Caterham Academy 2012 Top Tips

One thing I hear that has been been a regular criticism (and I’m not being negative here) of all the fellow 2011 Academics I have spoken to, is the rather sparseness of information available. Some people know more than others, which has been a great discussion dialogue when meeting fellow competitors for the first time. However and other than a suggestion of speaking to last year’s competitors, there is a rather inconsistent source of information. For sure, Matthews 7:7 “seek and ye shall find” passage may hold true here but in the ‘open source’ ethics of an open community, I thought I would share my own ramblings.

Of course, this page is not seen as an exhaustive list of “Do’s and Don’ts” and for sure my lawyers state that I need to disclaim any liability for such hints and tips, that they may yardee-yada, consequential loss, don’t try this at home kids, yardee-yada, but I thought it may be a good idea to publish some pointers for consideration in your preparation for any entrant to the Caterham Academy 2012. In no particular order and subject to change without prior announcement:

Car Colour Scheme

I was initially told that my car will have a higher residual sales value of about £1,000 if I had it painted. Albeit I opted for a colour scheme, I did wonder if this is pure vanity and will wait to see if indeed the car holds a higher residual. I’m told by Nick Potter that a paint job puts 4lbs of weight on the car and when you dent it, you’ll have a higher replacement cost. The truth is though, with so many black and aluminium colour schemes, how will you stand out on the grid? Indeed I am told by fellow ‘aluminium’ non painted competitors that it is a pain to keep the aluminium shiny!

My top tip here is that you get your roll cage painted and body, but leave the nose cone and arches one of Caterham’s standard colours. Buy a new nose cone, two rear and two front spare arches as spares because, Race Support can only fit black if they ping off in a race. I tend to bias this thought process, though opted for a white nose cone from initial build. I am sure this will be yellow by the end of the 2011 series though perhaps in hindsight, it should have been yellow from the offset as there are already pebble dashed stone chips to the paintwork.

Updated 7th August 2011: You may wish to consider investing in vinyl wrapping your car? I now know of three 2011 competitors who have done this to great effect. I am hearing that paint chips become a thing of the past and the cost is less expensive than paint. For sure, I will be considering this for next year but also bearing in mind the damages to wheel arches already this year, I will deliberate the benefit of wrapping wheel arches. Simply ‘Google’ for “vinyl car wrapping”.

Engine Run In
Hotel Chocolat
There have been two trains of thought on this one, theoretical, emotional and technical. My consensus of all opinions is, it does not matter. For sure, you won’t be wanting to rev the hell out of the engine from delivery, so give it a couple of hundred motorway miles then take it on track and drive it without too much worry as I am told, the Sigma engines are not stressed and Urban Myth tells me you’ll want high revs to stop carbon build up.

Premium Unleaded Petrol

I am reliably informed that premium unleaded petrol will make no difference to performance whatsoever. That is, unless you think it will! So if you perceive you will go quicker, feel free to burn your hard earned Wonga.

Hans Device

This is the only optional piece of safety equipment that I personally see as a prerequisite as I have already experienced a head-on into Radillion at Spa. Indeed and because of this, I now always wear a mouth guard to protect my teeth too as they became a splintered casualty at Radillion. Your only choice in this matter is that when you visit Arch Motors to have the harness posts refitted to accommodate wearing of the device, which chocolate to buy the loved one in your life! While you are waiting for Arch to do their stuff, take 20 minutes to visit the Hotel Chocolat factory shop just opposite Arch and pick up some bargains!


Hans Harness
Now that you’ve purchased your Hans device and have been to Arch, firstly ensure your helmet will support wearing of a Hans device. I am told by Demon Tweeks that all helmets now come with Hans posts, but you best be sure to check. The next problem you are going to find is that the 3″ width of the standard fitted LUKE harness will be too wide for the Hans device. Not that wide in that it will not fit, but wide enough that it can be uncomfortable to wear. As you guess, there are FIA rules that stipulate which kind/type harnesses can be used when and where. I am not going to go into detail here other than to say you can use a 3″ harness or a 2″ harness with a Hans device but only a 3″ when no Hans device fitted.

The simple solution is the SCHROTH Racing 6 Point – Hybrid II-H (Slip Stop) harness, which is a patented Hybrid version unique to MSAR which “works extremely well with HANS device and is the ultimate harness for the Caterham.” This solution was found by The Gambler of Racing Caterhams fame.


Miles of Experience

Right from the outset I was told to get in the car and drive, to get used to it and put as many miles on as you can. As above under ‘Running In’, a couple of hundred miles on the motorway and then on track. Let’s not forget that the car has been purchased for racing and road miles are no substitute for track miles.

Coaching and Tuition

A certain prerequisite in my opinion. Not only will they transform your race craft, but are a separate and valued third party resource to your new world of motorsport. I couldn’t comment on this topic without a plug to my own mentor, Paul Lind who will happily dedicate himself to one competitor within each Academy group. Ditto I can also personally recommend Sarah Reader who has coached me in the past at Bookatrack. In addition, there are many instructors out there that fellow 2011 competitors have consulted too including Darren Burke though the other two instructors who I have heard great reviews of are Ben Elliott and Jamie Stanley.


Self Build or Factory Build

Factory build by Midlands seems to be the answer as per my separate “Factory or Self Build” post.

Lap Timers and Data Logging

In my opinion, there is no alternative to driver training and coaching, Once you have grasped the fundamentals, lap timers and data loggers can then provide an aid to enhancing skills. I did purchase the T200 as recommend by others and opted to install the Video VBOX via OnboadVision. One top tip here and one that has been on many lips is the use of data loggers. Quite simply put, the Regulations state that you cannot use data loggers during any race but you can use a video camera and indeed, the Clerk of the Course may ask to see any onboard video in case of dispute or incident during any race. In essence, if you are wishing to run a VBOX for video capture during the race, you must turn off data logging. Simply remove any real time display such as the OLED and when editing the scene, simply tick the disable date logging under the Logging preferences.


Wheels and Tyres

It was initially stated that one set of the Avon CR322 ‘Ditch Finder’ tyres will run a full season. As I type, my car has done some 2,000 track miles and the rears are pretty much at the limit of being road legal. Alright you say, not a problem as we’re not driving on the road, however there’s the twist. Firstly the Academy car needs to be road legal to race and secondly the tyres are going to perform like a pig in the wet. It has been stated to me that the tyres need to be road legal at the end of your event, I assume to allow you to drive home.

Obviously you won’t want to race on new tyres and will need to ‘scrub’ them in beforehand, so I have purchased a second set of rims and tyres. I’ve already had one puncture and had to replace the fronts and now will be replacing the rears as now barely legal. The second set would aid any planning of which tyres to run in dry or rain.

Pressures are another frequently asked question and there is no straight answer here. Initially I was told 30PSI cold, front and rear in any circumstance. As aforementioned, the rears are now barely road legal and what I am seeing is there is uneven wear across the centre of the tread patten than the outer. I’m no expert here but this suggests the tyres are over inflated and upon recent hot temperature checks, the temps are well over the 30PSI markings on the gauge. What I have ascertained is that a balance needs to be found as, too soft and the tyre wall will be too soft and too hard will be too skippy. I have tried  as low as 26PSI cold in the rear and 28PSI in the front and as high as 30PSH rear and 32PSI front. Discussions with people and coaches suggesting I should read scientific books about how gas expands during heat now goes over my head. I think the consensus here is keep it simple, 30PSI all round cold, hot, wet or dry.

On an aside, anyone thinking of putting nitrogen into the tyre to replace the air, forget it. Not only will it not help, race regulations stipulate nitrogen cannot be used. Now, whether the scrutineers will have the tools to check gas types is not known, but there won’t be any benefit, so why bother and take any penalty risk?

Updated 7th August 2011: I now have three sets of wheels, one ‘wets’ which came into great effect at Rockingham on our second race, one ‘race’ which are legal and use for race only and a third ‘scrap’, which are used on track and test days. A great top tip here is to speak to Nick Potter at Midlands as he normally has come ‘part worns’ knocking around which make ideal ‘scrap’ tyres which ultimately end up as ‘race’ tyres.

Trailer Requirements

20110415-143815.jpgThis is where the ‘low’ cost entry into Academy motorsport becomes debatable. Please consider that you’re spending somewhere in the region of £19k to £24k for a race car and unless this is really a one year wonder, you’ll be migrating to Roadsport next year and with all the tools and fuel cans you’ll be carrying, you will understand a trailer becomes a prerequisite. There are various makes, shapes and varieties though I opted for mine via Brian James Trailers.

The photo here was taken of a post built dual alteration that was snapped at Silverstone by permission of the owner. The alteration to carry two Caterhams was made by Woodford Trailers. The other trailer company that is sponsoring the 2011 Academy is PRG Trailers.


Race Setup

At the setup day at Midlands, Nick and Race Support went all through setup. Personally I found it easier to take to Fauldsport, one of a number Caterham approved race team specialists, 2010 Caterham R300 Superlight Team Champions. Fauldsport run a team of R300’s and also support Bookatrack. There are others that other Academics have used, primarily DPR in Guildford, though I have found McMillan in Hinkey to be friendly, especially when needed a little support in one if their Graduate sponsored track days at Rockingham. Recently I have been introduced to SPY Motorsport, who are more local to me in Oxford. There is a full set of race teams on the Caterham website and I would recommend taking the car to them for setup.

One thing to remember here is, you really want a minimum of 1,000 track miles on the car beforehand. I found it beneficial to take the car to Midlands for the 1,000 mile service, race preparation and bag seat fitting, staying overnight and taking to Fauldsport the next day.


Race Insurance

Like trailers, this is one of those ‘motorsport is expensive’ options and one indeed that I did not consider and budget. At the December seminar we were introduced to Phil and Mary from REIS Motorsport Insurance who made a presentation. Instinctively and instantaneously afterwards, the forum came alight with ‘me too’ posts, everyone trying to bolster the minimum 20 driver requirement for a ‘Special Package’ cover for race, sprint, test and track day cover. Obviously I’m not going to tell you to insure or not to insure as this will be at your own risk analysis. However what I will say was that the circa £2,500 price for such special cover was an unexpected and hidden cost that was not in my budget and with the high excess and maximum ‘roll over’ pay out caveats, didn’t equate as a bargain in my opinion. My own road insurance covers me for track days and any incident on sprint days will be down to my own skills, so I perceive minimal risk. That said, I think I will opt for individual race insurance. Of course there are others out there too such as Moris though one big benefit of REIS is, if there is carnage, Caterham will happily rebuild your car in the knowledge REIS will pay out.



Other Top Tips
Updated 7th August 2011: I’ve started to write individual pages for Top Tips now which can be viewed from below: