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West Country Cracker - FF1600 Round 5

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The Classic Sports Car Club meeting used to be a regular fixture at Castle Combe, but recent calendar clashes has meant that they’ve been missing from the Castle Combe racing calendar for three years.  Delighted to be back, the club filled the paddock to capacity with a mouth-watering collection of undisputed ‘classics’ of all ages.  The two-day programme entitled the ‘West Country Cracker’ would showcase series for saloon, sports and GT cars from the Swinging Sixties (a championship that required two grids to meet demand) right up to the present day with their ‘New Millennium’ series. The Jaguar Enthusiast’s club were also invited guests for the weekend, bringing their well supported one-make Saloon and GT Championship.  Of the Castle Combe Championships, the Formula Fords were slated to join the visitors on the Saturday while the Saloons and GTs would take to the track on the Sunday. 

Combe in August is often a damp place to be and true to form, some of the wet stuff was forecast for the Saturday afternoon.  Thankfully though, the forecasters had predicted a nice dry Sunday.    

 Castle Combe FF1600 Championship iaw Wiltshire College

Round 5 - Qualifying

The Formula Ford Championship was the sole flag bearer for CCRC on day one of the two-day CSCC weekend meeting.  While grid numbers have been slightly down this season, entries for round 5 were the most disappointing to date, with just 13 cars taking to the circuit for qualifying. 

The four Kevin Mills Racing regulars led the procession in formation as per usual and in the early stages occupied the corresponding positions on the TSL timing screens.  Seasoned campaigner Mike Moyers led the charge with rookie Michael Eastwell impressively keeping ahead of his more experienced teammates Nathan Ward and Roger Orgee. 

The first to gate-crash the KMR party was Josh Fisher, setting a lap good enough to split the leading pair.  Clearly having got his Wayne Poole Racing Van Diemen into its stride, Fisher carried his momentum into the next lap resulting in a new fastest lap.  Luke Cooper hitched a ride in Fisher’s slipstream which clearly worked, following him across the line and setting the second fastest time.  Moyers replied immediately, launching his Spectrum into full battle mode, quickly dispensing with Cooper and building momentum to challenge for pole in the remaining 5 minutes of the session. 

Any chance of seeing a further re-shuffling of the pack diminished with the appearance of the red flags, as a result of Andrew Higginbottom’s Van Diemen taking a trip to the tyre wall on the south side of the circuit.  The busy timetable meant that this brought a premature end to the session, with Josh Fisher’s best time earning him pole position.  Moyers would have been disappointed not to have had a chance to challenge for the top spot, but equally glad that he managed to relegate Cooper to third before the red flags appeared. 

Nathan Ward would join Cooper on the second row ahead of Michael Eastwell and Rob Hall on row 3.  The curtailed session seemed to hurt Roger Orgee the most, only managing a time good enough for P7, alongside the Swift of Thomas Cappezzone.

Andrew Higginbottom secured the best class C time before his incident so fingers crossed he and his Van Diemen could be restored to match fitness in time to take up his P9 grid position. 

Richard Morris just got the better of rival Paul Barnes in class B, ahead of the class C pairing of Bracegirdle and Phillips who brought up the rear.

 

Castle Combe FF1600 Championship iaw Wiltshire College

Round 5 – Race

The weather forecasters had once again got it spectacularly, yet advantageously wrong.  The schedule was running ahead yet the rain clouds that were expected to be covering the circuit were nowhere to be seen, replaced by blue skies, cotton wool clouds and glorious sunshine.

The compact grid formed, surprisingly in the case of Andrew Higginbottom, with no gaps.  As Andrew was being given a clean bill of health by the circuit medical team, the Wayne Poole Racing team were simultaneously brokering a deal with Pete Diccox for Andrew to ‘borrow’ his recently retired Van Diemen. 

Moyers and Cooper reacted quickest to the red lights extinguishing, Moyers being rewarded with the lead into quarry while conversely, Cooper was unable to capitalise on his demon start as Fisher defended successfully.  What followed over the next few laps was a quintessential demonstration of what is still so thrilling about Formula Ford racing.  By the end of the third lap, just 1.5 seconds separated the first eight cars, all engaged in simultaneous attack and defence strategies. 

Moyers had the lead hanging by the finest of threads, Fisher swarming all over the Spectrum’s gearbox.  Cooper was applying equal pressure to Fisher whilst having a mirror full of Roger Orgee who’d got his new-this-season Ray Racing chassis looking as racy as any time so far this year.  Ward and Eastwell followed in equally close contention, the dogfight resembling something from a Hollywood biopic of the battle of Britain.  While we’re no stranger to seeing Formula Fords racing in such close proximity, somehow you just got the feeling that this many cars, running so close together couldn’t be sustainable.  Something had to give, and on lap 4, it inevitably did. 

The leaders climbed Avon rise all abreast and as we have seen so many times, when too many cars try to go into Quarry at the same time, they rarely all make it out the other side intact.  Moyers took the defensive inside line and entered a ‘last of the late brakers’ stand-off with Fisher. Braking hard on the crest of the rise, the rear wheels of Moyers Spectrum briefly locked, sending him spinning across Fisher’s path and into the new shock absorbing barriers.  Fisher’s necessary evasive action resulted in him losing the lead he had momentarily inherited, finding himself back in 6th by the time he got his Van Diemen all gathered up. 

Luke Cooper was the grateful profiteer of the incident, taking the lead ahead of Nathan Ward who’d also taking advantage of the drama by passing Orgee.  The yellow flags were waved being waved initially on the following lap which were quickly replaced by red ones, the race being stopped as the Moyers stricken Spectrum had taken its anger out on the barriers by setting them alight!

The grid reformed in their pre-stoppage positions, with the delay sufficient to require a new green flag lap before restarting for what would now be a seven-lap sprint. 

Nathan Ward’s eagerness to make the most of his newly acquired front row position caused him to creep prematurely, then reprimand himself, losing out immediately and dropping to 4th by the end of the lap.  Cooper meanwhile made a textbook start to maintain his lead, with both Orgee and Fisher in hot pursuit, Fisher having already started to make up places.

Orgee emerged in the lead at the end of the second lap, skilfully holding a crowd pleasing drift around Camp corner.  The slight loss of forward momentum however allowed Fisher to get the better run, taking the lead on the third tour of the circuit. Fisher was able to put some fresh air between his gearbox and the reigning champion in chase. 

Nathan Ward’s restart misfortunes were redressed with 3rd place as Luke Coopers Swift slowed suddenly on the climb up Avon Rise, dropping back through the order and retiring to the pits at the end of the lap.   The remaining few laps passed without further incident, Fisher taking his fourth win of the season comfortably. 

After a disappointing qualifying, Orgee was delighted to end the day with the silver medal, clearly getting to grips with his new machine in race trim.  KMR teammate Nathan Ward was equally chuffed with his podium, confirmation that his early season run of bad luck was now well and truly behind him. 

Michael Eastwell continued to impress in his rookie season, finishing fourth ahead of the much more experienced Rob Hall. 

Steve Bracegirdle took class C honours, just beating Higginbottom in the Wayne Poole Racing T car.  A retirement for Richard Morris meant that Paul Barnes took the class B win unchallenged.

Moyers first DNF of the season has stirred the pot considerably as far as the overall championship is concerned.  Fisher carried a slender lead into this round but now has the big advantage of ‘a game in hand’ on Moyers.  Mike’s ‘drop score’ round has been decided by fate meaning that he really needs to see chequered flags in the last three rounds.  Fisher still carries his joker card in his back pocket, and as things stand at the moment, he’d be dropping his third-place finish from round two, with all his other results being 23 point maximums.  With three rounds left it is a bit early to be thinking about it, but you can’t help considering the possibility of Fisher taking the championship with the racing equivalent of a snooker 147 or a bowling 300 point ‘perfect game’?!

Posted by Neil Thomas on Thursday 7 September 2017

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