Caterham could miss Austin as crisis deepens at Leafield


It’s been quite the day for Caterham F1 Team. After months of uncertainty and continual promises of a resolution to the problems blighting the Leafield-based team, a statement was released yesterday revealing that the new buyers of the team – a consortium made up of Swiss and Middle Eastern investors – had not had the shares transferred to them by previous owner Tony Fernandes.

Except he isn’t the previous owner – Fernandes still owns Caterham F1 Team despite claiming earlier this month that he no longer had anything to do with the operation. The Malaysian businessman sent out a tweet yesterday saying: “If you buy something, you should pay for it. It’s quite simple”.

The impasse appears to be like this: Fernandes claims not to have received his payment, while the potential new owners claim they have made it, but have not received the shares in return.

This was put in black and white today when the new owners, a Swiss company called Engavest SA, issued the following statement:

“On 29 June 2014 Engavest SA signed a sale and purchase agreement with Tony Fernandes and Caterham Group to acquire the shares of 1Malaysia Racing Team/Caterham F1.

“Engavest SA has fulfilled all the conditions precedent, including paying the purchase price for the shares. The shares have not been transferred and therefore Mr Fernandes remains the owner of Caterham F1 and is fully responsible for all its activities.”

In response, Tony Fernandes stated: “We agreed in good faith to sell the shares to a Swiss company named ‘Engavest’ on the basis that Engavest undertook to pay all of the existing and future creditors, including the staff.

“The continued payment of staff and creditors was so important to me that I ensured that the shares would not be transferred to the new buyers unless they complied with this condition.

“Sadly, Engavest has failed to comply with any of the conditions in the agreement and Caterham Sports Ltd (the UK operating company of the F1 team) has had to be put into administration by the bank, with large sums owing to numerous creditors.

“Our agreement with Engavest was very clear: there was no legal obligation to transfer the shares to them unless certain conditions – which included paying creditors – were met. Those conditions have not been met.”

With Caterham Sports Ltd being put into administration, workers at the factory in Leafield were prevented access from the site by administrator Finbarr O’Connell.

“They can’t get into the factory today,” the administrator confirmed to Reuters. “They are using my facilities and haven’t paid me.

“Effectively 1MRT have been in the building for last few days since I arrived.

“We are trying to reach an acceptable arrangement for them to be there. We had a meeting yesterday with 1MRT and lawyers and the offer they made was unacceptable. So I’ve sent them away.

“Hopefully they can come up with an acceptable proposal. I don’t think this is gone. It’s just a case of who has got the money to make it work.”

So while the ownership of the team remains in the lurch and the employees are unable to access the factory at Leafield, Caterham’s involvement in the United States Grand Prix next week seems to be in serious doubt.

However, F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone confirmed to the BBC that he is looking into ways to save Caterham despite saying in the past that he would rather have ten teams in Formula 1.

“We’re trying to help in any way, which we do with anybody that has run into a bit of difficulty,” the F1 supremo said.

Ever since Fernandes’ supposed sale of the team at the end of June, the alarm bells have been ringing at Caterham. A number of employees at Leafield were dismissed, prompting legal action being taken by both the ex-workers and the team against each other.

In Russia, Kamui Kobayashi was even ordered to stop his car despite there being nothing wrong with it, suggesting that the team needed to preserve the life of the parts beyond the race weekend. Manfredi Ravetto had been in charge of the team, but he has now also been relieved of his duties.

Former F1 team principal Colin Kolles brokered the deal, and has admitted that the team’s hopes of going to Austin were dependent on the administrator and its negotiations.

This saga looks set to rumble on, but if a solution doesn’t come in the next few days, we are poised to have a 20-car grid for the United States Grand Prix in Austin at the beginning of next month.

UPDATE 1425 ET – Engavest has issued a statement in response to Tony Fernandes’ claims:

“Engavest SA strongly refutes the allegations of Tony Fernandes and Caterham Group CEO Graham MacDonald regarding its conduct while trying to purchase Caterham F1. Our statement of earlier today still stands.

“Every single condition precedent of the Sales and Purchase Agreement for which Engavest was responsible has been met. Only the seller, which includes Mr Fernandes, failed to meet his obligations. All salaries have been paid.

“The claims of Mr Fernandes and Mr MacDonald contradict their own press statement dated 3 October 2014.

“Incidents such as a Caterham Group representative forcibly breaking into a filing cabinet containing our private and confidential documents and the continued refusal to deal with the outstanding loan of Exim Bank and complete the agreement has culminated in Engavest’s total contempt of Mr Fernandes and his Group executives with whom we entered a deal in good faith.”

And so the plot thickens…

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)