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Thread: Trip to Caterham UK and Caterham Silverstone Circuit Experience

  1. #1
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    Default Trip to Caterham UK and Caterham Silverstone Circuit Experience

    Last week I was in London for another business trip. To make life fun I paid a Friday visit Caterham South showroom to check out the floor stock, buy some goodies and generally have fun. I had been to the factory about 5 years back but this time the factory was not available for visit. Not a real problem as there was plenty to explore at the South Showroom.

    Here is the greeting area:





    In the lobby area was an original Lotus 7 on loan from the Nearn family (no photo sorry). There was also a bare CSR chassis to see how it differs to a regular Seven chassis. There was also the new Monaco Seven model. Inside was red carpet trim – not necessarily my cup of tea when it comes to style but I appreciate the effort to keep the designs fresh.





    Out back in the warehouse was where they keep the jewels. There were more Sevens in one spot than I had seen in my entire life. We think it is an achievement in the US when we get 10-15 Sevens at a major meeting. Not having been to 7-7-07, I clearly missed a major meeting but even so, the garage below was impressive:

    Last edited by Croc; 11-14-2010 at 06:12 AM. Reason: pics added
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

  2. #2
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    My guide was David Ridley, Caterham’s International Development Manager, who showed me the various models, features of the entire range – something we just don’t see with our smaller Seven market in the US. I was able to sit, study, admire, drool and generally be a nuisance while checking things out. It was intriguing to see the CSR with its inboard front suspension, IRS and curvy dash:






    I was also able to discuss David’s plans for the Caterham Drive Experience coming to the USA in 2011 (hopefully?).

    While I was there, a proud owner brought in his new Seven race car (I think it was an Academy). Just to show that the English have a well developed sense of humor, the Caterham sales guys were calling it the fried egg car – as it was a yellow and white color scheme (white body, yellow nose cone, cycle wings, and rear wings).

    To fill in time while I was there on the weekend, I had arranged to join a full day session of the Caterham Circuit Experience at Silverstone Circuit. These are a fairly big event held regularly in the UK. Other variations on the theme are the Caterham Drive Experience (an auto-x/slalom style of event) and the Caterham Drift Experience.

    The format for the day is to turn up at 8am, wake up with coffee and breakfast and have a 30 min briefing on the circuit, safety factors, and generally how the day will progress. Then you are turned loose on the circuit with your instructor who takes you on an initial 3 lap demonstration to point which way the track runs, the basic layout, the racing lines and give you some basics on safety protocols (i.e. when to overtake, etc). It worked out that I shared a car with 2 other guys in the morning and in the afternoon it was sharing with just 1 other guy. You ended up with roughly 3 x 15-20 min sessions in the morning and after lunch another 3 x 20 min sessions all driven with the instructor next to you coaching you by intercom. The final element of the day was the instructor taking you out to show you how a Seven can really handle in the hands of a pro instead of a ham fisted hacker (like me!).

    Some of you know that I had a large incident on a track many years back and lost confidence so I figured this was my way to get back in the saddle gently and regain some confidence.

    The cars were a mix of S3 and SV chassis. The engines were Sigma 150 which are Ford 1.6L 150 FWHP standard engines matched up with the Caterham 6 speed gearbox and no LSD. Standard seats and interior with 4 pt harnesses and an FIA roll bar. From my scrutiny they looked completely stock other than no ignition key and the speedo was deactivated (so no telling how fast you were going). Tires were the standard Avon SV3 road going tires with full tread – lots of squealing.




    The Caterham crew was quite large. Six cars were there of which we were using four. There were 4 instructors, a coordinator, and two mechanics all led by “Sudsy” as chief instructor.

    We were using Silverstone’s south circuit (i.e. the southern end of the F1 circuit). The National circuit had a race meeting on and Stowe was being used by a Drive a Formula Ford for a day program.

    http://www.silverstone.co.uk/track/c...thern-circuit/

    Stowe circuit is in the background of this shot and is laid out entirely within the confines of the South Circuit.

    Last edited by Croc; 11-14-2010 at 06:14 AM. Reason: pics added
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

  3. #3
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    We shared the south circuit with Silverstone’s own drive experience program where you turn up and pay your money to drive a Lamborghini, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Audi R8 or Lotus Exige for a few laps and then get taken around by a pro. There was also an R300-400 Caterham Seven running around with an insanely crazy talented driver scaring the hell out of paying passengers. It is an amazing facility dedicated to driving. The South circuit was nicely challenging – a nice mix of flat out corners and slow tights turns. Abbey into Farm was my favorite although intellectually the hardest was Stowe – much faster than you would expect from an initial drive. Despite the lack of power the Sevens were extremely competitive with the exotics as the straights were not too long and so it was only Hangar straight where a small power advantage came into play. The R300/400 seemed to obliterate anything else on the track – no straight line power disadvantage was apparent. Naturally the exotics could not beat the Sevens for general handling and braking nimbleness.

    The instructors were all professionals. Mine for the day was Bradley Ellis who has carved out an impressive list of achievements in a relatively short space of time.

    http://bradleyellisracing.com/index.html

    Amusingly, his own website has not had as many hits as his you-tube video of hanging the tail out of a Porsche Cayenne medic car at the British Touring Car Championship Silverstone race meet:

    YouTube - Silverstone 2010 btcc doctors car sideways


    Initial drive session started off just circulating the course in 5th gear to simplify learning. Later sessions introduced more gears, later braking, etc. Despite being initially underwhelmed by the 1.6L engine, I was proved wrong. It was a wonderfully tractable little unit that revved freely up to 7000rpm and sounded great going down the straight. Speeds were not that high – I was seeing 7000rpm briefly in 5th gear at the end of Hangar Straight, before dabbing the brakes into Stowecorner. Later, Sudsy said that was about 110mph. Interestingly Brad was doing about the same in his demo laps. The only criticism I could make was that these cars had a small throttle opening jerkiness that made it sometimes difficult to feed power in gently plus the different pedal heights made it difficult for me to heel and toe. This was not just me as other participants made the same observations. Practice makes the problem go away as the pros did not have the same problem.

    The role of the instructor is critical – to push you at times to go harder and hold you back when you are being a little too wild. Brad was excellent at pushing me harder all the time - he knew exactly my issue and how to make me overcome them. For example, there was a Audi R8 V10 that was pretty slow around corners that I ended up being strongly encouraged to overtake going down Hangar Straight as the Audi V10 started to hit stride - a drag race I assumed I could not win. Not only did I find I could keep pace up to about 100mph, I ended up passing the Audi as he started to brake at the end of Hangar Straight. As for the little wild, Silverstone has a 2 spins and you are out policy – something I was not prepared to test. However, Sudsy had a group of Eastern Europeans to instruct and from appearances they had never driven a car with a steering wheel before. If coming around a fast corner to find a Seven mid racing line facing you after it spun is unnerving then think about Sudsy in the passenger seat of the spun car thinking how do I control this student! Sudsy was heard to utter later in the afternoon “I thought I was going to die today.” Fair assessment based on what I saw from that group.

    The SV model I started with in the morning was retired by 11am with cooling issues – a small leak in the radiator allowed the remaining coolant to boil itself into froth. This was the only breakdown of the day. Bonnets did not come up on any of the other cars that I saw. Pretty impressive for cars that were being thrashed all day on a circuit. Spare car coming up:




    Overall, I thought it was a great day. By the end of the day I was feeling respectably fast again - able to keep up and pass many of the exotic road cars and the other Circuit Experience Sevens circulating. I certainly felt more confident and secure in my abilities and know what I need to work on going forward – I can see that my transition from braking to acceleration was not smooth enough and needs working on, I struggled finding the right gears at times (I kept on being confused by the 6 spd gear layout compared to my 5spd T-9) plus I could see that I was sometimes misjudging the entry by apexing too early. The width of a F1 circuit is staggering compared to any other circuit I have been on – many of the corners were flat out accelerating in a Seven. Even Village corner which felt relatively slow was still a 70mph corner(so I was told). Here are Sevens midway through Stowe corner:





    (Apologies for grainy pics - I only had a pocket camera and I was a fair distance away.)

    Aside from my failings, the day is an impressive showcasing of the abilities of a Caterham Seven. All prospective Se7en owners should consider a day like this if it is available as it is only in this environment that you truly understand what giant killing cars Se7ens are. These days are not cheap and will never be when you consider we had a car provided, fuel, tires, full professional instruction, pit mechanic backup, spare cars, and un-crowded circuit hire for a whole day. When you consider the cost of a regular track day, the cost of this Circuit Experience was within proportion given the extra inclusions. Even if it was not a Seven event, having the professional coaching was worth it for me to correct old bad habits and help me find a groove.




    From my earlier discussions with David Ridley and from the Caterham Circuit Experience team, some cars have been set up for shipping to the US to kick off the drive experience program to be operated with the assistance of a US motor sporting organization. This is different to what I went through as the drive experience focuses on auto-x style slalom driving around cones. They seem to be looking closely at the New York metro area for now. They are aiming for an announcement in early 2011.
    Last edited by Croc; 11-14-2010 at 06:32 AM. Reason: pics added
    Mike
    2010 Caterham CSR with Cosworth 2.3 Duratec
    2018 Caterham 420R with 2L Duratec 210hp at Donington UK
    1975 BMW CSL Group 4 (restoration finished - track set up time)
    1977 Holden Torana "A9X" (awaiting restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore SS Group A (suspension restoration)
    1985 Holden Commodore Group A (suspension set up)
    1982 Ferrari 400i (radiator replacement)
    1965 Ford Mustang Fastback "Holman Moody"
    1992 Ford Escort RS Cosworth WRC (dyno time)
    1990 Range Rover 2 door Classic
    and another project car coming....

  4. #4
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    Excellent narrative.
    Thanks for sharing.

    m

  5. #5
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    Terriffic story, looks like you had a fantastic experience.
    Jerry

    WCM Ultralite S2K (Sold 8/17)

  6. #6
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    Default Thanks for sharing your wonderful and interesting trip.

    Thanks for reminding us of all the wonders of Caterham and what these little beasts can do.

  7. #7
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    Mike: You da Man!

    What a great experience you had and it was terrific to be able to tag along vicariously, thx to your great write up.The showroom was a se7enr's dream come true. The track experience was amazing. To rent a track and provide cars and personalized instructors of such high caliber was very ambitious and had to cost some long $. It is now on my list of things to do.

    I was happy to hear how well the plain vanilla Academy cars did. I think they are about equal to my basic Super Sprint Crossflow.
    Kitcat:AKA, Sir Spinsalot
    '97 Caterham Super Sprint, 1700 Crossflow-sold
    '09 Birkin S3, Duratec-sold
    '03 Caterham Zetec track car
    '19 Honda Type R, sold
    '19 Miata Clubsport

  8. #8
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    Nice! The Caterham driving experience looks like too much fun and certainly worth the $$. But I really love the pics of the showroom and such! Frankly I was expecting a little something like that when I made it to CaterhamUSA earlier this year...

  9. #9
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    Sounds like the trackday helped you out in a lot of ways. Heck, I wouldn't be able to get over shifting with my left hand, let alone apexes & braking points...
    .



    "HECK IS WHERE PEOPLE GO WHO DON'T BELIEVE IN GOSH"


    2008 Ultralite S2K
    2016 Mazda CX-5
    2008 Volvo C30
    2005 Mini Cooper
    1999 Miata
    1967 Chevy C10

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