For the next few months, a new Caterham Seven will sit alongside my MGB, Citroen SM and Saab 96. It’s on long-term loan from Caterham and it comes as part of the famed Caterham Academy novice racing package.
So, Octane goes racing in 2012! More specifically, I go racing in 2012, something I’ve wanted to do for years. Why Caterham Academy? Because it’s a great training ground for all forms of motor racing and, with the heritage of the Seven and of course its straightforward rear-wheel-drive layout, it’s as close to historic racing as a modern series can be.
It’s an interesting concept. The Caterham Academy is open only to novices, who buy an Academy-spec Seven for a touch over £20,000, a price that includes all subsequent racing and training. They build it themselves (a four- or five-weekend job, or it can be factory-built for an extra £3000) and then embark on a programme that includes the ARDS race licence test, skidpan training, a set-up day, handling day, three sprints and four races – all with full technical support (in fact, there’s a dedicated full-time Academy co-ordinator to look after all participants.
After that first Academy year, there are three fairly simple stages of upgrade that progress the car and driver to the next levels of Caterham racing over the following three years. Around 60% of Academy drivers go on to these later stages each year. If that’s not followed up, used Academy cars sell for £16,000-plus.
As for the car, it’s more-or-less the base model Seven Roadsports. It’s got the 1.6-litre Ford Sigma fuel-injected engine, specced at 125bhp, Quaife five-speed gearbox, BMW 1-series differential and de Dion rear axle. For the racing, there’s a full rollcage, the unique-to-Caterham Academy Avon tyres, honeycomb fuel tank, fire extinguisher, electrical cut-off and a distinct lack of heater.
I was tempted to order ‘my’ car in classic polished aluminium bodywork, but the maintenance required – particularly as I want the car to be in regular use – put me off. Instead, we’ve experimented with a vinyl wrap by www.bossdog.co.uk rather than paint – a much cheaper option and a first for Caterham. I chose the white with classic Ford-style racing stripe in black.
It’s early days yet – I’ve passed my ARDS and covered just 500 miles in the Seven. But that’s in the last four days, and I’m planning on using the Seven to commute to the Octane office most days. More coming soon, by blog and in the magazine.