Ahead of this year’s Festival of Speed we sat down with our 620R driver Jon Barnes to find out more about the man who took Caterham to the top of the Goodwood leaderboards. Next week he’ll be joining us at as we attempt to beat our record time of 0:50.10.
In this interview we find out how to kick-start your racing career, what to expect from one of the most exciting motoring events of the year and why driving a Caterham is the best thing you can do with your clothes on…
Jon Barnes is a test and development driver at Caterham, professional racing coach and British GT Champion with over a decade of experience.
Could you tell us more about you and what introduced you to motorsport?
JB: When I was young I used to love watching all kinds of motorsport on the TV. My first introduction to driving was when my parents organised an indoor karting party for my 10th Birthday. I absolutely loved it, the fun and skill involved in trying to go fast and keep the little kart pointing the right way on the slippery floor was really addictive!
This soon developed into a weekly activity, with my parents taking me to two different karting venues every Saturday so I could race hire karts. Then when I was 12, one of my Dad’s friends let me test his 100cc two-stroke kart. It was very different to the hire karts, and very fast, but again I Ioved the challenge of driving it and I then began literally begging my parents to buy me my own kart.
Fast forward, three years down the line and I was finishing in the top 10 of the British Junior Karting Championships in 1999 and racing 46 weekends out of 52 each year, for the next three years!!
So what brings you to Caterham?
JB: Well, at 17 years old, we were struggling to afford to continue in karting. I felt I had achieved all that I could in karts after finishing 7th in the Senior British Karting Championships in 2001, so we started looking to progress into car racing in 2002.
Going to Formula Ford was far too expensive - so we ruled out single-seaters and thus sadly every child’s dream of racing in Formula 1! Instead, we went along to a Caterham Graduates race event at Silverstone in November 2001. We loved the friendly and fun atmosphere and the cars looked like great fun to drive, so we then began looking for a Caterham to buy or hire for the 2002 season.
We found a car, raced it for a whole season, costing less than £6,000 and I ended up only narrowly missing out on winning the Caterham Super Graduates Championship in 2002 (by just 0.028 to Caterham Car’s current CTO, Simon Lambert!)
I then raced Caterham’s for 3 more seasons, winning the 2004 Autosport Caterham R400 Eurocup Championship and 2005 Cosworth Caterham CSR Masters Championship. I went on to race in the Formula Palmer Audi Championship in 2006, also becoming a finalist in the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award for my performances that year.
In 2008, I won the British GT Championship in a Dodge Viper 8.3litre V10 Competition Coupe GT3. In 2012, I received a call from Caterham and was delighted to be asked to become their Test and Development Driver. The first project was to assist the engineering department with the R600 prototype, which would go on to become the Supercharged Seven 620R road car that we know now.
Where is the best place to start for those who want to become a racing driver?
JB: For anyone over 17 years old, if you harbour an ambition to become a racing driver then look no further than starting in the Caterham Academy. If you can beg, borrow or steal in the region of £25,000 then in return Caterham will give you a car, some equipment and will then put you through the necessary race licence test, as well as organising two sprint events and 6 races for you to compete in, where you will be up against up to 30 other novice drivers (60 drivers in total split across two groups).
The value for money is second to none! After your first season you can then progress up the 3 other steps on the Caterham Motorsport ladder - upgrading your original Academy car each year until you get to the 310R class.
What is it about a Caterham that makes it different to other cars?
JB: In my opinion, there are no other cars available that can connect all of your senses so directly with the environment, and road or track that you are driving on. That’s what makes any type of Caterham so fun, unique and rewarding to drive. Combine that with 60 years of engineering evolution and this gives you the ultimate drivers’ car.
If only I had a pound for every time I have heard someone say that driving a Caterham is the best thing you can do with your clothes on…
What challenges does the 620R face?
JB: I’ve been fortunate enough to compete at the Goodwood Festival of Speed for Caterham for the past couple of years. It is a huge challenge for many reasons - firstly, you can’t go there and practice before the event, so intimate knowledge of the hill’s quirks and hazards is crucial to being fast and not crashing, especially when driving a weapon as fast as the Caterham Seven 620R!
The course is bumpy, dusty and it changes from run to run depending on the weather and the amount of dust and mud dragged on by the other competitors!
That’s why the assistance from our partners at Avon, with their ZZR and ZZS tyres for the event and Bilstein, with some bespoke shock absorbers and springs is really crucial to helping both myself and the 620R to perform at our best.
What are you most looking forward to this weekend at Goodwood?
JB: I love the whole event, from start to finish! It is such a huge privilege to be invited to compete at the Festival of Speed. You only have to take a quick browse through the entry list and you’ll find motorsport heroes and icons from all over the world, it’s very, very special!
Of course, I am most looking forward to the driving though!
After Goodwood Festival of Speed, when can we next see you in action?
JB: I can be found working as a driver coach or instructor on an almost daily basis at various circuits around the UK and Europe - helping drivers to extract the maximum performance from themselves and their car when on circuit. Unsurprisingly - this usually revolves around a Caterham of some description!
You can catch Jon Barnes at Goodwood Festival of Speed on Thursday 12 July where he’ll be driving the mad Caterham 620R up the famous hill climb. Keep up with all the action by following us on Twitter and Instagram. You can also stay up-to-date with Jon be following him on twitter.
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