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Grand Finals 2018 - FF1600 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.

For the Formula Ford 1600 Championship, the winner’s trophy was already at the engravers having been sealed at the previous meeting.  Somewhat unusually, Luke Cooper found himself as a spectator to the race that would culminate with him being crowned, stranded on the infield with his stationary Swift thanks to a terminally sick Kent engine.  Having had a literally perfect record all season, it would never be the way Luke would have wanted to take his maiden title, however with the regulations requiring driver’s two worst scores to be dropped, a win and a fastest lap today would still see Luke enter the record books with a final point tally of 168 out of a possible 168. 

The runners up position was also already filled by Paul Mason having dominated class B this season.  Mason’s season could end up almost as impressively as Cooper’s; a class win and fastest lap today would see him lift a trophy with just a single point having spilled out of it, thanks to Shaun Macklin taking the bonus FL point in round 2.

The only place up for grabs today would be third overall.   This final battle should have been a three-horse race between David Vivian, Josh Fisher and Steve Bracegirdle.  Vivian and Fisher would need to battle it out on track while Bracegirdle, having already secured the class C honours was a no show on the day, putting himself out of the running.

FF1600 QUALIFYING

Despite already being crowned champion, all eyes were still on Luke Cooper to see if he could achieve the much coveted ‘perfect game’.  The family run Swift Cooper Team had their work cut out for them either rebuilding or replacing the broken Ford ‘Crossflow’ engine in time for the final round and hoping it would perform as well as its predecessor.  The answer came almost immediately with Cooper shooting straight to the top of the time sheets and staying there, with a best lap of 1:10.634.  Josh Fisher was pushing hard for the kudos of final pole of the season, getting within a tenth of Cooper’s time to join him on the front row.  Conspicuous by his absence was the in-form David Vivian who didn’t make the session, his Spectrum returning to the Wiltshire Motorsport workshops for diagnosis.

After 10 years on the spanner end of some of the most competitive cars on the grid, Kevin Mills returned to the driving seat of one of his Spectrums.  Kevin shares and impressive championship record of winning the title three times in successive seasons in ‘95, ‘96 & ’97 – repeating Bob Higgins achievement who was the first to score the hattrick in ’81, ‘82 & ‘83.  Kevin showed that he hadn’t lost any of his skills behind the wheel, getting very near his best ever lap time to secure P3 alongside the Ray Racing GR11 of Tom Hawkins.  Wayne Poole unfortunately didn’t fare as well, brake problems with his Van Diemen meaning he would start the race from the back row of the grid. 

Shaun Macklin got the better of rival Paul Mason this time out, pedalling his Swift SC92 to P4, nearly 4 tenths faster than Mason’s younger SC94 version. 

FF1600 ROUND 9

The grid lined up with all runners present and correct, including David Vivian at the back of the grid.  When the fifth red light went out, both Josh Fisher and Kevin Mills got visibly better starts than the new champion.  Losing out to both, Cooper also started to come under attack from Tom Hawkins who had evidently unleashed some extra urgency from his Ray Racing machine.  Whatever had plagued David Vivian’s qualifying session had clearly been remedied.  In the space of the opening lap, not only had Vivian caught the leaders but he’d also taken both Hawkins and Cooper to steal third! 

Fisher took advantage of the tussle behind him to stretch an early lead, staying well clear of a very nervous couple of laps as the chasing pack jostled for prime position.  All credit to the single seater pilots who despite racing flat out in such close proximity, managed to keep their open wheels both clear of each other, and on the tarmac. 

In the following laps, youthful exuberance won the battle over maturity and experience, which saw Kevin Mills lose his grip on second place at the hands of both David Vivian and Luke Cooper.  As the two youngsters set about trying to close the significant gap to Fisher in the lead, Tom Hawkins was the next to pass Kevin Mills, stealing fourth. 

In the class B battle, Shaun Macklin took full advantage of his initial grid positioning, and was maintaining his lead over Paul Mason.

The other sole entrant in the ‘Team Boss Challenge’; Wayne Poole, had master cylinder issues in qualifying.  With the problem fixed however Wayne was making good forward progress from the back of the grid, passing the class B champion Mason and continuing to close his class C Van Diemen in on the younger class A spectrum of Kevin Mills. 

Having pulled a gap on Vivian, Luke Cooper started to reel the outgoing champion in, chipping away at the fastest lap with every tour of the circuit.  Fisher responded accordingly however and picked up the pace to mitigate Cooper’s unwanted advances. 

After a masterclass of making hay while the sun shone, Josh Fisher managed the race to perfection to take the final chequered flag of the season, and in doing so not only secured third place in the final standings, but also denied Cooper finishing his maiden championship season on maximum points.

David Vivian took the final podium step to wrap up a superb first season in class A, engraving his name on the championship runners up trophy.  Tom Hawkins took fourth, holding off Kevin mills who completed a class A top 5.  Shaun Macklin earned the final bragging rights in class B, finishing three clear places ahead of the class champion Paul Mason, while Wayne Poole took home the class C winner’s trophy as a memento of his day back in the hot seat.

Depleted entry or not, Luke Cooper’s dominance this season has been nothing short of outstanding, and is a thoroughly deserving champion.  Having fine tuned their SC16 chassis to perfection near the end of last season, the family Swift Cooper Team came out this year with one goal in mind and they hit the target every time, finishing on an astonishing 163 points out of a possible 168 in the final standings.

The famous single seater championship will return for an incredible 50th year in 2019, with everyone hoping a much healthier grid of cars will arrive to celebrate its golden anniversary in style it so deserves.

Posted by Jo Lewkowicz on Thursday 11 October 2018
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