Attracted by unseasonably warm Easter Monday – April 22, being within four days of the latest it can be – and the prospect of a great Castle Combe Racing Club season opener, a bumper audience basked in glorious sunshine throughout the day. Onlookers packing the banks were treated so superb action across a 13-race card centred upon the four home grids: Formula Ford, Saloons and GTs plus the Hot Hatch Challenge. FF1600 took centre stage, with many champions of the past also making the pilgrimage to Wiltshire’s cathedral of speed to witness the start of the resident championship’s 50th anniversary year. That brothers Felix and Josh Fisher won a race apiece and finished fourth and third apiece having battled previous champions Roger Orgee and Luke Cooper – earning Felix the commemorative Guards Trophy by 0.446s on aggregate – was both fitting and immensely popular as class stalwarts and sons of triple Combe Special GT champion Brian.
Siblings also starred in the high-octane Saloon showcase. On this occasion though, Gary Prebble, the most successful driver in Combe’s 69-year history, was defeated by younger brother Adam after the Hampshiremen wrestled their way through a stunning wheel-to-wheel battle in tyre-squealing turbocharged Seat Leon Cupra 20v T and Vauxhall Astra respectively.
Newcomer Kevin Jones pulled off an excellent GT double in his rorty Noble M12 RSR, outrunning David Krayem (Chrysler Viper Oreca GT3) in both legs. The Hot Hatch contest saw Craig Tomkinson wring 100 per cent from his Vauxhall Nova to keep Chris Southcott’s latest Peugeot 205 at bay. Great Dane Erling Jensen also made history by winning the inaugural [BMW] Mini Cooper S class trophy within the race.
CCRC FORMULA FORD CHAMPIONSHIP sponsored by Melksham Motor Spares
Brothers Felix and Josh are Fishers of Men (good biblical reference)
Since Bryan Sharp won the first Castle Combe title back in 1969, at the wheel of a Merlyn Mk11A, 33 drivers have worn the coveted crown. Among those present – indeed still competing – was one of two quadruple champions Bob Higgins, who backed-up his Martlet and Royale hat-trick of 1981-’3 with a fourth driving a Reynard in ’89. Now living in Yorkshire the former local has returned to his old haunt with the first Firman chassis [from Van Diemen co-founder Ralph’s current marque and the pen of David Baldwin] to grace the championship.
A super field of 24 competitors turned out for morning qualifying, when the pace was hot. The top three were all in the 70 second bracket, blanketed by 0.651s, with the Fisher brothers, Felix – breaking a layoff with TM Racing’s Ray GR05 – and Josh (Wayne Poole Racing Van Diemen JL14), split by defending champion Luke Cooper (Swift Cooper SC16). For the record, Felix’s pole time of 1:10.309, not quite half a second shy of Michael Moyers’ ultimate 1:09.866 target, represented an average of 94.72mph.
Cooper expected more, but the discovery of hairline cracks in two discs during final preparation gave father Martin some extra work and left him bedding in new brakes which wouldn’t be to his satisfaction until the second race.
Ray drivers Orgee (GR17) and Tom Hawkins (GR11) were both in the ‘11s,’ sandwiching double champion Matt Rivett who was debuting a newly-prepared Van Diemen RF91, thus comfortably headed class B. Harry Cobbold gridded his Ray GR10 a promising seventh, just ahead of father David, the class C pacesetter in his familiar Van Diemen RF89. Chris Acton (Ray GR08) and Paul Mason (Swift SC82) completed the top 10.
Long-time racer-turned-F1 commentator Ben Edwards, enjoying his first outing at the circuit for four years in his Van Diemen RF92, was firmly in the mid-field pack. Paul Barnes and Lloyd Hopes were there too in Swifts from the early 1980s.
A scant 0.035s separated Shaun Macklin (Swift SC92), CCRC prize winner Matthew Hallam in the Wiltshire College-run Spectrum and quadruple champion Bob Higgins, armed with the first Firman 17 to be seen at Combe. Steve Bracegirdle (Van Diemen RF89) was on their heels.
The field was rounded out by James Colborn (RF89), Mark Harrison (Lola T540E), Alex Rivett (SC92), the closely-matched Historic Nikes – built by the late Ken Nicholls in Holsworthy, north Devon – of Pete ‘Hobbit’ Hannam and Alan Slater and the Swifts of Michael Phillips and James Rose.
The championship opener set an extraordinarily high standard, with Felix and Josh Fisher establishing themselves at the front from the get-go. Orgee, Cooper and Rivett tucked in behind them initially, all five trading fastest laps. As Matt began to fall away around half-distance, the remaining quartet went at it hammer and tongs as the war intensified towards the final goal.
With Felix still narrowly in command, Josh engineered himself into a position to challenge for the lead approaching Quarry on the final lap. “Over Avon Rise we were side-by-side, both braking as late as we possibly could,” said Felix. “He was on the outside and just overdid things. It was one of the closest races I’ve had for a long time. The Ray is new to me and the team (owned by ex-F3 racer Ringo Hine and Tom Margetts) so it was a bit of a shock to win first time out.”
Orgee and Cooper pounced gratefully for second and third as Josh collected his moment to salvage fourth, 1.134s behind his jubilant sibling while Luke set fastest lap. Rivett was a class B-winning fifth, well clear of Hawkins and Acton, with class C standout David Cobbold eighth. Mason, Harry Cobbold, Barnes, Macklin and Edwards were next home, Ben extremely fortunate not to have been taken out by Higgins whose wild grassy gyration out of Camp fired the sleek blue Firman back into the infield. Bob recovered to 16th, behind Hallam and Hopes.
Harrison claimed class D in his Lola, although Slater’s best lap in the older Nike was competitive. ‘Hobbit’ Hannam was the only non-finisher, his Nike’s engine having blown without warning on the opening lap.
The excitement in the audience was palpable as the grid formed for the sequel three hours later, based on second best practice times. Again Felix Fisher got away best, but Josh was ahead when a safety car was called on race two, unnecessarily as it happened because marshals had already moved Edwards’ car, stranded on the exit of the Esses.
Josh aced the green flag restart, determined to make up his deficit to Felix as the Guards Trophy would be awarded to the winner on aggregate over the twin races. Felix went with him and again it boiled down to the final lap, starting which Cooper was shadowing them. “I made a mistake and he outbraked himself,” grinned Josh describing his brother’s fall to third, which enabled Cooper to grasp second after “a fantastic race.” When the times were tallied, Felix was the outright victor by 0.445s from Josh, with Luke a mere 0.372s back in third!
Orgee, Hawkins, Rivett – who found almost a second over his first race best time as he acclimatised to the RF91 – Cobbold Sr and Acton were next over the line, with Cobbold Jr and Higgins 10 seconds adrift. Hopes, Barnes and Macklin were grouped behind them, just ahead of Hallam and Bracegirdle.
CCRC SALOON CAR CHAMPIONSHIP sponsored by Pro-Alloys
Per Ardua Ad Artra for Adam Prebble
Adam Prebble’s superbly-crafted victory in the opening round of the club’s Saloon Car Championship was all the more memorable having been well and truly earned in a wonderfully entertaining battle with older brother Gary, the ‘winningest’ driver in Castle Combe history.
Prebble Junior’s day started perfectly when he nailed pole position in the Interceptor Racing-prepared Vauxhall Astra Turbo. Adam’s 1m12.304s best was more than 0.6s inside his sibling’s record of 1:12.916 set in his highly-developed Seat Cupra Leon 20v T last August.
Former champion Simon Thornton-Norris (Norris Designs Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart) eagerly grabbed the other front-row start slot, his 1:12.403 a mighty three quarters of a second inside his own Class B standard. Prebble Sr’s 1:12.751 in the Foreman Homes Seat was good enough only for P3, with the Grant Motorsport entries of Dave Scaramanga (VW Scirocco) and Alex Kite (Audi TT) next up in the mid-13s.
James Winter (Renault Megane) snared P6, with Mark Wyatt (Class B Astra), the VW Golfs of Robert Ellick – going really well in the TSR turbocar, still on restricted revs as he builds experience – and Christopher Rawlings on his heels. Neil “Mr Pro Alloys” Greenland’s eyecatching parakeet-hued Mitsubishi Colt was with them too, while John Barnard’s Astra VXR was just outside the top 10, albeit destined not to start.
Class C was led by Matthew Parr, who cut a promising 1:15.503 in the Grant Motorsport Peugeot 106 GTi for 12th, split from defending champion Adrian Slade’s newly-completed sister car by Haydn King’s Class A Seat Leon and Kieren Simmons’ two-litre Ford Fiesta, third of the B set. Luke Harvey (Honda Civic) was chasing Parr and Slade in the thick of seven competitors in the 1m17s.
Top of Class D was Michael Good in his 1400cc Vauxhall Corsa, 23rd overall on 1:18.450, 1.7s quicker than former Rover Tomcat pilot Nick Mizen (Fiesta) and Chris Hignell (Peugeot 106).
Thirty-four cars made an imposing grid with the last rows starting adjacent to the apex of Camp corner. Adam Prebble forged ahead of his brother as the line of red start lights went out, with Thornton-Norris, Kite, Winter, Ellick, Wyatt, Scaramanga (a mare from P4), King and Parr in the chasing peloton at the end of the opening lap of 15.
Early fallers as the dust settled included Tim Cook (Mini Cooper S), James Blake (MG ZR) and Jordan Curnow (VW Bora) but the pace out front was punishing. Once he forged his Seat ahead up Avon Rise on lap two Gary Prebble was forced to work incredibly hard to keep his little brother behind. Meanwhile, King’s Seat Leon expired in an expensive-looking cloud of smoke at Tower, damage from which cruelly casts doubt over a return to action this season.
King’s demise appeared to trigger wholesale attrition, Greenland’s Colt going lame before all hell let loose. Winter’s Renault blew mightily, whereupon Scaramanga skated off on the oil dumped at Quarry. Simmons, Good and Hignell would also be among the 12 who fell by the wayside.
Back on track, Thornton-Norris had been a fly in Adam Prebble’s ointment for Simon dived past on lap four and stayed there for three circuits before his highly-tweaked Mitsubishi’s gearbox jammed in fourth with a detrimental effect on his lap times. Adam was 1.8s adrift of Gary when he regained second and Kite went with him.
Within three tours they were together and they tyre-squealed round in unison, probing the limits of cornering potential, to the approval of fans packing the spectator banks. Unbeknown to onlookers Gary’s power steering fluid boiled in the closing stages, as a result of heat-sink from a larger manifold being trialled, thus he was having to wrestle the Seat round without assistance. Adam dived through to regain the lead at Tower on lap 12, as Gary summoned every ounce of upper body strength for one final attack.
But the day belonged to his sibling, Adam taking the chequer 7.4 seconds clear on an epic day for the family after Gary’s gearbox started missing cogs. “That was absolutely brilliant. He tried to outbrake me and caught the oil,” said Adam. “That was good fun. It’s going to be an interesting season,” retorted Gary, relishing the prospect of action replays over the summer.
Ellick was greatly surprised to find himself on the podium, having had “bullet holes in the windscreen from the first lap.” He drove a super race, keeping his head as Kite dropped three places to sixth, behind Wyatt and the struggling Thornton-Norris, then recovered two of them to finish fourth. Wyatt – fifth overall, with Rawlings in tow – won class B from ST-N, with Kai Barker (Fiesta) a lapped third.
Behind Thornton-Norris, Parr dug deep to stave off Slade, omnipresent over his shoulder, in the tussle for class C gold. Less than a second separated them at the finish, Parr’s best lap a couple of tenths quicker than the reigning champion’s. Harvey, the evergreen Tony Dolley (Seat Leon), James Keepin (MG ZR 160) and Jon Lannon (Citroen Saxo VTS) also went the full distance. Nick Mizen (Fiesta) claimed Class D when Good’s Corsa retired.
CCRC GT CHAMPIONSHIP sponsored by Reis Motorsport Insurance
Jones freezes out Krayem for Noble double
Time Attack ace Kevin Jones was on scintillating form on Easter Monday, the Barnstaple refrigeration engineering and his sizzling three-litre twin-turbocharged Ford Duratec V6-powered Noble M12 RSR twice overcoming David Krayem’s mighty 8.4-litre V10-engined Chrysler Viper Oreca GT3 in the GT Championship openers.
Jones snatched pole position on the last lap of qualifying, his 1m06.304s (100.44mph) pared 0.287s from Portishead star Oliver Bull’s 1:06.591 – also over the ‘magic’ ton – who had made the running in uncle Jeremy Irwin’s Fleurtations Vauxhall Tigra Silhouette, the lightweight 2.3-litre tubeframe machine further sharpened over the winter. Tetbury-domiciled Krayem was also in the sixes, an encouraging three-tenths inside his class record in the Viper, evolved in period by legendary French single-seater team chief Hugues de Chaunac’s equipe.
The miscellany continued with Alan Hamilton’s two-litre Westfield Race Aero – lavishly re-winged following extensive CFD (computational fluid dynamics) work since last term – joining Krayem on row two with a stout 1:08.909. Bradley John’s Mitsubishi Evo 9 was under 1m10s, clear of reigning ‘queen’ Ilsa Cox in her Seat Leon Cupra, half a second outside her own target. Ilsa wasn’t having things all her own way for ever-smiling midlander Lucky Khera was just over her shoulder with a newly-acquired 3.2-litre BMW M3 E46.
Tim Woodman (Caterham 7), Dylan Popovic (Ginetta G50) and Jamie Sturges (Seat Leon Eurocup) completed the top 10, with Chris Everill (G50) and BMW duo Kevin Bird (E46 M3) and Jasver Sapra (E36 M3) within touching distance in the 13s.
Jordan Billinton (Reiter Lamborghini Gallardo GT3), Paul Arber’s thuggish Westfield V8, Michael Parsons (VW Golf), the BMW Minis of Nigel Marsh, Ian Knight and Paul Dickinson, split by Del Brett (Future Inns Porsche Boxster), completed the field. Keith Butcher’s beautiful Audi R8 LMS Ultra, winners at Pembrey the previous day, withdrew after five laps with a recurrence of problems which had showed-up in Wales.
Jones sizzled into the lead from the first rolling start, his escape helped in no small measure by Bull – quickest through the corners and a joy to watch through Camp – keeping Krayem behind for four laps, until he brought the Viper’s tyres up to temperature and could use its brute force to greater effect. By the time David had uninterrupted sight of the Noble it was already 2.6 seconds up the road. Kevin kept his right foot in, setting fastest lap, finishing 15 seconds ahead of Krayem who had Bull in his slipstream at the flag.
John’s Mitsubishi, lapping very consistently, owned fourth throughout, pursued by class B standout Hamilton, who initially had his mirrors full of the train comprising Cox, Khera, Woodman and Sturges, pursued by the 3.7-litre Ginettas of Everill and Popovic. Sturges and Khera had a good tussle in contrasting cars until the latter slithered off at Tower on lap 13. Unlucky for some!
Sturges thus finished a class D-winning sixth, the last unlapped runner, after Ilsa’s Seat overheated forcing her to back-off. She had to settle for 10th, behind Woodman and Popovic, yet still mustered one last burst of speed to repel Sapra’s BMW for class runner-up points. Bird and Arber also covered 14 laps.
The second stanza was rather livelier up front, for Krayem used his truck engine’s torque to great effect, blasting ahead of Bull and Jones. It took Kevin a lap and a bit to repass the orange and white Tigra clone, but two successive fastest laps brought the sleek blue Noble back onto the red Chrysler’s voluptuous tail.
Lapping Michael Parsons’ VW Golf at Camp on lap seven gave Jones a chance to exploit his steed’s agility and, able to carry more speed through the apex than his rival, was back on the gas like a shot and squeezed ahead opportunistically on the inside of Folly. Krayem retaliated briefly, then eased off to the point where perennial hard-tryer Bull caught him. “I had to work for that one,” said Jones. “I didn’t get the best of starts, and had a bit of understeer during the race, but two wins is more than we dared to hope for. We’ve had a great day.”
“I was baulked at Camp and the Noble came through,” said Krayem, after Bull reprised the earlier podium party. Hamilton and Sturges got the better of John, despite Bradley lapping quicker than before. Dylan [Popovic] got the jump on me but then I enjoyed a great battle,” said Jamie. Popovic, Bird and Everill completed 14 laps, while Brett finished amid Mini men Marsh, Knight and Dickinson as they all posted repeat finishes.
Arber, Woodman, Cox and – with problems, as in the earlier race – Billinton stopped short.
CCRC HOT HATCH CHALLENGE SERIES sponsored by Samco Sports Hoses
Tomkinson prevails in super Nova
Craig Tomkinson made the perfect start to his Hot Hatch Challenge season, netting the trifecta of pole position, race victory and fastest lap in his two-litre Cat-Trading Vauxhall Nova. The Salisbury racer sprinted away from the rapid Peugeot 205s of Hampshire team-mates Chris Southcott and Joe Dorrington, but could not relax until the chequered flag greeted him. Great Dane Erling Jensen was the inaugural winner of the Mini Cooper S class in his road-legal example.
Tomkinson’s cut his quickest qualifying lap of 1m13.382s (90.75mph) in just three flyers, the session having been foreshortened when the engine in Ben Ogbourne’s Vauxhall Astra GTE expired on the exit of Quarry, leaving an oil slick. Alas, Dorrington hit it and skated off into Ogbourne’s car, leaving our super-efficient marshals with a bigger clear-up job. Remarkably, Tomkinson was already more than half a second inside Josh Harvey’s class A record – set with a Honda Civic – and knocking on the door of former Combe Saloon champ Will di Claudio’s outright mark with a Peugeot 106 GTi.
Southcott sat second on the grid, but having not got going before red flags halted proceedings his 1:16.842 in the battleship grey Pug was not representative. Kieren Simmons (Ford Fiesta) took P3 despite losing his clutch, ahead off Dorrington, Ben Ogbourne’s ill-fated Astra (clearly a non-starter) and class B leader John Dee, sixth overall in his Honda Integra on 1:19.555.
Jensen and Dave Spiller were very well matched at the head of the seven-strong Mini division. Former GT champ Erling’s 1:20.007 edged it in the morning, with Spiller 0.386s adrift in eighth place, a couple of seconds quicker than third man Guy Parr. Dee’s closest competitors were Ray Ferguson (MG ZR) and Sam Tompkins (Honda Civic), 13th and 15th respectively. Tom Burles was the sole class D starter in his Rover Metro.
Southcott made the best race start, but Tomkinson went ahead with a bold move at Tower on lap two and stayed there, screaming clear to a five second victory. Dorrington had a lonely time in third, more than half a minute behind the winner.
Sam Stride moved his Honda Civic smartly through from 11th on the grid to fourth at the chequer. He was almost caught by Kieren Simmons (Ford Fiesta) who had lost his clutch in the CCRC Saloon Car Championship race. His crew worked hard to get the car out but, fearing that it might not get away from row two Simmons reversed it to the back of the grid. The black car did hook up and he charged through to fifth, a second adrift of Stride, the pair having lapped quicker than the unpressured Dorrington ahead of them.
Jensen finished sixth, the last unlapped runner, and goes into the circuit record books as the first Mini Cooper S class winner and lap record holder. Spiller, Parr and Steve Bracegirdle (ninth, 11th and 12th respectively) must raise their games to catch the veteran in future events.
Behind Jensen, Exminster father and son Rob and Izaac Channing enjoyed a humdinger of a battle in their identical Peugeot 106 GTis, running centimetres apart, abreast or in line astern, for 15 enthralling laps. Izaac ultimately squeezed ahead for seventh overall and the class C win – by a whopping forty two thousandths of a second! Rob set the better lap by almost four tenths though.
Tompkins claimed class B from Ferguson after Dee peeled his quicker Honda disconsolately into the pits on lap five.
Posted by Jo Lewkowicz and Marcus Pye on Tuesday 7 May 2019
at Castle Combe Circuit
13 April 2020