Having given up waiting for the arrival of Spring in 2018, the May Day bank holiday certainly made up for it! The soaring temperatures saw the majority of the population either sat motionless on the M5 car park, or playing supermarket sweep on a futile treasure hunt for the last remaining packs of charcoal, bangers and burgers. Meanwhile, the Combe faithful knew exactly how to spend a sunny bank holiday Monday, up and out early to set up camp at their favourite viewing spot on the banks of the Wiltshire circuit.
The three CCRC Championships plus the Hot Hatch Challenge were all out for just a single race for the second meeting of the season. The May Day meeting would also host the sixth running of the Dave Allan Trophy, an all-comers 45 minute race, held in the memory of the Honda test driver and founder of the Swindon factory ‘Synchro’ team, who tragically lost his life in 2012.
The meeting would also boast something of a classic British racing theme, with the BARC Mighty & Super Mighty Minis, and the Jaguar Enthusiasts Club’s Saloon and GT Championship also joining the race card. The Track Attack Racing Club would fill the final slot in the timetable with their 2-4-1 merged race of their highly competitive Tricolore Trophy and Nippon Challenge Championships.
Without a cloud in the sky and tyre friendly track temperatures, the stage was perfectly set for a scorching day of classic Castle Combe racing action!
GT QUALIFYING -
The long running GT Championship started the 2018 season with a renewed lease of life, attracting new drivers, new cars and provided two fantastic races in their opening double header. One hotly anticipated new GT car spied in the paddock was a Volvo S60. Granted, a Volvo wouldn’t normally create much excitement, but a few key details hinted that this was no ordinary Swedish family workhorse; a 6.2 litre engine, Nigel Mustill’s name on the log book and Craig Dolby at the wheel!
With the Mighty Minis having already ‘swept’ the track of dust and debris, 22 slick-tyre-shod GT machines passed under the glinting Avon Bridge to get the session under way.
Steve Putt and Oliver Bull were the stars of the opening double header and both were back on track to resume their duel. While Bull wasted no time in getting his nimble Tigra silhouette up to pace, Putt was clearly struggling with his RX7. A leaking diff in the previous race had thwarted Putt’s hopes of a brace of wins last time, and his obvious struggle for grip and a slightly smoky rear end indicated that the shiny blue beast was yet to return to full match fitness.
The conditions suited the Caterham of regular front runner Tony Bennett very well, getting himself involved at the top of the time sheets, as was the returning MG Midget of Andy Southcott. Reigning champ Ilsa Cox had left her class rivals far behind and had her SEAT lapping expediently in a bid to secure a place at the sharp end. Barry Squibb was enjoying some improved compliance from his Mitsubishi, seemingly passing on the technical gremlins to his fellow Evo driver Barry John, who had ground to a halt somewhere out on the South side of the circuit.
While the usual suspects were vying for prime grid position, Craig Dolby was keeping out of the way, weaving the Volvo at every opportunity, warming up its vast expanse of rubber. Oliver Bull was comfortably occupying the top spot when Dolby decided it was time to wind the Volvo up for its first flying lap. On its next pass of the timing beacon, the Volvo stopped the clock a gargantuan four seconds quicker than Bull’s best effort thus far. Despite Oliver Bull setting an even faster time than the lap record he set at the previous round, this was still in a different generation to the Volvo. Dolby improved on his initial lap before bringing the new machine in for some in-flight checks, securing pole with an unprecedented 1:03.347 – 4.2 seconds clear of Bull.
Andy Southcott secured P3 in his ‘Mighty Midget’ and would be joined by the Caterham of Tony Bennett for an all class B second Row. ‘Queen Ilsa’ put herself in a strong position to continue the defence of her title, securing P5 nearly six seconds clear of her nearest class D rival. Barry Squibb would line up alongside Cox after taking advantage of Steve Putt’s struggles with his Mazda. The highest class C qualifier was Jordan Billington, the novice driver steadily gaining confidence in his Lamborghini Gallardo.
If the qualifying times were anything to go by, the overall winner would be a formality so all eyes would be on the chasing pack come race time.
GT's ROUND 3 - The GT Championship drivers simultaneously pressed their respective ‘loud pedals’, performing their ‘Symphony for Petrol Heads’ on the rolling start. As predicted the Volvo showed its superiority immediately, with Bull unable to do anything but watch it disappear over the horizon of Avon Rise. Tony Bennett and Barry Squibb both promoted themselves up the order at the expense of Andy Southcott, who was frantically trying to get up the Midget pace and avoid losing any more places.
Dolby completed his first lap having already amassed a four second lead over Bull. Bennett was resisting Squibb’s advances in the corners but invariably had to turn defensive as the Evo gained on the straights. Southcott was keeping up with the pair but there was a significant gap back to Steve Putt, his Mazda clearly still experiencing problems, and also had to contend with a mirror full of Cox’s SEAT.
Oliver Bull found himself with plenty of track space, unable to challenge Dolby and with a clear rear view mirror. Bennett’s defence of 3rd ended as his Caterham appeared to lose some performance, allowing both Barry Squibb and Andy Southcott to pass, before clearing the blockage and returning the compliment back to Southcott.
Barry John’s qualifying session was a short-lived affair, leaving the track on the end of a tow rope. Although he made the grid, his race wouldn’t fare much better, only managing three laps before retiring.
In the mid pack, the battle of the Beemers saw two entrants fall by the wayside. Lucky Khera was clearly not happy with his M3, bringing it into the pits after just 5 laps. At the same time, Bal Sidhu was pushing hard, a little too hard in fact. His E46 BMW ran wide on the exit of Camp and a brave gamble to keep his foot in backfired, sending him spinning onto the infield adjacent to the start/finish straight. This left Jasver Sapra and Michael Timberlake to battle it out in the remaining two Bavarian machines.
Andy Southcott reeled Barry Squibb into firing range, the soaring heat of the midday sun perhaps not suiting the Mitsubishi’s turbo charged engine. Andy pulled the trigger and stole the place, and with the heavier Evo putting serious pressure on now very hot tyres, Southcott was looking favourite to keep hold of the position. Improving on it would be a tall order though, with Oliver Bull a long way up the road.
Ilsa Cox was glued to the back of Putt’s Mazda, the paint on the front bumper of her SEAT bubbling in the flames spitting from Putt’s exhaust. The RX7 however was delivering just enough of its horses to prevent Cox making a move, while the Westfield of Alan Hamilton was simultaneously growing larger in her mirrors.
Having dispatched with Squibb, Andy Southcott was in ‘quali mode’, putting in some super clean, super fast laps. A glance at the TSL timing screen showed he was actually lapping considerably faster than Oliver Bull up ahead, causing the commentators to do some frantic on-the-fly mental arithmetic to see if a bid for second might materialise before the final whistle.
As the race entered its final stages, Dolby had lapped everyone up to 6th place and amassed a huge margin over Oliver Bull who was having a lonely run in second. On the closing laps however, the 750+ bhp Volvo suddenly lost a significant amount of pace and was touring with the cars it was in the process of lapping. Fortunately for Dolby this was a temporary glitch as the S60 found it’s full form again just in time to take the chequered flag. The white and orange Tigra appeared out of Westway with Southcott’s Midget looking like it was on a six inch tow rope. Ex-champion Oliver Bull managed to keep the door well and truly shut, defending through Camp Corner to take the silver medal. Southcott would have no doubt given anything for another lap or two, but was still delighted with his podium finish and class B win.
Barry Squibb had a lonely race towards the end, crossing the line 15 seconds behind Southcott and 25 seconds clear of Tony Bennett in 5th.
Putt, Cox and Hamilton crossed the line less than a second apart in that order, with Ilsa taking the class D win with ease.
Jasper Sapra kept fellow BMW driver Michael Timberlake as a buffer between himself and class rival Jordan Billington to take the class C honours.
Ilsa Cox and Tony Bennett started the day neck and neck at the top of the championship points table. Thanks to Andy Southcott, Bennett had to settle for this second in class this time, allowing Ilsa to lead the way as the GT brigade head into another double header at the ‘Combe Carnival’ meeting on the Whitsun Bank holiday Monday. Oliver Bull and Steve Putt are also snapping at their heels, with the former hoping the Volvo isn’t going to be a permanent fixture and the latter hoping his V8 Mazda will be on the top of its game next time!Posted by Jo Lewkowicz on Thursday 17 May 2018