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Curious “Caterham” racers arrive in Thailand for first time

words and pictures by Edd Ellison

Pattaya race fans were recently treated to an unusual sight as the Caterham Motorsport Championship, a so far Sepang Circuit, Malaysia based series exclusively reserved for the historic-styled Caterham Seven single seater racecars, arrived at Bira Circuit for a weekend of action.

The Asian Caterham Motorsport Championship springs from a similar series held in the UK, the original home of these cars, and first kicked off last year so this was its second season – and the trip to Bira Circuit was not just its first visit to Thailand but the first time the series had ventured outside of Malaysia.

The cars are broken up into two classes with two very distinctively different powered versions of the Caterham Seven. The top class is contested by the ‘420R’ which features a 2.0-litre dry sump engine with 210 hp mated to a 6-speed Quaife-sourced sequential transmission and that means this lightweight ‘rocket’ is good for a top speed of 230 km/h and a 0-100 km/h time of 3.8 seconds. It also adds up an impressive 400 bhp/tonne and means the 420R can blitz its way round Sepang Circuit in a very handy 2 minutes and 22 seconds.

The second string class is powered by a 1.6-litre engine coupled to a 5-speed manual gearbox; it has 140 hp on tap and can reach 205 km/h while making the dash from 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds.The Sevens are pretty well kitted out too with a plethora of track specification parts including a lightweight racing flywheel, side exit exhaust, limited slip differential, beefed up cooling system and quick release steering wheel while on the safety front there is an FIA homologated rollcage, race seat with 6-point harness, plumbed in fire extinguisher system and electrical cutout switches.

The championship’s first race outside of Malaysia didn’t fail to surprise and historic Bira’s short and narrow characteristics perfectly suited these small, lightweight and highly agile racecars. The drivers’ reported that they loved the different feel of the cars around Bira, most notably the kart-like handling while speeding around the Double Apex and through the S1 and S2 Chicanes. There was also some local flavour thrown into the proceedings as B-Quik Racing’s Shaun Varney signed on in the Supersport class with the aim of racking up some extra track time as the Super Car GTM Porsche driver was in fact making his first visit to Bira Circuit.

During Saturday’s opening encounter the racing starting early for Halim Mu’Azzam as he launched off the starting grid before the red lights went out, soaring up the middle of the grid to take the lead briefly before the 420Rs took their place at the front of the pack. Marcus Chye stormed into the lead with guest driver Rocky Siow hot on his heels and looking at every opportunity to pass. Marcus would in fact hold off the other 420R drivers for the whole race before crossing the line to take the chequered flag, only to be disqualified having ignored a drive through penalty for encroaching over the pitlane line. Guest driver Arnaud Dupuis would also be disqualified for the same reason, an unfortunate end to his first Caterham race after a strong performance running in the top three. Tan Pye Sen overtook Rocky Siow after a daring move into the chicane to take second position and eventually the win; that was his first win of the year.

The Supersport class produced some nail biting racing with Halim Mu’Azzam and Shaun exchanging places for the lead on several occasions during the early stages of the race. In the end B-Quik Racing’s New Zealand driver claimed top honours in his first Caterham Motorsport Championship race after finishing nearly 15 seconds in front of Halim. For Sunday’s second race Malcolm and Arnaud had to start at the back of the grid in their 420R machines as a penalty for their infringements in Race 1. However by turn three Malcolm and Arnaud had stormed up to the top two positions.

Arnaud was doing a great job defending Marcus with the lead changing a couple of times before Marcus took the top spot down the back straight. His advantage was short lived though as an over-eager Arnaud touched the rear end of his car entering the second chicane, forcing Marcus into a spin. Marcus then suffered handling issues from the incident and would eventually trail home in last position. It was a very tight battle for the Supersport lead with Halim not allowing Shaun to pull out any sort of an advantage. However, after making several attempts to pass, Halim finally made a move stick towards the end of the race.

It was looking like a race win for Halim until Shaun made one last dive down the inside of the second chicane on the last lap, reclaiming the lead and holding it around the last corner to take the chequered flag first. An impressive double victory for Shaun on his debut in the Caterham Motorsport Championship.There was no clear leader in the 420R class as the top three drivers – Arnaud, Pye and Rocky – were within one second of each other, and exchanged places many times. Making moves through Turn 2 and diving down the inside of Turn 3 were the favourite options of this battling trio.

After an exciting battle for the lead Arnaud Dupuis made a gutsy move on the outside of Turn 2 to storm off into the lead. Crossing the chequered flag in first position, Arnaud would then be classified second due to a 30-second penalty for making a false start.This penalty would hand Pye his second win for the weekend with Rocky Siow finishing in third spot. Meanwhile, Shirendra Lawrence would claim third position in the Supersport class after an intense battle with Malcolm Chang.