Evolution of the fastest

Tom Stewart reports on the third Caterham Festival at Brands Hatch
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I'm at the wheel of a £42,000 Caterham R500 Evolution. I've driven an R500 before, but it wasn't an Evo. The Evo's even quicker - one just like it has sprinted from zero to 100mph and back down to zero again in 10.7 secs. That's quicker than a £425,000 Ferrari Enzo, the £634,500 McLaren F1 and every other production road car. Ever.

I'm at the wheel of a £42,000 Caterham R500 Evolution. I've driven an R500 before, but it wasn't an Evo. The Evo's even quicker - one just like it has sprinted from zero to 100mph and back down to zero again in 10.7 secs. That's quicker than a £425,000 Ferrari Enzo, the £634,500 McLaren F1 and every other production road car. Ever.

I'm on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit. There's nothing coming the other way, no police, no speed cameras and the track is dry. I can't tell you how much I want to smoke this car off the line, drift it through the downhill right-hander that is Paddock Hill bend and be catapulted up Hailwood Hill.

I want to overtake every other car on the track, or at least try to. But it's not to be, because a course car is leading the pack with a 50mph speed limit. Which is more than a little frustrating for me and, I imagine, for many of the 300 or so non-racing Caterhams from the 7 Owners Club also taking their turn to cruise around on their parade laps during the lunchtime break in racing. But I'm not here to prove my worth on the track. I'm here to bring you a report on this, the third Caterham Festival, held biennially at the Kent circuit.

With drivers from France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and even Japan joining the British regulars, almost 300 more Sevens are entered for this 18-race, end-of-season meeting with eight different championships still undecided.

The on-track action is electric for drivers and spectators alike. In common with motorcycles, and unlike most other forms of car-circuit racing, these Caterhams don't have fancy aerodynamic aids. This means that they can race in very close proximity to each other without having their downforce, and thus their grip, adversely affected.

Also in common with two-wheeler racing is the Caterham racer's courtesy. This is all too often lacking in saloon-car racing, where bumping and biffing is both commonplace and tolerated; not because hardtop racers are bolder or more competitive, but because they obviously feel too safe in their heavily braced saloon cocoons.

Oh, how I wish I was out there with them. Back in the late 90s I competed in a novices Caterham race - I started 12th, climbed to sixth and finished 12th (don't ask). Hardly Schumacheresque, but it gave me a hunger I've longed to satisfy ever since. Instead, I'm watching the first Roadsport B Challenge race. John Aylott, Mike Blackadder and Neil Fletcher are all in the hunt for the title. Blackadder spins out of the lead down the Brabham Straight, and hobbles home in 21st. But Aylott is also in trouble - spinning at Druids while contesting the lead to finish 14th, while Fletcher is pipped for victory by just five-thousandths of a second. The battle will have to be concluded later in the day.

Time for a stroll around the 7 Club's car park. They're all essentially one size and shape, but there's much to catch the eye. I'm drawn to one of the rare "Prisoner" models; it's No 19 and its dash-mounted plaque is enscribed with the actor Patrick McGoohan's signature.

Back to the track and the Roadsport B class are out for their championship decider. I'm on the edge of my bench with Blackadder starting from the back with little hope of catching Fletcher or Aylott. Then a midfield mêlée brings out the red flags and the restart sees Blackadder pick his way through from 11th to fifth - enough to secure the championship by a single point from Fletcher, who finishes in third. Poor Aylott's chances were crushed by a puncture.

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