The Ideal School of Driving?
This weekend I took a day trip down to Thruxton, to watch some club-level racing. Now, I can already tell you that next week’s article will be a full review of my visit, with the aim of determining whether it’s a day out that I’d recommend or not, but this week focuses on one of the headline events from last weekend: the Caterham Academy.
So far I have written articles about MINI Challenge, Ginetta G40 BRDC and Club100 karting in order to determine whether they are the ideal racing series for me to participate in in order to kick off my motorsport career and, whilst they each have their own unique positives, none have quite yet put together the perfect package. With that in mind, lets have a look at how the Caterham Academy performs when scrutinised under the following criteria: cost to race, accessibility, and car configuration.
First up, is the cost. The Caterham Academy is a single cost, starting at £29,995, although the cost of various vehicle options can take the total up to north of £40,000. Therefore, assuming that most people would at least pay for their car to be built, we’ll go for a price of £35,000. Now you may be thinking that £35,000 may be a lot, especially considering the MINI Challenge could be completed with a budget of around £20,000, but the Caterham bundle includes much more than just a car.
Alongside your road-legal Caterham Academy racing machine, you are enrolled in the Caterham Academy Championship – a racing series exclusively for drivers who have not held a race or kart licence before. This means that all the drivers are novices, and all the cars are equal. Now, having seen the action for myself last weekend, I can tell you the action is close. At times the competitors were three or four wide heading into the chicanes, and most of the time they all emerged unscathed.
The race series usually consists of a ‘sprint’ event, before six or seven race meetings, where racers have a 15-minute qualifying session and a 20-minute race. However, we haven’t finished with the benefits of your entry fee yet. Caterham also organise a time and place where you take the racing licence test, and they also host two further pre-season days: one handling day for you to learn the characteristics of your own car, and one Caterham-exclusive testing day. Finally, they organise a technical day within which they teach you about car setup and how to maximise your vehicle’s performance.
Overall, then, I’d say that the level of support received by the manufacturer is on a par, if not above the level that Ginetta offer with their G40 GRDC package, which is probably the only other racing series of this ilk. Caterham, though, offer their series at just two-thirds the cost of Ginetta, and if that’s still not affordable enough, Santander Consumer Finance is a partner of the series, meaning you can finance your racing journey if you can’t quite afford to strum up the cash sum. I think it’s safe to say that affordability is an overwhelmingly positive tick.
The second area of interest to me is how accessible the series is to fans. In terms of social media following, Caterham themselves have a substantial audience, with around 40,000 Instagram followers, 30,000 Twitter fans and 55,000 likes on Facebook. More significantly, however, one current Academy class member commands social media numbers that are factorial in comparison.
James Walker – more commonly known as Mr JWW – boasts nearly 570,000 subscribers on YouTube alone, and across the board his following totals nearly a million accounts. Now, if I was able to use the crossover in potential content between his audience and mine to convert just 1% of his audience, that would be a gain of nearly 10,000 accounts for this blog, taking us into serious numbers.
Caterham’s exposure of the Academy is also quite professional, as all races are recorded, with highlight packages available on YouTube consisting of multiple cameras dotted around the circuit. These highlights, alongside my own content, would allow my audience to easily keep up with my progress through the season, an absolute necessity for me. Finally, my understanding is that usually spectators are free to roam around the paddock during race meetings, however due to current circumstances that was not a possibility at Thruxton. After two categories, then, it’s two passes for the Caterham Academy. Will it be the first series to gain full marks?
Next, we move on to the cars themselves. All the cars are built brand new as part of the £30,000 entry cost, and the car is then yours to keep. Because all the cars are built equally using equal-spec parts, and are assembled by the manufacturer, I can be pretty safe in the knowledge that my competitors and I would have nigh-on equally performing machinery. This is beneficial, as it stipulates that any differences in performance – positive or negative – are most likely down to the driving.
Similarly, repairs and replacements are carried out by Caterham themselves, meaning all drivers are subject to full factory support at race meetings. This keeps costs low and competitive advantages through part replacements at a minimum. Even when it comes to tyres, their road-legal nature means that, in the dry at least, partially-worn rubber is potentially advantageous, so it isn’t necessary to be purchasing dozens of sets of tyres for the year. Another good performance for the Academy.
The final consideration is what a Caterham is. I initially stated that I didn’t wish to race in a racing car that had been converted from a road-car chassis. Now, you could argue that Caterhams do indeed fit into this category as, for starters, the Academy cars themselves are road legal. However, I did caveat my preference by stating that road-legal track cars, such as Ariel Atoms or Caterhams, would be exceptions to this rule. I said this because they were developed with circuit driving in mind, and therefore would be built with to better withstand the demands of racing.
In conclusion, the Caterham Academy looks to take home a perfect score. A good mix of affordability, competitiveness and accessibility to the fans, alongside fitting my personal preferences along the way, result in the Caterham Academy theoretically becoming the front-running race series on my shortlist.
One last benefit to this championship is that you can progress through another 3 racing series’ with your Academy chassis, just by adding small, incremental upgrades year on year. This allows a relatively cheap progression into some seriously pacey machines, matching your newly-developed driving skills with some more demanding racing. Is it somewhere I could actually be competing come the new year, however? Only time will tell…
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