I am in a quandary. This time of year as the nights close in, clocks go back, and we start thinking about preparations for the office Christmas Party, my eye always starts to wander. It's the urge to try something a bit different and experience new things, and I don't mean a fling below the mistletoe but a new challenge for next years racing. What championships and cars are on that 'greener patch' of grass on the other side of the fence?
As the end of the inaugural season for the Superlight championship approaches it was clearly time for my 2010 racing options to have a little helping direction, as I was recently offered the series 'guest car' at Snetterton. I have to admit the ex-airfield track in Norfolk is not one of my top circuits, but having driven the R300 on the road only two months ago, I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity!
Arriving on a rare sunny day in Autumn I get to meet my ride for the weekend. Most Caterhams look the same except for a few bumps and bulges depending on the power unit fitted in the long nose. The race car is no different, apart from the absence of those niceties/essentials that make them road legal: indicators, lights and a full screen. Surrounding the cockpit is a full external roll cage meaning entry and exit is done Dukes of Hazzard style if you are slim, or like me, through the gaps in the roof.
I strap myself in for the first practice session and after adjusting the four point harness, leg and wrist straps, it is clear I am not going to move much when this thing gets going. Trundling down the pit lane in first I hit the throttle as I exit onto the track and suddenly the power and speed of this rocket ship hits me. This is going to be entertaining.
I may have said I didn't favour Snetterton earlier but it does have an incredibly varied selection of corners that you need for a good race track. Important corners onto long straights, slow chicanes, adverse dips and two ballsy, flat-out corners. Though the R300 is super quick it also achieves that speed with a huge arm around the shoulder. If you have an ounce of car control the car will not force you into the nearest corn field, and you can look like a drift god by power-sliding out of slow, or even fast corners. It may have not been the quickest way round the track, but it certainly is the one that provides the biggest smile.
With a full day of dry practice I am ready to take the championship by storm, so roll on race day.... when it's raining! Take a 175bhp 2.0-litre Duratec engine and strap it to 550kg of light weight sports car and you have wheelspin in third. Now add Snetterton rain and you have the recipe for the perfect drift day. As I start qualification I check the tyres as I am sure the mechanics have decided to coat them in teflon, and though there is the smallest aero screen in front of me I spend more time looking out the side.
Caterham meets are always double headers so with day two basked in sunhine it gave me a good chance to watch the closeness of Caterham racing and learn something from the regulars. The slipstream affect is something that gets mentioned time and time again when Caterhams are on track. Some drivers don't like it as it can act like driver catch-up on a computer game, but it certainly makes sure a leader can't get too far away from the pack. Catching the final lap of a throughly entertaining Roadsport A championship deciding race I watch the first 8 cars came out of the last chicane and preceded to bounce off each others wheel arches as they hurtle towards the finish line. The usual over-exuberant finish to a season, but I now can't wait to get out there and do the same - though with less bumping.
Heading into the last 5 minutes of racing I manage to break the tow of champion elect Jonathan Walker, and set my sights on the ex-Academy driver Matthew Draper and the podium battle. As I exit the final chicane I pick up the tow and pull out at the last second before hitting to sling-shot past. I creep gradually up alongside and even duck in the seat to try and gain another place. The photo finish shows I didn't duck enough and I miss out on the place by 0.026 seconds - it certainly is close racing!
30 minutes of fun-filled, adrenaline-pumping, close but gentlemanly racing has left me totally smitten. It may have been a quick and torrid affair at Snetterton but I think I may be proposing in the spring, Caterham racing and me is definitely something you should buy a hat for in the new year. Now if I can only put the £25,000 car on the wedding list...
If you fancy watching a bit of Caterham racing and have Motors TV, the Snetterton races will be shown at Sat. 31.10 @ 17:30,Sun. 01.11 @ 12:00 and Wed. 04.11 @ 21:15