SALOON QUALIFYING - With the roaring success of the new Hot Hatch series, there were some quiet concerns that the Saloon Championship may suffer as a result. Any such concerns were well and truly quashed with bumper grid of entries for the opening round of the season.
Class A saw its most plentiful entry for some years, all hoping to give Gary Prebble a run for his money and perhaps score and overall title. One of those should have been brother Adam, however his newly built Astra experienced immediate teething problems during testing earlier in the week.
Rob Ballard returns in anger, joining the VeeDub club in a very smart looking Scirocco. On the subject of Sciroccos, Dave Scaramanga has switched to his white version in an effort to find better reliability.
Tony Hutchings is back again with his rebuilt (again!) TT after getting caught up in another unfortunate incident at the end of last season. No doubt he will be hoping such things don’t come in threes...
Simon Thornton-Norris returns to defend his title in his class B Mitsubishi Colt. The pocket-rocket has clearly impressed Hot Hatch Series sponsor Neil Greenland who is also running a Colt this season. After an impressive season in class D last year, Alex Kite was slated to step up to class B in an Audi A1, but actually appeared in a TT, perhaps a last minute selection from the Grant Motorsport stable. A new trio of Renault Clios also enters the class B fray, along with debutant Jordan Curnow in a Honda Civic.
With the exception of Will Di Claudio and Geoff Ryall, most of the other usual class C and D campaigners are back, joined by newcomer Nathan Nicholls in a class C Citroen Saxo.
Gary Prebble showed his class A challengers that they’ve got their work cut out for them, keeping his SEAT on the limits of adhesion to secure pole by nearly a second. Norris maintained the status quo from last season in P2, but in contrast, next up was an eyebrow raiser. Alex Kite, who was a thorn in the side of class D champion Mike Good for most of last season, secured an outstanding P3 in his maiden drive in the gleaming white Audi TT.
If you had to back an outsider on a wet day, all money would go on James Keepin, who has achieved some incredible race results, including an outright win, in his MGZR. ‘Keepo’ showed he still likes it wet with a class A party crashing P4, nine places clear of his next class C rival Adrian Slade. Rookie Jordan Curnow marked his arrival in the championship in fine style, driving his class B Honda Civic to an outstanding P5, beating experienced front runners Oliver Cook and Mark Wyatt. Another laudable lap time was entered by Matthew Parr who drove his 1400cc Saxo to an excellent P8, placing an eight place buffer between himself and reigning class D champion Mike Good.
SALOON ROUND 1
The wet conditions had once again proved to be a great leveller in qualifying, with some lower powered cars and novice drivers gate crashing the ‘old boys club’ of seasoned Combe veterans. Unfortunately for them a decent dry line was appearing on the track, meaning it would be unlikely they’d be able to convert their starting positions into giant killing race finishes.
Gary Prebble (aka the ‘King of Combe’) showed he hadn’t suffered any rusty reflexes over the winter break, launching his SEAT towards the Avon Rise horizon. Reigning champion Simon Thornton-Norris lost out on the start line to Alex Kite and nearly to new boy Curnow too. As the pack assumed single file, Prebble wasted no time in gapping Kite, whose attentions were focused on Norris in his mirrors. Curnow found his fourth place very rapidly downgraded to sixth at the hands of both Oliver Cook and Tony Hutchings.
With his Colt now up to a full gallop, Norris made a successful first bid for second, out braking Kite into Tower corner. Before Norris had the chance to even think about challenging for the lead, Gary Prebble handed it to him on a plate, failing to turn into Bobbies and heading for the old part of the circuit that serves as an escape road. The unexplained detour cost Prebble dearly, dropping back to 5th behind his old sparring partner Tony Hutchings.
Having absolutely trounced his rival Mike Good in qualifying, it must have come as something of an unpleasant surprise to Matthew Parr to see the reigning class D champion bearing down on him so early in the race. Good and his Vauxhall Corsa were clearly enjoying its freshly built engine, having a storming drive, carving through the pack after starting all the way down in 17th. In similar circumstances, James Keepin’s qualifying margin was rapidly becoming uncomfortable as rival and fellow MG ZR pilot Martin Chivers was closing fast.
Back at the sharp end, Oliver Cook was putting in some storming laps in his Renault Megane, rewarded with a move on Kite to move up to second. Prebble meanwhile was keen to make up for lost time and was closing in on Hutchings, who was himself looking to mount a challenge for third. Prebble took advantage of Hutchings being focused on Kite, sneaking through and splitting the brace of white Audi TTs. Kite found himself unexpectedly back up to second with the dramatic demise of the Megane in front of him, Cook searching for a safe resting place through his own cloud of smoke. Alex Kite wasn’t able to hang on to the gift for long though, losing the place to the charging SEAT of Gary Prebble.
The chasing pack was being led by Mark Wyatt, who was defending from Curnow and Greenland who was clearly getting to grips with his new Mitsubishi. Michael Good reeled in Parr to assume the class D lead, while Keepin was still resisting Chivers’ advances.
The closing stages of the race would see class A numbers dwindle, with the retirement of both Tony Hutchings and Rob Ballard.
Prebble was throwing everything he had at Norris, driving the SEAT right on the ragged edge. Any hopes of the perfect recovery drive were dashed however when he pushed a little too hard, running wide on the exit of Camp and allowing Norris an easy final run to the chequered flag and his first win of 2018.
Alex Kite’s sterling efforts were rewarded with his first podium – and a convincing one at that, crossing the line over twenty seconds clear of Mark Wyatt.
Rookie Jordan Curnow had a dream start to his racing career with a third in class trophy, just managing to fend off class rival Neil Greenland.
The class D pairing of Good and Parr leapfrogged their class C opponents, with Good emerging victorious, although not for the want of trying by Parr.
James Keepin’s prayers for more rain went unanswered, his MG becoming quite a handful with his wet tyres protesting at the dryness of the tarmac. He was no doubt relieved to see the chequered flag and secure class C honours.
The changing conditions, new machinery and adrenaline filled newcomers provided classic saloon championship, place-swapping action and is hopefully a sign of things to come this season. Apart from Simon Thornton Norris staging the perfect first defence of his title, the rest of the rule book pretty much went straight out of the window, showing yet again why this championship is so popular with drivers and spectators alike.Posted by Jo Lewkowicz on Tuesday 10 April 2018
at Castle Combe Circuit
22 April 2019