Sprinting a Caterham at Cadwell

It's probably not difficult to detect my undying love for the Caterham Seven. I've raced one, commuted in one, taken one to the Nurburgring, and specced our longterm one. And I've enjoyed damn near every single minute. From scaring myself in a supercharged Seven, to skidding around in a van-tyred Academy car, to falling in love with a Duratec-engined 360R, I have a load of Caterham Seven stories and they're nearly all positive.

So when a 420R was to be used for a sprint at Cadwell Park, with both car and circuit new to me, other hands weren't even allowed to be raised - I was doing it. I was excited even before collecting the car, but spending just five minutes with LJ17 DXL had me giddy. It's easy to forget how feral these 2.0-litre Caterhams are; snorting and fizzing and gnawing their way to nearly 8,000rpm with boundless enthusiasm. And with a six-speed gearbox meaning those shift lights could be kept illuminated for more prolonged periods, I couldn't wait to pop my Cadwell cherry.

That enthusiasm saw me through a Dartford delay and most of the M11, but by the A1 the Seven sulk had started to set in. It's the noise at a constant rpm that really gets to you, because in fact the seat is snug and you feel pretty well insulated once the roof is constructed. But after seemingly dozens of stops for fuel, coffee, comfort breaks, and fuel, the Seven and I made it to Louth. And the less said about that the better. Fed, watered and almost rested, Sunday soon dawned; and I was already at the circuit...

I have to be honest, in the cold and dark of an October Sunday morning, motorsport didn't feel all that appealing. Bed, breakfast and maybe a newspaper in about two hours' time rather did. Fortunately, everyone involved from both Javelin and the circuit couldn't have been more helpful, guiding me through scrutineering, the various sign-on and licence forms and where to be for the briefing at 8:20. Which still felt too early.

After the two familiarisation laps I was seriously considering going home - it was absolutely terrifying. The rain fell relentlessly, there were leaves everywhere and, in a melancholy combination of the two, leaves floating in puddles around the track. All this in addition to a track that features numerous blind bends, not an awful lot of run-off and some big elevation changes; I think 'mini-Nurburgring' is pushing Cadwell's cred a bit, but there's no denying it's a hugely intimidating circuit even without a deluge. Crikey.

An untimed run did a little to calm the nerves, then it was on to the timed stuff. The anticipation, the excitement and trepidation is what makes a sprint so exciting though, especially on an unfamiliar circuit. It went reasonably well, the track still treacherously slippery but a time of two minutes flat giving something to work with.

You want the excuses? Oh good, because they are plenty. Did I mention I didn't know Cadwell? The Caterham felt too stiff to be dealing with such a wet track too. And there's quite a lot of time between sprint runs. Why was it still raining?

Long and short of it is that I screwed up my next two runs. Including the driest of the day. Which was pretty frustrating when there was going to be a maximum of just six. You have to really concentrate when sprinting, which makes the good runs all the more satisfying and the crap ones so much more aggravating. At a track day, your performance doesn't really matter at all - at a sprint it does, which is what gives the whole process its appeal.

One of the runs had gone well (right up until I went up the exit road at Mansfield), while the other was a cock-up 20 seconds in as I span at the hairpin. It is slippery there, isn't it? It's a fabulous circuit, Cadwell, though seriously demanding as well. The quick corners were scary even at the reduced speeds I drove them, the Park Straight narrow as well as undulating, and the Hall Bends far more challenging than they looked. And considerably damper.

By the time of my last run (there was one more available, though the five-hour journey home made that look less attractive), the rain had returned and the chance of a decent time had gone. You can see in the video below that more speed was there - albeit with considerable caution too - and I'd shaved a few seconds off the morning's time. It still had me towards the back of the pack though, behind even a Renault Kangoo - everything's a matter of perspective, right?

I won't pretend that the journey back was fun, because the Seven cruises at nearly 5,000rpm and I live almost 200 miles from Cadwell, it was fairly miserable in fact. That being said, the tinnitus doesn't last as long as the sense of satisfaction from having competed at a new track. That's what's so good about sprinting; sure, it's less time on a circuit than a track day, but it leaves you with a greater sense of satisfaction no matter the outcome. Adding a competitive element to anything makes it more thrilling, and way more addictive, doesn't it? I'll bet you remember your last timed run better than your last jog around the park, for instance, and your last football match is far more vividly recalled than training. Competition heightens the intensity and the exhilaration, which is why I would wholeheartedly recommend a sprint if you're tired of track days. The Javelin day ran perfectly too, despite the adverse conditions, so give them a try.

You must get around Cadwell too; on a track day, a sprint, a bicycle or your own two feet - just do some laps. It's an utterly fabulous circuit, perhaps the best I've tried in the UK, and well worth what it costs to get around.

In fact it goes to show what a fantastic day it was that the best Caterham I've ever driven, a wild, intoxicating, incredible little track car, is nowhere close to being the highlight. Get on a sprint as soon as you can, and I guarantee that you'll love it, but most importantly, get out at Cadwell Park post haste, because it's sensational - just remember it can get quite slippery!

Thanks to Javelin for having us along and Darren O'Brien for the pictures.

Inspired? Buy a Caterham here


P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (15) Join the discussion on the forum

  • jeffw 31 Oct 2017

    Well done for having a go, pretty miserable all day. It was my first event in my new car (560Kg/550BHP) and it was an interesting day as, like you, I have very limited experience of Cadwell. Javelin events are great fun and very well run.

    I hope to see you out at more Javelin events next year smile

  • MagicalTrevor 31 Oct 2017

    That Caterham has a lovely rear view mirror hehe

  • hughcam 31 Oct 2017

    Yep I struggled at the hairpin too when it was wet ha!

    The Javelin days have run great all year. The organisers and competitors are a great bunch

  • hughcam 31 Oct 2017

    Yep I struggled at the hairpin too when it was wet ha!

    The Javelin days have run great all year. The organisers and competitors are a great bunch

  • Krikkit 31 Oct 2017

    As a Louth resident I feel I have a duty to stand up in defence of the town - it might not be that there fancy London, but it does have some nice spots if you're prepared to dig them out. smile

View all comments in the forums Make a comment