Back in 2012, I raced my Caterham for the last time, narrowly missing out on winning the championship for a second time to the formidable Brad Smith. It had been an unusual year, the grid had started out at over twenty-five competitors, but at its lowest point it had dwindled to a minimal twelve. Coming in to the last race, it was going to be a close call. Brad had had an up and down season, amusingly even flying off the grid in reverse at the start the Oulton Park round.

However, in the end, Brad had the upper hand and deservedly won the championship. But, for me, it wasn’t my finest hour. After ending up off the island on the last lap, I threw a tantrum and decided sulking was the order of the day. I was thoroughly miserable, angry with myself and disappointed at the outcome. It wasn’t the way a season of excellent racing with good friends should have ended. At that point, I hung up my racing boots and took a step back, reminding myself that I race for fun, not to win.

But racing gets in your blood, in your soul, it becomes a need. There’s nothing quite like the time behind the wheel, where you’re focused on nothing else. The vices of modern life are insignificant; that important email you need to reply to, irrelevant, the latest social media update, unimportant. It’s pure focus. It’s also damn exciting. 110mph with three other cars inches from you makes you feel alive; it gets the heart racing and the blood pumping.

“A lot of people go through life doing things badly. Racing’s important to men who do it well. When you’re racing, it’s life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.”Steve McQueen, Le Mans

This year, after a four-year break and with the “accidental” purchase of the ’64 FIA Ford Falcon, I decided it was time to go racing again. Jumping in the deep end, it began with a 24hr endurance race in Dubai in a Ginetta G55 GT4 run by Optimum Motorsport and rolled in to racing the slightly insane and wayward Falcon. However, a couple of months ago I was asked by Russ Olivant (currently leading the Caterham Roadsport Championship) if I’d like to join him for a 2 hour endurance race, two cars, two drivers; around the MSV Snetterton 300 circuit. I didn’t need to be asked twice!

The 750 Motor Club run a 2-hour endurance race for production sports and saloon cars. It’s designed to be a cost effective entry in to the world of endurance racing. Fortunately for us, they also have an open ‘invitational’ class that allows anything to enter, perfect for a pesky Caterham!

Joining us were a number of other drivers from the 2016 Caterham Roadsport Championship, it was shaping up to be fun weekend of racing and paddock comradery. I had spent the Friday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, so enlisted the assistance of Lee from Auto_Shack to get my car to the circuit and through scrutineering. Arriving on the Saturday, I found my car set up and ready to go, it was a perfect chance to check out the competition.

I wouldn’t call it ‘cheating’, but Russ and I definitely had a slight advantage over the other Caterham boys. My Caterham is currently in Supersport specification, giving it the advantage of wider track, LSD and uprated cams, over the Roadsport cars. Amusingly, what we didn’t realise was it was also going to put us in close contention with the primary classed BMW M3’s. Our qualification result of 3rd put us right in the middle of the big car action. Now all we needed was for it to stay dry.

Roll on the race.

One thing that quickly becomes apparent when racing a Caterham with ‘normal’ cars is just how small it is. You feel absolutely dwarfed by the big saloon cars and that’s just sitting in the holding area. The race was a rolling start and we had a game plan; being in a slightly quicker than the other Caterhams the strategy was to put as much time between them and us, before Russ headed out in his similarly paced car to the rest of the Caterham pack (a slightly unfair contest!).

We didn’t count on being so closely matched to the much bigger BMW M3’s, over the line I was immediately pounced on by the M3 behind, out powering me easily down the straight. However, entering the first corner I was immediately back on the bumper of the car in front. For the next hour, it was a constant tit for tat as we moved from straights to corner sections, each time the Caterham coming within millimetres of the BMW’s bumper.

Through out my hour on circuit, apocalyptic weather seemed to be drawing in and surrounding the best tarmac in Norfolk. Racing on the ZZR tyres (barely a cut slick) I had my fingers crossed it wouldn’t rain, willing the lightening on all sides of the circuit to stay away just a little longer. Getting a good exit from Williams, I powered the 7 down the Bentley Straight, thunder rumbling in the distance ahead. The track still dry, I flew under the bridge and got on the brakes, trailing them to the apex. As I passed under the bridge, it was if I’d entered another weather dimension. Torrential rain splattered the bonnet and I had to contend with the car going all Top Gun flat spin on me. It was as if the tarmac had suddenly become sheet ice. I quickly passed the wheel, correcting the initial rotation. Managing to just save the car from spinning, only to then have to contend with trying to reduce the speed. Fortunately, I ended up only slightly off at Nelson.

It was crazy; the east end of the circuit was a biblical flood, the west side bone dry. Luckily for me my hour was coming to an end, as the heavens opened fully, over the entire lap, I came for our driver change. Russ headed out as the rain poured. He’s quick in the dry and quick in the wet, finding a rhythm and setting a strong pace. As with all endurance racing, once the pitstops start, the race order becomes harder to follow. If we could just keep up the pace, a good finish was a possibility. During this last hour a number of the BMW teams decided to come in for wet tyres, not an option for the Caterhams and adding more confusion to the current running. With just 20 minutes to go a podium was in our sights, if we could just keep the status quo.

Safety Car! As the safety car headed out, we rushed to try and figure out the race order. Quickly pinpointing where our competitive Caterham teams were within the pack. The issue with a SC at this late stage is it would bunch everyone together and cause a tight fought race for the finish line. The Safety Car started to wave cars through, only to stop Russ. He was P1! Somehow, due to the additional pit stops taken by the M3’s we were out front and leading the pack. With only ten minutes to go, the safety car came in, Russ made a great start and created a gap. He just had to hold on to it.

The BMW’s were closing at over a second a lap. The excitement in the pits was electric, I couldn’t stop jumping up and down, giving Russ a solid, encouraging fist wave has he passed. He still had it, but the gap was less than three seconds as they crossed the line for the penultimate time. Go on! Russ took the chequered flag with the M3 in hot pursuit, just 1.8 seconds behind.

An awesome win in an epic David vs. Goliath battle.

Thanks to Russ for letting me join him on this impromptu race.

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