Castle Combe race report

For the second year running we started our season at Castle Combe in Wiltshire. The build-up had been a bit tricky, as entries were rather slow coming in. This forced the club to do a deal and run combined grids with local series. This is never ideal, but the cost of track hire is forcing more clubs to do this in order to avert a big financial loss.

On the day we had a reasonable turn out to celebrate the circuit’s 500th race meeting. With the weather forecast predicting a day of showers and sunshine it would make tyre choice a bit of a lottery. The intermarque silhouettes qualified first alongside the local GT championship. Local driver Russell Humphrey set the pace, taking pole position for the class 0.75 of a second quicker than Colin Smith. Fellow senior driver Paul Knight was next in his Vauxhall Tigra, followed by Philip Blackford in his newly acquired Tigra. Baz Johnson went well to line up 5th, from Phil Spinks, Mick Robertson and Keith White completing the 8 starters.

Just before their first race it was raining quite hard, but as they left the assembly area it was noticed that a few had opted for slick tyres. Their reasoning being that with a 20 minute race it was likely to dry out. A rapid start by Humphrey saw him in fourth overall and nearly 8 seconds ahead of Colin Smith with Paul Knight next up. These two, along with Baz Johnson had gambled on slick tyres, but at first they were struggling. Things settled down as Humphrey lost a couple of places to the faster GT cars, but still held a comfortable lead over Smith and Knight. On lap 9 Johnson came unstuck at Camp corner and slid off behind the barrier. By now both Knight and Spinks had overtaken Smith who had a couple of slow laps and then dropped behind White. On lap 10 White came into the pits, he lost a lap but re-joined at a reduced pace and soldiered on to the end. Lap 15 saw Blackford retire, but by now the track was starting to favour the slick shod cars. Humphrey was conserving his tyres, but had sufficient lead over Knight that he just had to stroke it home. Paul was also well clear of the recovering Smith, who got back in front of Spinks. Robertson had a steady run to fifth, with White completing the six finishers.

Race two saw the six finishers reversed for the starting grid. This time they would be behind the local GT cars. White took full advantage of his pole position and initially led, with Humphrey quickly up to second. A brief safety car appearance on lap 4, but by now Humphrey was already in the lead and White had Smith, Spinks and Knight for company. A short while later Robertson received the black and orange flag, but chose not to stop. Eventually this meant it changed to a black flag, which unfortunately resulted in disqualification. Johnson had lost a lap quite early on and it later transpired that he was also disqualified because of a collision. Meanwhile Humphrey kept the gap to White at around 5 seconds, as Keith was pre occupied fending off Knight and Smith in an entertaining battle. The first four finished in this order with Spinks completing the classified finishers, as Blackford had failed to start.

So it was a double win for Russell, with Knight and White each taking a win in the senior class. A few more cars are expected at Brands Hatch, so it will be interesting to see what happens there.

The Ashtone MEP super saloons and tin tops were amalgamated with the WRDA series, who have a couple of quick sports cars. Qualifying saw WRDA driver Chris Everill take pole position in his mighty 6 litre Ginetta, with Adrian Bradley second quickest in his BMW. Next up were three more BMWs in the hands of Rod Birley, Paul Watson and Dave Cowan, then came Steve Rothery with his Peugeot 308. Behind Jacques Whitehead, in his now green BMW, came the first tin top namely Matt Rowling in his Honda Civic. James Hunt lined up tenth in his BMW, followed by Clive Haynesford (Mazda RX8), Wayne Shorney (Audi TT) and Chris Bassett (who was second quickest in tin tops with his Peugeot 306). The rest of the grid can be seen here:

Just before the start of the first race there was a light shower of rain. This sent many drivers into a quandary with regards to tyre choice. Most, including the two front row starters, opted for a treaded pattern whilst both Birley and Watson opted for slicks. As the cars completed two rolling laps, it became obvious which choice was best. Although Everill led away and used the power of his Ginetta to gain an early advantage, Bradley was soon in trouble and wisely pitted before ruining his wet weather rubber. Rothery had made a good start to occupy sixth but then had a moment, possibly with Luffarelli, and slipped down the order. All this promoted Cowan up to fourth, closely pursued by Bassett (now the leading tin top). Another early pit visitor was Steve Dann, with terminal issues, followed by Haynesford (wrong tyre choice). There was plenty of action throughout the field, but then on lap 5 attention focused on the leaders. Birley and Watson were gradually closing in on Everill. Birley made good use of the lapped traffic and twice drew alongside the Ginetta only to lose out on the straight bits. Into the last lap and the first three were just over a second apart. With Everill struggling on his overheating tyres, Birley made his move at Tower. Exiting Bobbies the black BMW was ahead and took an unexpected win. Everill clung onto second with Watson chasing him home (winning class B). Bassett was a remarkable fourth overall, followed by the recovering Luffarelli (WRDA). Then came James Hunt, who made good use of his slick tyres to win class C from Cowan. Neal Gardiner was second tin top home in his Honda Civic, as Rothery rounded out the top ten.  Dave Avis and Whitehead enjoyed a good battle in their BMWs, whilst Sam Heywood had a debut win in T1, following an engine issue for Ken Angell. Bob Hosier won class D of the super saloons in his Seat, with Rick Skelsey taking the TP honours in tin tops.

Race two took place on a completely dry track and Birley initially led on the run up to Quarry. By the Esses Everill was ahead and this time he suffered no tyre issues. Birley had his mirrors full of Watson with Hunt charging up to fourth. All eyes were on the rapid progress of Bradley who stormed through from 27th to 10th by the end of the first lap. Bassett trickled into the pits with fuel pressure issues, as Everill extended his lead. On lap 4 the safety car appeared as marshals attempted to move Hosier’s Seat, which had stopped on the outside of Bobbies. Everill had put the back marking Verity Banks between himself and Birley. This proved pivotal, as when the safety car pulled off it would be a one lap dash to the finish. As Everill sprinted away Birley was forced to sit behind the slower car until they crossed the startline. By now Bradley was up to fourth and he quickly disposed of Watson. He charged after Birley and was almost alongside at Hammerdown. Birley tried a tighter line into Bobbies but clipped the sausage kerbs which spun his car through 360 degrees, Bradley swerved to the other side. All this allowed Watson to nip through and win the super saloon section from a recovering Bradley. Luffarelli was next followed by the battling class C trio of Hunt, Cowan and Whitehead. Birley was next (winning class A), as Gardiner took the tin top honours. Next up were Avis, Rothery and Heywood (who won T1) followed by  Haynesford, Rowling, Shorney and Martyn  Scott (who won class D). The rest of the finishers were Andy Woods-Dean (Honda Civic), Lee Cleugh (Audi TT) and Skelsey (winning TP again).

The two races turned out to be very entertaining, with a nice mix of old and new faces doing well. It was a fitting way to celebrate the 500th meeting at this popular venue.

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