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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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