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GRAND FINALS 2018 - GT Championship

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Historically, drivers and teams contesting the home championships have found themselves with a with a late season hiatus between the August Bank Holiday meeting and the Grand Finals.  For some with all to play for and a race car raring to go, this was an agonising wait – for others it was a gift of precious extra workshop time.  This season however would be different; for the local heroes would be taking to the track for the final time with engines and tyres almost still warm from the furious double header meeting less than three weeks prior.

The FF1600 Championship was wrapped up at the previous meeting but there is everything to play for in both the Saloon and GT Championships.  One race each remains to make or break the dreams of several contenders, with glory in their grasp. 

The final act of the three home championships will be joined by the last Hot Hatch blast of the season, and the 750 Motor Club’s highly competitive Toyota MR2 Championship and the Monoposto Tiedman Trophy.  As is traditional, the last meeting of the season features some one-off open races; one for single seaters and a Sports vs Saloons shootout.  These races and season finale not only offer some extra smiles per mile for the regulars, but this year has also been the catalyst of an unofficial ‘Team Bosses Challenge’; tempting both Kevin Mills and Wayne Poole out of retirement – both entering the final Formula Ford race!

The forecast was for a clear, sunny, bone-dry day, providing the perfect conditions for a thrilling climax to the 2018 Castle Combe Racing season.

The famous Castle Combe GT Championship has seen a most welcome resurgence in 2018, with ever more exotic machinery joining the party and lap records being smashed right, left and centre. 

The season thus far has been something of a David & Goliath affair with Tony Bennett piloting his lightweight, modest engined Caterham through his mega horse power rivals to emerge at the top of the overall standings.  Bennett has class B in the bag already, leaving Alan Hamilton and Andy Southcott to battle it out for the runners up spot.

Defending champion Ilsa Cox finds herself in a very strong position to make it two in a row, trailing the leader by just one point.  Ilsa has dominated class D quite comfortably, with just one DNF in round six keeping her from being on maximum points; and mechanical failure would likely be the only thing standing in the way of the defence of her own title. 

The final championship trophy is far from a formality, with several contenders and technical decisions in play.  Michael Timberlake leads the way in class D in his BMW from the fire-breathing class A Mazda of Steve Putt.  Putt however is still negotiating with the MSA to reinstate the points he lost on the previous round.  The debate surrounds the proof of whether the RX-7 was still moving under its own steam at the point the race was red flagged.  Depending on the outcome, fellow class A rival and ex-champion Oliver Bull could also be in with a shout of third overall. 

GTs QUALIFYING

David Krayem was back again with his super-sized Chrysler Viper Oreca, the menacing red machine was originally designed for longer distance challenges, Krayem fine tuning the beast to be better suited for Combe’s ‘Sprint’ format.  A lap time of 1:06.882 was enough to secure pole position comfortably.

The superbly developed Vauxhall Tigra silhouette of Oliver Bull has been testing the limits of its performance this year with some niggling reliability issues.  The car has been built and developed by Oliver’s uncle; Jeremy Irwin, who himself was hoping to have some fun in it in the open Sports vs Salon race later in the day.  The Tigra was back on form today, lining up on the front row alongside Krayem, albeit nearly a second down on the Viper.

Row three would be occupied by the regular Mitsubishi Evo pairing of Barry Squibb and Bradley John, only this time, John would get the better of Squibb, the black Evo out qualifying the white one by nearly half a second. 

The return of Andy Southcott gave Tony Bennett cause for concern over his title hopes, given they run in the same class (B).  When on song, the Vauxhall powered MG Midget is a force to be reckoned with, but luckily for Bennett, today was an off day, with Southcott only completing one lap in limp mode.  This left Bennett in a strong position in P5, with nearest rival Alan Hamilton two rows behind. 

Bennett’s championship rival Ilsa Cox would line up right behind him, but their position on the road relative to each other was not really relevant.  More significant was Cox’s margin over her nearest class rival; Michael Timberlake, which was a very healthy four and a half seconds and 5 grid positions. 

The two championship contenders were both placed perfectly for their final performance of the season.  Bennett would need to keep Hamilton behind him and also keep an eye on the possibility of Southcott climbing up from the very back of the grid.  For ‘Queen Ilsa’, a strategy of keeping her SEAT clean and clear of all trouble, and netting one last haul of maximum points was needed to successfully defend her title.

GTs ROUND 9

Oliver Bull’s recent run mechanical issues reappeared post qualifying, resulting in a bitterly disappointing early end to his season, the Tigra unable to take its front row place on the grid of the final race. 

The last rolling start of the season saw David Krayem unleash the awesome power of his Chrysler Viper and lead the pack to Quarry.  The evenly matched Mitsubishi Evos of Barry Squibb and Bradley John had a drag race over the rise with a battle of the bravest to see who could break the latest for the first corner, resulting in John successfully defending second place.  Championship hopeful Tony Bennett was taking no chances as he took fourth from Steve Putt.  Even though Bennett was leading his class he knew full well that class rival Alan Hamilton would be hot on his heels, and that Andy Southcott would no doubt be clawing his way up from the back of the grid.  Ilsa Cox was in a similar position, leading her class but keeping a close eye on her mirrors for the appearance of the BMW of Michael Timberlake, who was giving it his all in his last ever race before retiring from racing. 

The Evo battle was settled early on with the retirement of Barry Squibb, leaving Bradley John touring the circuit in a lonely second place with Krayem being well clear ahead. 

Andy Southcott’s Midget had carved his way through the pack all the way up to the rear bumper of Bennett’s Caterham.  With Southcott holding the fastest lap of the race, a pass on Bennett looked inevitable, however Tony was far from ready to give up on his championship dreams.  Bennett defended spectacularly, making his tiny Caterham the widest car on the grid.  Despite the valiant defence, Southcott still looked favourite to find a way past and chose Camp corner to make another move.  Determined to make it stick this time, Southcott left his braking just a fraction too late, ploughing straight on into the tyres in front of the Avon Bridge. 

Krayem chalked up another lights-to-flag victory, crossing the line 19 seconds clear of Bradley John in second.  Tony Bennett did everything in his power to keep his hopes alive, beating rival Alan Hamilton to the final podium step.  The awesome power of Steve Putt’s LS V8 has proved too much for its drivetrain this season, and Steve brought the Mazda home in fifth, nursing yet another broken differential.  Ilsa Cox stayed well out of trouble, finishing in sixth and taking the class win.

With both Ilsa Cox and Tony Bennett winning their respective classes, all eyes turned to the lap times.  If both drivers had secured the fastest lap in their respective classes, the bonus point would be enough to crown Bennett the champion.  Tony knew however that despite not making the finish, Andy Southcott had him well and truly beaten on lap times.  Ilsa did get the fastest class D time however which tied the pair at the top, level on 55 points.

 In the event of a tie, the GT regulations utilise the ‘countback’ method to measure race wins.  Despite Cox having one DNF in round six, Ilsa Cox amassed more class wins meaning she would be crowned Castle Combe GT Champion for the second successive year.

Steve Putt’s final performance secured overall victory in class A, earning him third overall in the standings... at least for now.  The question mark still hangs over his points from the penultimate round however, meaning third place could go the way of class D runner up Michael Timberlake. 

David Krayem’s final race win earned him top spot in class C, leapfrogging Jordan Billington who was absent in the final round.  Runners up silverware also goes to Oliver Bull in class A and Alan Hamilton in class B.

Class E was a barely contested category, being won by Guillaume Kerboul in a Lotus Elise, despite only contesting the last three rounds and amassing just eleven points. 

The mix of cars in the long running Castle Combe GT Championship couldn’t be more eclectic, from fire-breathing V8 muscle cars to featherweight 4 cylinder silhouettes.  The famous Wiltshire 1.85 mile circuit however is a great leveller, and once out on track, the racing couldn’t be closer – and neither could the points table.  Ilsa Cox has had a near perfect season in class D, dropping points only due to a DNF in round 6.  Not only has Ilsa defended her GT title, it increases her collection of Castle Combe Champion’s trophies to three – having also won the saloon championship - 21 years ago!

 

Posted by Jo Lewkowicz on Thursday 11 October 2018

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