QUALIFYING – ROUNDS 6 & 7
Finding enough track space to set a good lap in the saloon championship is not always an easy affair, let alone finding space to chalk up two rapid times. With the double header format, the second fastest time in qualifying dictates the starting position for the second race.
Gary Prebble was soon into his stride and topping the time sheets in his SEAT Leon. The keenest of spectators who’d set their alarms for silly-o’clock, were rewarded with early drama. Simon Thornton-Norris so far has had the perfect season – and when I say perfect, I mean it literally, having scored a maximum in every round thus far.
Having completed one qualifying lap only good enough to secure P10, Norris was seen heading for the pits. Any assumptions it was a strategic stop for track space were soon quashed as he exited the Colt, took his helmet off, lowered his race suit to half-mast and promptly disappeared under the bonnet.
Despite Norris’ unexpected disengagement, Prebble was taking no chances this time. In the qualifying for the previous round, Prebble was taking a breather in the pits when Norris bettered his time, with Gary unable to get back on track in time to do anything about it. Today however, the white, green and orange SEAT was on the ragged edge for every tick of the qualifying clock.
With Prebble seemingly safe on pole a fierce battle ensued for P2. Oliver Cook was first to break into the 1m14s zone and win a provisional front row placing. As the cars found space and tyres got up to temperature, Will Di Claudio put in a blistering lap in the featherweight Peugeot, pushing Cook down to third. Not to be outdone, Mark Wyatt had the bit between his teeth after a couple of recent uncharacteristic retirements, continuing his trend for impressive quali sessions, pushing WDC back onto the second row to join Cook.
In the all-important class D battle, the thorn in championship contender Mike Good’s side; Alex Kite, was once again squeezing every last drop of momentum out of his Grant Motorsport run Saxo, breaking into the 1m18s bracket, several places clear of Good.
With just four minutes left on the clock, the Mitsubishi of Norris streaked out of the pits to re-join the party. With only enough time to set two flying laps, the double header format left no margin for error whatsoever. With cold tyres, it was a tall order, but that didn’t stop all eyes staring at the TSL screens as Simon approached the line at the end of his first ‘flyer’. In true Norris fashion, he jumped straight up to P2 and cracked on into the next lap, carving through the traffic, much of which was in ‘cooling down’ mode. He needed another good time to secure a decent grid spot for race two, and low and behold, he got it. Not only had he bettered his previous time to take pole in race 1 and P2 in race 2, he’d also crossed the line with just one second left on the clock - meaning he’d earned himself a last-gasp bonus flying lap. Having done enough to secure front row spots in both races, he could have reduced his Colt’s gallop to a canter – but that’s just not the Norris style is it? As he reappeared out of Bobbies it was clear he was giving it full beans again and all eyes returned to the timing screens. Less than 5 minutes earlier Norris was stationary in the pits – by the end of his ‘bonus’ flyer he gone faster again, securing pole for both races.
Norris’ perfect season, and defence of his title, wobbled for the briefest of moments but all the planets soon realigned to put him back on track. Much would depend on the fairing of Norris’ nearest rivals in the other classes as to how much closer he could get to the champion’s trophy by the end of the day.
Mark Wyatt’s miserable season continued as his time served Astra headed back to the paddock at the end of the green flag lap with gearbox issues. All drivers bar one locked eyes on the start lights; rookie Christopher Rawlings instead was waving frantically, signalling an issue. Luckily for him, and all that followed, the eagle eyed CCRC start-line marshals noticed his gesticulations and were quickly on the grid, pushing him backwards and off the circuit via the Avon Bridge gate.
When the last of the slightly delayed red lights went out, pole man Norris was eaten up and spat out by Prebble, Di Claudio, Hutchings and Ryall, dropping him swiftly back to fifth. WDC made his trade mark start, briefly edging his nose ahead of Prebble, before the SEAT’s superior power kicked in to win the race to quarry.
Chaz Ryles and Mike Ritchie tangled at folly, spinning off theatrically, but thankfully both gathered it up to continue.
Not needing to be asked twice, Prebble set about creating a gap, his usually very planted looking SEAT skipping through the fast corners with tyres screaming.
Tony Hutchings began to enjoy his best form of the season thus far, passing WDC to take second, simultaneously Norris made up a place by dispensing with class C leader Geoff Ryall.
Further down the field, Mike Good had the class D lead hanging by a thread, rival Alex Kite all over him and looking in a very strong position to pass. The challenge was mounted with success on lap 7 and from there on Kite continued to pull away.
With WDC and Geoff Ryall staging their class C battle right at the sharp end as usual, further back the rest of the class C campaigners were having a great battle. It was led for much of the race by Ayrton Anderson until his retirement in the closing stages. This left Keepin, Chivers and Ritchie (recovering magnificently from his first lap skirmish) to battle it out, with James Keepin the eventual victor in 11th overall.
Norris meanwhile had caught and passed Di Claudio for third and set about chasing Tony Hutchings. Tony looked to be keeping the Mitsubishi at arm’s length until another cruel mechanical gremlin struck on lap ten. This resulted in Norris inheriting second in acres of space on the road, and with his nearest class B rival a long way back, there was no need to push any further forward.
Elsewhere in class B, Tony Dolley and Kieren Simmons were both pleased to have well behaving cars, the experienced pair having a great scrap throughout the race.
Prebble had the luxury of easing off near the end before taking a comfortable win and the class A victory, with Oliver Cook being his nearest class rival, getting the better of John Barnard to finish 5th.
Norris extended his perfect season, taking second overall and maximum class points. Will Di Claudio kept Geoff Ryall at bay in class C, and this time also took the bragging rights and all-important championship point for the fastest lap.
Alex Kite took the class D silverware comfortably, finishing in 15th. As if seeing Kite run off to the horizon with precious class winning points wasn’t demoralising enough, Good’s mood worsened still. Despite making it across the line and securing second in class, his chequered flag liveried Corsa failed to make it back to the paddock under its own steam.
Norris enjoyed a win-win, not only chalking up maximum points but also stretching his lead thanks to Good’s second in class D. All eyes would be on Good’s grid spot come the second race; if vacant could Norris sew up his second title by the end of the day?
Mike Good took up his grid position for the second race, his tow back to the paddock at the end of the race turning out to be a precautionary measure. Contact with rival Kite in the race had drastically knocked out the Corsa’s geometry, but thankfully it was able to be set back to true during the break. Tony Hutchings and Mark Wyatt had also effected successful repairs, in contrast Ayrton Anderson and Christopher Rawlings were not able to restore their cars to race fitness. Stuart Hignell was also missing as a result of his Saxo sustaining heavy damage in the earlier Hot Hatch race when son Josh was at the wheel.
Will Di Claudio made another blistering start and this time managed to hold the lead into Quarry. Norris made a slightly better start this time, still dropping back but only as far as third.
Prebble took the lead from Di Claudio on the second lap with Norris attempting to do the same and closing in on the Peugeot.
Oliver Cook was under fierce attack from Tony Hutchings in the battle for fourth, ahead of Ryall and Scaramanga who were engaged in their own dogfight.
Private battles were emerging throughout the field; Dolley and Simmons picking up where they had left off in the last race and a great three-way between John Barnard, Mark Wyatt and Kevin Bird.
In the class D bout, Good had started the race well, initially putting a few cars between himself and Kite. As the race settled however, the gap started to come down.
After defending valiantly for five laps, WDC eventually succumbed to Norris’s pressure on lap six. Will had to stay defensive though as the Audi TT of Hutchings was next in line, trying to advance its position.
Similarly, Mike Good’s defensive strategies were exhausted on lap seven, with nemesis Alex Kite once again sliding his Saxo through to lead class D.
Up at the sharp end there was a sense of déjà vu, Prebble comfortably taking the win with Norris more than happy to take the silver medal and yet another class B maximum.
Will Di Claudio had spent much of the race slamming the door in the face of Hutchings in an effort to secure a podium finish. Alas the power of the Audi proved too much and saw Tony achieve his best result of the season in third.
Alex Kite chalked up another comfortable class D win, denying Mike Good crucial championship points.
So we’ve reached the point in the season where the calculators come out and hypothetical scenarios are explored in an attempt to predict what could happen.
In reality, the championship is Simon Thornton Norris’ to lose – pretty much any number of points scored in the season finale will see him lift the trophy for a second consecutive year. On the other hand, if for any reason Norris finds his Mitsubishi side-lined and unable to score anything in the final round, Mike Good could theoretically steal the title at the last minute. He would however need to win his class, secure the class fastest lap and of course Alex Kite will no doubt make that a very difficult task indeed.
Continuing on the ‘Norris nul-points’ theory, should Gary Prebble secure another win and fastest lap in class A that would put him level on points with Norris. Not only would they be level on points but their season record would also be identical; one DNF and seven maximums each. Would this mean there would be no way of deciding the championship and an angle grinder will need to be taken to the trophy?!
All we can safely assume is that between now and the final round, a certain white Mitsubishi will be having every nut, bolt and hose clip meticulously checked, double checked and triple checked to ensure it doesn’t go out with a bang!
Posted on Friday 29 September 2017
CCRC Autumn Classic
at Castle Combe Circuit
6 October 2018