In the saloon Championship, Simon Thornton-Norris only had to walk onto the 18th green and ‘tap-in’ for the trophy. Nobody expected him to stroll home though as he entered the final round without a single point squandered all season and would no doubt want to continue the trend and achieve a perfect score for the entire season.
Should fate cause Norris to score a ‘nul-points’ on the day, Mike Good could take a maiden title, but only if he could win class D and secure the class fastest lap. This would be no mean feat as Good would need to keep his season long nemesis Alex Kite in his mirrors.
If Gary Prebble performed as expected; taking the class A win and fastest lap, he would draw dead level on points with Norris (should Norris fail to score of course). This would give them an identical season of results; seven maximums and one DNF each – resulting in a shared saloon championship title?
As the crocodile of saloon cars crawled out on the grid, all eyes were on the three possible champions. Gary Prebble was as eager as ever to get out and take advantage of some early track space while Simon Thornton-Norris was keeping a low profile in the middle of the convoy. Mike Good toured out but his class rival Alex Kite was highly conspicuous by his absence. A no-show from Kite would be a blessing for Good, but Alex appeared under the Avon Bridge just as the rest of the pack were on their first flying laps.
Prebble went straight to the top of the time sheets, as per usual, followed by Geoff Ryall who was having a storming session, lapping faster than his class rival Will Di Claudio. Norris was soon up to speed and closed within half a second of Prebble. Tony Hutchins was running strongly in fifth leading a pack of class A protagonists including Cook, Brockbank, Barnard and Scaramanga. After only 3 laps of the session had elapsed, Dave Scaramanga’s white Scirocco entered Camp corner looking steamy. It became apparent the contents of the VW’s cooling system had been deposited on the entry to the corner and was dramatically discovered by Tony Hutchings and Geoff Ryall. The two made heavy contact, spinning out by the Avon bridge, while the following cars had to contend with trying to avoid the spinning pair on a circuit with little grip. Luckily the red flags were deployed before any further cars fell victim to the spillage. Both Ryall and Hutchings cars sustained significant damage and looked unlikely to take any further part in the day’s proceedings.
By the time the stranded cars were recovered and obligatory cement scattered, there were precious few minutes remaining of the session. As the green flags waved it soon became apparent that the cement had failed to remedy the issue as James Blake and Alex Kite simultaneously pirouetted through Camp corner, both fortunate to stay out of the barriers. The sight of this was enough to cause Gary Prebble to dive for the paddock early and settle for his time set before the stoppage. A host of cars had the same sentiment and followed Gary down the pit lane, leaving only the brave and unaware to continue their qualifying campaigns. Fortunately, the end of the session was signalled before the Camp corner coolant slick could claim any more victims.
Prebble’s pole time stood so would line up alongside Norris. Ryall had secured a very impressive P3 but time would tell as to whether the damaged Peugeot could be restored in time for him to take up his position. Di Claudio completed the second row ahead of Tony Hutchings, also likely to be going home for an early bath after a season of rotten luck for him and his newly built Audi TT. In the all-important class D affair, Mike Good was delighted to have driven his Corsa to an impressive P10, a gargantuan twelve places clear of Alex Kite.
All contenders therefore were in the right places to do their utmost to keep their title hopes alive. All eyes would be on Simon Thornton-Norris come race time, needing just a couple of points to secure glory. His nearest class B competitor Mark Wyatt found himself back in eighth so even if Norris played it a little safe, he still had every chance of taking the title with maximum points.
As feared, both Tony Hutchings and Geoff Ryall were missing from the grid. Ryall’s absence left Will Di Claudio in the position of needing to secure just a single point to win class C. This could even be achieved without finishing the race if a class fastest lap could be chalked up.
The front row men had their class wins already sewn up so the day was all about the overall standings. The same could be said for Mike Good who had secured class D but needed maximum points to keep ahead of Prebble, and to be able to inherit the overall title should Simon Norris falter.
A clean getaway saw Gary keep his SEAT at the front while the featherweight Peugeot of Will Di Claudio got the better of Norris’ Mitsubishi.
Having seen Josh Fisher deploy an extremely strategic plan to secure the FF1600 championship earlier, many wondered if Simon Thornton-Norris might do something similar. Those that know Simon best knew that wouldn’t be the case, as did everybody else by the end of second lap as he dispensed with WDC to take second. Norris had to keep an eye on his mirrors though as Oliver Cook’s Renault Megane was looking very racy indeed and had WDC in his sights.
Mike Good had lost a couple of places on the start and at one point looked to be in danger of getting tangled with Christopher Rawlings, but luckily had enough breathing space before Alex Kite could catch up.
The MGZR of Ray Ferguson expired at Tower corner leaving it stranded in a position considered dangerous enough to deploy the safety car at the end of lap three.
After Ferguson’s MG was removed, the lights went off on the safety car and the action was back under way. Gary Prebble initially looked to have controlled the restart perfectly but soon found himself with Norris at very close range. This could have either been as a result of the SEAT’s tyres having cooled, but more likely a strategic move to back Norris up on the off chance a mistake would be made.
A little further back, a close battle was emerging for sixth place between Bill Brockbank, Mark Wyatt and Ayrton Anderson.
Mike Good was keeping out of trouble, unaware of the rapid progress being made behind him by his nemesis. Alex Kite was making up places with his sights firmly locked on Good’s Corsa.
Back at the sharp end, Oliver Cook wasted no time in leapfrogging Di Claudio for third and set about chasing down the leading pair. Prebble was keeping the Mistubishi temptingly close and Norris couldn’t resist the bait and looked eager to make a move.
By the ninth lap, Kite had closed right in on Mike Good and in doing so, also set the fastest class D lap. The potential dropped point wouldn’t be the end of the world for Good’s chances, but if Kite was able to find a way past, Mike could find himself slip behind Prebble in the standings.
In the race for the lead, back markers were playing a significant part with Prebble and Norris picking different paths through, which also allowed Oliver Cook to close further. As the race entered its final dramatic stages, Alex Kite chose the Esses as a suitable location to try to take the class win from Mike Good. The challenge and resulting defence saw both machines take to the grass but the move was ultimately successful for Kite. Good wasn’t ready to roll over however and piled on the pressure, regaining the class lead on the penultimate lap.
Unbelievably, Norris was still struggling to resist the temptation of finishing the season with an outright victory as Prebble was willing him to make his move at the wrong time and the wrong place. Prebble’s wishes came true as Norris’ challenge on the last lap saw him take to the grass and fall back down to fourth.
Prebble took the chequered flag from Oliver Cook, with Will Di Claudio coming in third ahead of Norris. Mike Good not only kept Kite in his mirrors but also regained the class D fastest lap. This crucial point had earned him the runners up spot ahead of Prebble in the final standings.
Norris’s fourth place finish should have been enough to close the season on absolute maximum points with the class B win and fastest lap. Unfortunately for Simon, track limits penalties were still being totted up in race control. When the final results were issued, Norris found himself with a huge thirty seconds of penalties for persistent infringements. Once applied, the penalties dropped Norris well behind class rival Mark Wyatt who was promoted to fourth overall in the race. Oliver Cook was also penalised which saw him swap places with WDC on the podium, with Will comfortably securing class C in the process. John Barnard and Nick Adams were also penalised but without causing any major impact on the final outcomes.
Simon Thornton-Norris finished two points short of ‘the perfect game’ and very nearly threw the whole championship away completely unnecessarily. The only reason for putting himself in that position was to entertain us all, in the same manner he had all season. For that we should all raise a glass and congratulate an out-and-out racer and more importantly, a most worthy saloon car champion.Posted by Neil Thomas on Tuesday 31 October 2017
Combe Challenge Race Day
at Castle Combe Circuit
27 May 2019