. Even just driving the car on the road. I drove mine back and forward to work for a while just so It would feel familiar and comfortable when I got in it at the track. I also had a bead seat made which I really liked as it was moulded to my body, it meant that I could have the driving position exactly how I wanted it and also meant I was more comfortable on long journeys to the circuit. Have a little check list for when you are leaving for a race weekend. There are so many bits you need, race licence, gloves, shoes etc it makes it easier if you can just check it off.  

JW: Is there anything else you’d recommend doing before the season starts?

AW: Book your test days, I was late to the party booking my days so it meant the Fridays, day before the race, were all pretty much taken. Also book hotels in good time, I ended up getting stung on prices because I wasn’t organised and booked too late. Take notes at the setup day of things to check before and after each session on track, bolts, oil etc. None of it is overly complicated but I did tend to forget to check certain things. Learn how to bleed the brakes, you will need to do this at some point over a race weekend. Get the car flat floored so the car is set to your weight. Get your pedals set up so you can heel and toe. Get the stiffer front anti roll-bar fitted (for the dry). I found this made a massive difference to the way the car handled but ultimately you need to practice in the car so you know what suits your driving style and what doesn’t. I basically looked at anything that would give me a small advantage as I would need it!   

JW: Which was your favourite race this year?

AW: They were all brilliant, there isn’t one circuit I didn’t like and there are parts of every race that I liked but I suppose I would have to say Oulton Park as that was my only podium of the season but actually I think I enjoyed Silverstone the most. There are two big straights at Silverstone which means the slipstream plays a big factor, so there was so many swapping of places throughout the whole race, I was eighth one lap and then third the next, it was really exciting. And just the fact that I got to race at the same circuit as what the F1 cars do. Pretty cool!

JW: I’m researching what race equipment I’ll need to kit myself out with, apart from the usual (helmet, race suit, hans device, underwear), is there anything else you’d recommend?

AW: There are quite a few things I would recommend getting but it all depends how you are getting to each race event. I drove my Academy car to each event so I was limited to what I could fit in it. If you are trailering it then you could bring all sorts of kit! But essentials would be, as mentioned earlier, a brake bleeding kit. Some sort of timer in the car is also handy so you can easily see how long you have left of the race or qualy. I also found a jerry can was helpful as then I didn’t have to pay the extortionate circuit fuel prices. All very cheap things that help a lot. You will need a torque wrench as well, as a minimum I would check my wheels before each time out on track. A 270 driver lost a wheel mid-race at Oulton because he didn’t torque his wheels.

JW: Do you think I should get a VBOX fitted to my car?

AW: 100%. It is such a clever bit of kit. It is really helpful for testing and qualy so you can know what times you are putting in. Somehow it just knows what circuit you are at and where the start line is so there is no set up or anything at the track. It can also show you predictive lap timing so you can know if you are up or down on your fastest lap. The cameras are really good as well, the video will know when you are sitting on the grid for the race and then start filming. It is really clever.

JW: What have you found most surprising about taking part , what’s your biggest takeaway?

AW: Probably just how much I enjoyed it. I knew I would enjoy it anyway but I think what made it better was the other drivers, everyone on the grid got on and everyone had a laugh together and we would all help each other out whether it was helping bleeding brakes or tips on how to take certain corners, it was like we were part of one big team which was really nice. Plus, I actually got to feel like a proper racing driver each weekend! The thing I learnt from taking part is how much I needed to improve my race craft. There is one thing being quick on a test day but another being quick in the race. I found it hard at first to get into that racing mentality of being aggressive (but fair) when overtaking and not to get flustered when there is a car right up your backside! But once I got into the zone it was so much better!    

JW: What was your favourite moment of the season?

AW: There are two moments that really stick in my memory, first was getting out of the car after the first race at Cadwell Park. Everyone was buzzing, congratulating each other, talking about the race and then having our families come over as well. Also I was so nervous before the race, I felt sick and everything so I think just finishing the first race without any problems, and coming 5th, made it one of my favourite moments. The other one is turning onto the straight and crossing the line at Oulton Park to take third. I was so happy when I saw that chequered flag. Then stepping onto the podium. I didn’t expect to get a podium at all so I was ecstatic. It was nice having all my family there supporting me as well and getting to spray the champagne.

JW: What do you think of the design of my wrap, Adam? Better than yours?

AW: I have to say, it does look good. Maybe I could copy it for Roadsport next year?

JW: You were Batman on track, which superhero do you think I should go with?

AW: You can be Robin.

You can follow Jack's Academy journey on our social channels. We'll be posting blog posts, photos and videos of his races throughout the 2020 season so watch this space! 

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