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COMBE COUNTDOWN - FF1600 Championship Report - Round 7 & 8

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The August Bank Holiday race meeting has for decades been one of the most hotly anticipated in the Castle Combe Racing Club Calendar, but never more so than 2018 event.  As a result of the ‘home championships’ playing no part in the BRSCC Caterham meeting, the opportunity arose for the local heroes to have a race meeting almost entirely to themselves.  With double headers for all three championships and the Hot Hatch Challenge, there was only a small amount of race time left to spare, taken up by the MG Owners Club.  There would be only one race remaining by the time the sun set on the August Bank Holiday, meaning the stakes have never been higher.  A strong brace of finishes for any campaigner could see their race to championship glory shift into overdrive, with double points in a single day’s racing.  On the flip side, an early mechanical failure could see all hope lost even before the green flag lap of the first race of the day.  With so much to win and so much more to lose, the stage was well and truly set for the most adrenalin fuelled event of the season.

FF1600 QUALIFYING

In recent years, the Kevin Mills Racing Team have always provided several front running contenders to the Formula Ford Championship.  This year however, the regular KMR drivers all seemed to have other priorities for one reason or another, resulting in only sporadic appearances.  This has allowed Luke Cooper to dominate without too much opposition.  This time however, the familiar blue and white truck was back at its home circuit, bringing the return of their newest star Michael Eastwell and double champion Roger Orgee.  Both would be driving the KMR favoured Spectrum chassis cars, a change for Orgee having most recently been seen in a Ray Racing machine.  This left a third KMR Spectrum in the awning needing a pilot, so who better than Adam Higgins?!  Another double champion who hasn’t been behind the wheel of a single seater for some time having turned his attention to Ginetta racing.

Championship-wise, Luke Cooper pretty much had it in the bag before the sun rose on the bank holiday, and was facing the prospect of taking the title in style with a seventh perfect score on the trot.  The return off three KMR entries would make this a tougher feat to achieve.

Early in the qualifying session it looked as though both the KMR boys and Wayne Pool Racing’s reigning champion Josh Fisher were all out to spoil Cooper’s fun.  Michael Eastwell was topping the timesheets with Fisher and Orgee in very close contention.  Cooper had a huge moment running wide on the exit of Camp and narrowly avoiding contact with the concrete pit wall.  Many would have taken this heart stopping moment to back off and settle for the safe game but for Luke it served only to spur him on.  Proving his success was all of his own making this season, Cooper took pole right in the closing stages of the session with a lightning lap of 1:10.019.  Eastwell would line up alongside ahead of Fisher and Orgee on row two.  David Vivian secured P5 on the third row with Adam Higgins, ahead of Tom Hawkins and class B leader Paul Mason; the only driver with a mathematical chance of stopping Cooper taking the title.  Steve Bracegirdle has had it all his own way in class C this year, but a first-time entry from Matthew Hallam arrived in a Reynard and impressively outqualified Steve to P10.

FF1600 ROUND 7

The whole pack was shuffled very soon after the start of the first Formula Ford race of the day.  Both Eastwell and Fisher made better starts than the pole man, initially passing him in the way up to Avon Rise.  Adam Higgins meanwhile showed he’d lost none of his single seater skills, carrying superb momentum through Quarry to take the lead.  By the end of the lap, Higgins led narrowly from Fisher and David Vivian.  Luke Cooper’s fall down the order continued, falling victim to both Michael Eastwell and Roger Orgee.  After emerging from the first lap unscathed, anyone would have forgiven Luke Cooper for staying put and out of trouble and securing the few points he needed to be crowned the champion.  Ever the racer however, Luke Cooper got his Swift up to full race pace and set about trying to climb back up the order.

The third lap saw Fisher take the lead, only for Higgins to take it straight back.  Vivian spun from third at the Essess.  Cooper capitalised on the evasive action taken by Eastwell and Orgee, maintaining his momentum and taking them both. 

Fisher took the lead again while Cooper simultaneously joined the party.  Cooper got the better run through Camp corner and used the advantage to take the place.  Eastwell tried to follow suit but touched wheels with Higgins, sending Eastwell spinning out of the race. 

Paul Mason meanwhile was doing what he needed to do but being kept honest by class rival Shaun Macklin, and Hallam and Bracegirdle were having their won private battle for class C bragging rights. 

Now back up to second, Cooper could visualise the headlines of a ‘perfect game’ season and mounted a serious challenge on the reigning champion for the lead.  Just when it looked like he might pull it off with just one lap remaining, a plume of smoke spewed from the Swift’s engine, causing Luke to pull off into the infield.  Fisher went on to take the win from Orgee, with KMR ‘guest’ Adam Higgins mounting the final podium step.  Orgee’s return to a Spectrum chassis proved successful, taking the fastest lap of the race with a 1:10.890

David Vivian’s miserable race took a further turn for the worse; spinning on Luke Cooper’s oil and coming to rest right on the finishing line in the pit wall.

Paul Mason kept Macklin at bay for the class B victory but it wasn’t enough to keep him in with a shout of the title.  The impact of the double drop score regulations meant that despite failing to score, Luke Cooper still secured the 2018 Castle Combe Formula Ford Championship. 

FF1600 ROUND 8

The damage to Luke Cooper’s engine was as dramatic as it appeared meaning the new champion would be taking no further part in the day’s proceedings. 

The Wiltshire College Motorsport Team sufficiently restored his Spectrum in their on-site workshops, allowing him to take up his P5 grid position.  Eastwell’s car was also deemed fit to race again after his excursion on to the grass which ended his earlier race. 

Vivian and Fisher made superb starts, leapfrogging the KMR duo as they climbed Avon Rise.  David Vivian’s good start was short lived, spinning out again and causing the safety car to be scrambled for just one lap. 

Eastwell’s restart tactics didn’t catch his experienced followers out, with Fisher and Orgee in hot pursuit as the safety car left the circuit.  Higgins kept Orgee in his sights but didn’t seem to have enough in the tank to make a challenge. 

Paul Mason led the way behind the last of the class A cars, dicing again with Shaun Macklin.  Steve Bracegirdle’s race would end on lap 5, handing the class C victory to newcomer Matthew Hallam.

Eastwell got into his stride, the sparsely populated track allowing him to go into ‘qualifying mode’ and pull a gap over Fisher.  Orgee’s third place started to come under attack from Higgins on the penultimate lap, Adam’s efforts being rewarded with the fastest lap of the race with a 1:10.363.

Michael Eastwell drove his Spectrum to a confident victory from the sole Van Diemen of Josh Fisher.  Roger Orgee held off Higgins’ advances to take the bronze medal with Tom Hawkins finishing in fifth.  The class B battle went right to the wire with Shaun Macklin almost pushing Paul Mason over the finish line.

Although it might not have occurred quite the way he would have wanted it, Luke Cooper is a deserved winner of the 2018 FF1600 Championship.  With the double drop score requirement, should Luke take the win and the fastest lap in the final round, he would still win the championship on maximum possible points – what a way to take your first title!

Posted by Jo Lewkowicz on Wednesday 12 September 2018

CCRC Autumn Classic

at Castle Combe Circuit

6 October 2018

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