The British Racing & Sports Car Club’s first of two visits to Castle Combe Circuit this year has been one of the most talked about and anticipated race meetings of the season. After runaway success elsewhere around the world, the TCR Concept landed on UK shores this season and chose to put the top-spec-tin-tops through their paces at the fast Wiltshire Circuit. For a fleeting moment however, the headline act was in danger of being overshadowed due to some other minor sporting event. As it turned out, the thing that was supposed to ‘come home’ would only be making it as far as Calais at best!
This weekend would see the three home championships stage their next encounters, while the Hot Hatches would be rested. Over the two-day meeting, the TCR and CCRC Championships would be joined by a mix of tin-top, open wheeled sports car and sports special racing. Golf GTIs, Mazda MX5s, BMW Compacts, and Porsches would all entertain, as would the National Formula Fords, F1000s and Sports 2000s. While the England Team would only be playing for a token consolation prize, the faithful Combe crowds would be rewarded with all-to-play for action from some of the best racing championships in the UK.
SALOON CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
ROUND 5 QUALIFYING
With the BRSCC at the helm for this meeting, the Sunday schedule saw a mixture of both qualifying and races for series that had qualified the previous day. A combination of two major incidents in the morning races and an inordinate (and some might say completely unnecessary) amount of time reserved for the TCR circus, resulted in the qualifying for the CCRC Saloons being cut short. With such a large grid, a completely clear lap can be hard to come by at the best of times; the abridged session could only serve to exacerbate the situation.
The front of the assembly queue would be prime real estate and, if you’ll pardon the pun, Charles Hyde Andrews was the early ‘Bird’! We hadn’t expected to see much of ‘CHAB’ this season but he clearly enjoyed his earlier outing in father Kevin’s Nissan 200SX and couldn’t resist coming back for more. The continuing heatwave was advantageous to tyre temperatures, enabling CHAB to give it the full beans right from the word go. Jaws dropped as the times of his first two flying laps appeared on the TSL timing screens, the best of which was an astonishing 1:13.139 – over a quarter of a second faster than his own class A lap record. With the target set, eyes turned to Gary Prebble who was throwing caution to the wind and turning the SEAT’s volume dial up to 11. By the end of the fast and furious session the Gary’s best effort was only good enough for P2, nearly half a second slower than the sleek RWD Nissan.
Usual suspect Simon Thornton-Norris was nearly a second down on Prebble in P3, his Mitsubishi taking up smoking half way through the session, causing him to pit and commence diagnosis of the problem.
James Winter was next up, the Megane driver pipping the in-form Alex Kite to the second row spot alongside STN, and leading a quintet of class A drivers including Julian Ellison, Tony Hutchings and newcomer Robert Ellick in a GMS run VW Golf.
Next best of the class B qualifiers was Neil Greenland in his Norris Designs built and run Colt, after swapping times with the very capable Jordan Curnow, still in his debut season.
Adrian Slade took the class C pole from rivals Martin Chivers and rookie Nathan Nicholls. Current Championship leader Matthew Parr was unchallenged in class D with Mike Good’s Corsa still in rebuild, saloon veteran Arthur Marks being the next quickest but over two and a half seconds adrift of Parr.
A new car joined the grid by special invitation; a Fiesta driven by Nigel Marsh. The bright pink Ford was being raced as a tribute to the much missed Anne King who sadly passed away earlier in the year.
ROUND 6 RACE
Both CHAB and STN had come in from the quick-fire quali session early. The Nissan was in fine fettle, just being preserved to capitalise on it’s lightening pole time, and the smoke signals being given off by Norris’ Colt were fortunately just a result of a leaky rocker cover.
When the five red lights were extinguished, the Nissan used it’s RWD advantage to full effect, leaving the rest of the field for dead, not even needing to take a defensive line into Quarry. An even better start was made by the returning Bill Brockbank whose SEAT Ibiza went off like a scalded cat, (or should I say scalded badger?!), climbing up from his P12 starting position to draw right alongside Alex Kite by the time he reached the first corner.
Tony Hutchings drew first blood in the battle of the Audi TTs, enjoying getting the better of his younger rival, while Neil Greenland also had a very rewarding first lap.
The front four remained in their starting positions, initially very evenly spaced. Despite Gary Prebble not being able to get within half a second of CHAB in qualifying, he’d obviously unleashed some hidden magic in the SEAT while in the paddock. On the fourth lap Prebble bettered CHABs pole time with a 1:13.034 and taking his lap record in the process. The difference was visible, the gap to CHAB narrowing, likewise Norris found Winter’s Renault looming larger in his mirrors.
The fast starting Brockbank and Greenland found themselves in an early sparring session, while Tony Dolley was finally enjoying some improved pace in his bright Orange SEAT, having failed to meet expectations so far this season.
With Adrian Slade well up the road, the action in class C was for second place, with newcomer Nathan Nicholls giving seasoned campaigner Martin Chivers a run for his money. Matthew Parr was as equally as comfortable as Slade in class D, concentrating on steering well clear of trouble as he sought to extend his four-race winning streak and maintain his place at the top of the overall standings.
The first cars to suffer sunstroke were the Suzuki of Arthur Marks and the VW Scirocco of Rob Ballard. The Megane of James Winter was next to fall, having to wave goodbye to a likely looking third in class finish. Other strong runners to join them in the paddock before the chequered flag would be Bill Brockbank and Robert Ellick.
By the mid-point of the race, Prebble had reeled CHAB in, at exactly the same time the back markers started to come into play. The red Mini of Steve Bracegirdle compromised the Nissan’s entry into the critically fast Camp corner, allowing Prebble to get the run on the exit, maintaining the momentum and taking the lead through Folly.
Norris found himself in the unfamiliar position of not being in any kind of battle. The class B car has always punched very well above his weight, but was now looking like it was losing touch with the class A cars. Dave Scaramanga was finally having some luck with his White VW Scirocco, carving through the field from his lowly 28th starting position. The heavy traffic continued to hamper CHAB, allowing Norris to pull of the same stunt as Prebble, sneaking up on the Nissan and pilfering 2nd place. The pair of white Audi TTs were locked in a dogfight with the chasing Alex Kite looking certain to make a bid for the place before the final whistle.
With two laps remaining there was plenty of racing left with close battles right the way through the field. Without warning the BRSCC officials called for the chequered flag to be waved, making for a most anti-climactic end to probably the most exciting race of the day thus far. A frustration for both competitors and spectators alike, especially considering the amount of time dedicated to the pre-race build up of the earlier TCR races; the last of which saw just eight cars in a processional 30 minute race.
The third win of the season for Gary Prebble allowed him to reduce the deficit to class A leader Alex Kite to just two points. Simon Thornton-Norris’ second place was his fourth class B win of the season, protecting his lead from teammate Neil Greenland. CHAB’s third place celebrations were no doubt slightly subdued given his qualifying performance; which should have put him in good stead for a race win and the championship lap record.
Tony Hutchings might have been one driver pleased by the premature waving of the chequered flag, pouring cold water on Alex Kite’s advances. Dave Scaramanga ended a three-race DNF run with a pleasing 6th overall, making up 22 places in just 13 laps.
Adrian Slade strolled to class B victory, leaving Martin Chivers and Nathan Nicholls to fight over the remaining two trophies. Experience won the day with ‘Chivs’ keeping Nicholls in his mirrors until the end.
Matthew Parr’s fourth perfect race in a row meant he ended the day as he had started it – leading the championship overall. Class C leader Adrian Slade is snapping at Parr’s heels, just a point behind. Reigning champion Simon Norris has some work to do if he is to score a championship hattrick, sitting in third, 8 points adrift of the leader.
With the August bank holiday meeting offering up a two-course menu, the double header could well be the pivotal point of the saloon car championship. Stakes will be higher than ever, magnifying both the glory of victory and the heartbreak of defeat!Posted by Jo Lewkowicz on Thursday 19 July 2018
at Castle Combe Circuit
22 April 2019