Last year AUTOSPORT backed the Caterham Academy championship, a series purely for novice racers designed to ease them into motorsport in a less intimidating environment.
The tie-up also meant there was a full season in the championship on offer for a member of our staff, and I was the lucky one to get to join more than 50 other wannabe racing heroes in taking our first tentative steps in the sport.
But while AUTOSPORT's man had to hand back our car and return to simply covering races rather than competing in a few as well, several of the Academy graduates have continued racing in 2012.
Tasting the champagne - October 7
'Never give up' is a racing cliche. But in the second Caterham Roadsports race of the weekend at Rockingham on Sunday it proved to be one worth following, and the result was a set of champagne soaked red AUTOSPORT overalls.
Rob Smith and Elliott Norris battle it out © Rachel Horgan
After Saturday's charge to fourth from 10th on the grid, car number 7 (which Caterham reserves for media entries in its championships) lined up on the second row of the grid a day later, with only race one winner Rob Smith and title contenders Brad Smith and Elliott Norris ahead.
The early laps were frantic. This was the season finale, and Elliott - the Group 1 champion from our 2011 Academy season - needed to win the race with Brad fourth or lower.
The lead trio broke away from the pack as they did in race one, but worryingly for championship leader Brad, they had a fourth car in tow this time. AUTOSPORT's guest entry had the potential to influence the outcome of the championship.
Once the race settled down, the top three (in the race and the 2012 standings) started to break clear. By this point the chasing pack I had diced with in race one were a long way back, so another fourth place seemed pretty safe.
Once I lost the tow around the 'oval' portion of the Rockingham lap, I could have been forgiven for coasting to a pretty satisfactory result after a year away from Caterham racing. But the nature of the fight ahead, and the fact that it was the season finale, gave the impression that it was worth trying to keep as close as possible to the leaders. From talking to the protagonists pre-race, it was clear that anything could happen in the final laps of the season.
Our man celebrates with champagne © Rachel Horgan
With the championship seemingly in the bag, Brad made the wise decision to leave the other two to scrap over victory. On the final lap they duly collided, with Elliott spinning off and Rob hanging on to take the win.
Elliott had rejoined just in front of me, but it turned out that by this point he already had a five-second penalty for failing to respect track limits. That promoted AUTOSPORT's car to third, but there was more to come.
The top three on the road were all called to the clerk of the course (with newly- crowned champ Brad only there as a witness, I must add), and it was decided that race winner Rob had caused an avoidable collision, so he too was handed a five-second penalty.
I had finished 4.8 seconds behind him, so was handed the second-place trophy. As new race winner Brad pointed out, "it was a good job you kept it lit to the finish!".
Rediscovering racing habits - 6 October
Anyone who has seen Caterham racing knows the sort of wheel-to-wheel action these cars can deliver. Passing, re-passing, slipstreaming, lurid slides and massive lock-ups are all par for the course, particularly in an often frantic midfield battle.
There was plenty of that on show during the first Roadsports race at Rockingham on Saturday, and AUTOSPORT was in the think of it, thanks in part to a pretty average performance in a wet qualifying session.
Freeman heads for 10th on the grid © Rachel Horgan
As detailed in the previous blog entry, the Caterham Roadsports car spec is a joy to drive, and a good step up from the Academy cars we all cut our racing teeth in one year earlier.
But after I had got used to, and enjoyed, the upgraded car in the dry during testing, the weather Gods threw a curveball on Saturday morning. After slithering around a wet and greasy Rockingham, where we were the first session of the day, AUTOSPORT's car had to make do with 10th on the grid. But the foundations were laid for a thrilling 20 minutes of racing just a couple of hours later.
On a dry track, the race exploded into life around half-distance. While eventual winner Rob Smith fought frantically to keep title contenders Brad Smith and Elliott Norris at bay for the win, a train of cars were fighting it out for best of the rest a few seconds back.
Busy times in the Caterham pack © Rachel Horgan
After plenty of changes to the order - as someone who usually reports on races my sympathies go out to anyone trying to take notes on the action - when the chequered flag fell AUTOSPORT's black #7 Caterham had come out on top in that frantic scrap behind the leaders.
Highlights (and lowlights) included a huge error when turning off Rockingham's built-for-Champ Car banking early in the race and running wide (something several others suffered later on), going side-by-side oval racing style at over 100mph when trying to wrestle fourth place from Mark Lewis, and a catastrophic fluffed gearshift shortly after finally taking that place from him.
That third-neutral-second-fourth gear change madness aside, it was interesting to note how all of the things about racing a Caterham that had become second nature during our Academy season started flowing back again. In the end, after some more tyre/panel rubbing with Mark, our scrap for fourth was decided (just) in my favour.
As ever, there were plenty of stories being traded in parc ferme after the race. And just as was the case in the Academy last year, even those who weren't so pleased were eventually managing a smile in the paddock. There's something infectious about this sort of racing that prevents anyone from maintaining a grumpy demeanour for too long.
Back in the driving seat - 4 October
The next step up the Caterham ladder is the Roadsports series, and for the final round of the season at Rockingham this weekend AUTOSPORT is back on the grid to see how far everyone has come on in the last 12 months.
Glenn's car is the black dot on the track, as he reacclimatises to the Caterham - now in Roadsports spec © LAT
But after a year out of the saddle, jumping straight into qualifying would hardly be wise. With an upgraded car to get used to as well, a test day was hastily arranged to get a feel for things.
The changes from the Academy car are subtle (including different tyres and the addition of a rear anti roll bar) but the difference on track is noticeable. "You'll love it," one of my 2011 rivals told me the night before the test.
The upgrades make the car even more of a joy to drive than it is in Academy spec, but it also highlights the positives about the 'novice' set up. The Academy tyres we raced on in our rookie season would hardly be anyone's first choice, but the way they give the driver early warning about when the limit is approaching creates confidence.
The Roadsports-spec feels more like a racing car, but that also means that the driver has to have a good idea of what the car is doing to find those last few tenths. Once you get it wound up and find a rhythm though, it's a thoroughly satisfying ride.
We reckon it will probably go quicker if you get in it Glenn © autosport.com
It's amazing how many of the little things picked up by being immersed in the Academy come flooding back even after a year out too. Whether it's dealing with a twitch of mid-corner oversteer or fiddling about with the seat belts, all of the things that became second nature during a full season of racing don't take long to feel familiar again.
With my re-acclimatisation out of the way, the rest of the grid will be in action for a free practice day before we all take to the track together on Saturday morning.
Finally, even with a championship on the line (between Brad Smith and Elliott Norris), the spirit between the drivers from our Academy season is still in full flow. Both have already enquired about what it would take to get a bit of 'assistance' should I end up near the other during the weekend! I've promised to be fair, and simply accept the highest offer...
To continue reading this feature, subscribe to Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus subscription includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.