How My Caterham Race Car Reminded Me Why Driving Is Awesome

With the handling day of our Caterham Academy journey done and dusted, I felt the need to reflect on where the diminutive Seven sits in the sports car landscape
How My Caterham Race Car Reminded Me Why Driving Is Awesome

It’s a tremendous cliche to say that cars are ‘just too good’ these days, but there’s plenty of truth to that old chestnut. Even entry-level modern sports cars are over-powered, over-tyred and just too damn capable to be properly enjoy on the road. Then you have the issue of all the car industry’s naturally-aspirated engines being ditched for less characterful downsized versions with lag-inducing turbos strapped on.

I’ve sampled Caterhams before and never really ‘got’ them. And as far as answering the modern day sports car dilemma, surely looking so far to the past isn’t the way to go? Now though, a few weeks into living with the car I’ll be using to take on the Caterham Academy and my first foray into the world of racing, I’m totally onboard with the Seven way of thinking.

Practicing a speedy exit in the event of fire... (Photo: Snappy Racers)
Practicing a speedy exit in the event of fire... (Photo: Snappy Racers)

The revelation came on the way back from the ‘handling day’ portion of our Academy journey. Taking place on a nice big slab of tarmac in the grounds of Donington Park circuit, it’s a day of autocross-style driving intended to get competitors used to the on-the-limit (and beyond-the-limit) handling of their cars before the sprinting and racing kicks off, where there’ll be bigger things than cones to hit when it all goes wrong. It’s also the first time you get to don all your gear, so the organisers can check you’ve bought the right stuff.

I finished the day 7th overall out of 25th with the second fastest practice start, proving that I hopefully won’t be too useless when competing for real. But at the time I didn’t know that - the full results didn’t arrive until a few days later, and I left Donington a little dejected, feeling my performance hadn’t been as polished as it could have been.

I hadn’t gelled with the car quite how I’d wanted either, so seeking to remedy that, and lighten the mood, I peeled off the boring road that leads back home and took a back route I sometimes use when I’m in a car that needs a thorough spanking. It was on this road that the Seven and I finally clicked.

Photo: Snappy Racers
Photo: Snappy Racers

Driving modern performance cars quickly is often more about trusting in the capability of the machine under you, as opposed to outright skill. But in a Caterham, it’s all down to you. There are no electronic aids - not even ABS - to save you if you cock up. You need to be rev-matching to keep everything smooth. You have to think about your throttle inputs. And you have to carefully judge how far you carry the brakes into each corner to make sure the surprisingly understeer-prone front end has enough weight on it to dig in.

With precious little separating you from the outside world, no power steering and a weight figure less than half that of even the lighter hot hatchbacks out there, there’s a purity to the Seven you just don’t get with ‘normal’ sports cars. And my God is it a good car for heel and toe, thanks to its tiny pedal box and responsive 1.6-litre, 125bhp engine.

Four-point harnesses are a pain, especially when you're wearing a helmet and Hans device... (Photo: Snappy Racers)
Four-point harnesses are a pain, especially when you're wearing a helmet…

This plucky little Seven has given me an appreciation and love for driving that - after about 13 years behind the wheel - had been starting to wane. But, I don’t think the biggest factor is the way it drives. No - it’s that using a Caterham in any capacity is more of an occasion.

Going out in a Seven requires planning. You have to think about what you’re bringing with you, and where you’re going to put it. If - like me - you have abnormally large feet and have a penchant for buying bulky Vans trainers, you’ll have to put on race boots to avoid accidentally clipping two pedals at once. Even after all that is considered, you still need to clamber in (impossible to do in a dignified manner, by the way), harness up and attach the steering wheel.

All of this - plus the Seven’s noisy and breezy demeanor at speed - makes arriving at your destination feel like much more of an achievement - something I haven’t experienced since my brief and crashy dalliance with the world of motorbikes. It makes you enjoy what a car is for at its most base level - getting you from one place to another. It just happens that the bit in the middle is immense fun too.

Make sure you read more about Caterham and the Academy, to find out what I’ve let myself in for!



Please delete this comment moderators

03/24/2018 - 14:48 |
4 | 54
TurboToddler (Straight-five)

In reply to by yowzers

And at the bottom

03/24/2018 - 15:19 |
2 | 0

In reply to by yowzers

No-one gives a shit. This isn’t the Youtube comments section.

03/24/2018 - 16:23 |
14 | 0

Are you gonna cook breakfast on it

03/24/2018 - 15:03 |
8 | 0

I have an idea. Going camping with a Caterham. Use the roof as a tent and cook on the exhaust pipes.

03/24/2018 - 19:33 |
0 | 0

Goin’ full Dio Brando, there…

03/24/2018 - 15:17 |
54 | 4

This was a good read, it makes me think what I could experience with a super light low power car (not including the miata).

I feel like, after reading this, those who yearn for more power and control, like us Americans as a big example (since we’ve often asked for bigger and more powerful cars for such a long time), don’t quite know what it means to drive like you did with the caterham. Like yes muscle cars aren’t the best handling cars (let alone most american sports coupes / sedans) but have too much power for their lack of grip, which just renders them burnout machines basically. I like them myself but they’re not “corner heroes” like the modernized muscles of today like the charger, camaro, mustang, challenger, and (don’t kill me for saying it) corvette.

My charger has a setting to give the car no feel for its electronics and power steering from the wheel and can let me turn off traction control (which in turn readjusts the cars vvt engine to bring the power up to 305 hp and i think stiffen the suspension?).

Is it the same? No. Probably not. I like it anyway because it proves that heavyweights without low center ballasts, unlike the model x with its dual motors being like said ballasts, can act nimble, but it’s still modern technology doing the speaking. If I ever drove a small car with such a performance like the Lotus / Caterham Seven (or anything like that), I can only imagine how it feels like though.

03/24/2018 - 16:16 |
18 | 0

The Tesla may have a ballast, but its not nimble, as its poorly set-up suspension and inability to turn off traction and stability control means that it just understeers.

03/24/2018 - 19:50 |
4 | 2

A miata is still far away from a caterham, but its the same point as he describes. I was like you, needed something bigger, had a few bmw’s and daily a 325is e36. Not the biggest power but no esp, no airbag and enough power to kill everybody onboard if i crash. But i liked it for power and spit on the mx5… Until my corsa 1.7D driving girlfriend needed a new car. She liked drive my e36 but wanted something lighter and smaller, so i bought a NA 1.6 with only 90hp, 90hp? Buyed by a guy who swore not going under 192hp again. That car is just like he described it too, you can fit only the basic needs if you go on travel, it has no airbags, no esp, no abs, if you speed up on backroads you need to be concentrate but its such a joy to have no assistance, just pure pleasure.

03/26/2018 - 04:13 |
4 | 0

So if a fanboy tells you that a manual is funnier, it is wrong scamming him because he is right… #savethemanuals

03/24/2018 - 20:54 |
6 | 2

One of the guys at our monthly AutoX,a retired gentleman, races one of these. I’ve gotten to ride in it a couple times. It truly is a capable machine, if a tad uncomfortable. Certainly not meant for rainy days without a top, though.

03/25/2018 - 02:05 |
0 | 0
Bring a Caterham To MARS

When you’re about to take your Caterham for a drive around the city but feel a raindrop

05/21/2018 - 20:20 |
0 | 0



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