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West Country Cracker - Saloon Car Championship 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 Saloon Car Championship iaw National Windscreens

Round 5 - Qualifying

The colourful crocodile never looked better under the glorious August sunshine, which if the forecasters are to be believed, may not still be around come race o’clock.

Despite Gary Prebble joining the session in the middle of the pack, he still found enough track space to set the pace early in the session.  Mark Wyatt’s normally bomb proof Astra perished a matter of yards into the last race but the Interceptor team must have done a fine restoration job in the interim, clearly finding some extra oomph as Wyatt was lapping in P2 position.  The class C front runners Will Di Claudio and Geoff Ryall were up to their usual giant killing antics, running in the top 5 and bettering several class A entrants including Dave Scaramanga, Kevin Bird and Oliver Cook.  Further down the timesheets, class D leader and championship contender Mike Good was shown a clean pair of heels by Alex Kite this time out on his first qualifying lap.  He may not be able to build on the advantage though, as just one lap later, his smoky Citroen Saxo was heading for the pits.

As the session entered its latter stages, Prebble was sat in the pits having seemingly done enough to secure pole.  Simon Thornton-Norris had until this point not got his Colt up to full speed but with just four minutes of the session remaining put in a storming lap of 1:13:118 to steal prime position.  The news on the pitwall caused a flurry of activity in the Prebble camp, the SEAT closing its door and frantically re-joining the circuit.  Despite having only enough time for two further attempts to regain pole and no time to wait for an optimum track position, Prebble did manage to improve on his previous best, Norris’ time however could not be conquered.

Mark Wyatt retained P3 and would line up alongside WDC on the second row.  Oliver Cook had in the meantime just squeaked ahead of Geoff Ryall, who sat in front of the row 4 class A pairing of Kevin Bird and Dave Scaramanga. 

Castle Combe Saloon Car Championship iaw National Windscreens

Round 5 - Race

None of the forecasted rain had thus far materialised, meaning a dry track for the saloons.  The fourth row of the grid was devoid of both of its intended occupants;  Kevin Bird’s Nissan had given up the ghost in the earlier CSCC Modern Classics race while in the hands of son Charles.  Dave Scaramanga should have also been lining up on the 4th row, but head gasket failure in qualifying saw the Scirocco packed up for an early bath.

The red lights extinguished very quickly which caught a few napping but not Gary Prebble, his lightning start noticeably superior to that of the pole sitter.  Di Claudio too got the nose of his Peugeot ahead of Norris’s Colt but by the time Quarry arrived, the Mitsubishi’s power advantage had allowed him to hang on to second.  Mark Wyatt’s start didn’t go to plan either, losing places immediately, dropping back to 5th.  The safety car was called following the demise of Ayrton Anderson’s Citroen which caught a few by surprise, with lock ups and a few unintentional place swappings under yellow flags. 

Prebble controlled the restart perfectly and pulled a gap on Norris, although it is common for the Colt to take a few laps to reach its full race pace. Cook emerged ahead of Di Claudio but the pass had taken place under yellow flags so Oliver inherited a 5 second penalty.  On the eighth lap, a very sudden red flag appeared, with the leading pack brought to an abrupt halt on the startline.  Medical support and recovery vehicles were scrambled, dashing to the aid of Nigel Marsh whose Mini had rolled dramatically into the infield at Quarry in a cloud of thick smoke.  Cars were halted at various points of the circuit and at the time of the stoppage, the leaders were already mingling with back markers. 

The grid was reformed which involved some long-distance reversing for the back markers.  The abandoned part one of the race had also claimed a huge number of victims which would take no further part in the race, with retirements for no less than 9 cars.

When the race got back underway, Oliver Cook stalled on the restart leaving everyone holding their breath as the following cars took last minute evasive action.  Unaware of the drama behind, the leading pack reshuffled, with Di Claudio briefly drawing level with Prebble while Norris fell back behind Geoff Ryall who had another storming start. 

Prebble soon regained the lead and Norris began making amends for his poor start, taking just a lap to climb back up to second.  A great battle for fifth was forming between Haydn King and Kieren Simmons, ahead of James Keepin and Mike Good who were both (despite Good’s Corsa smoking) punching well above their weight given the dry conditions. 

Upfront, Norris’s Mitsubishi was, as seems a unique character, getting steadily quicker and the laps counted down, closing the gap to Prebble and making an unsuccessful challenge on the final lap.  Prebble had none of it however and shut the door to take the win. 

Norris’ attempts to reel in the leader were however deemed ‘not quite cricket’ by the clerk of the course.  An initial 5 second penalty was followed up by a further 10 second penalty which relegated Simon to fourth.  Fortunately for Norris, Mark Wyatt had retired in the first attempt at the race, meaning Norris was still able to take maximum points as far as the championship was concerned.

Di Claudio was promoted to second, keeping rival Ryall at bay in the process who took the final podium step.

A delighted Haydn King crossed the line punching the air for his 5th place after a miserable season thus far, followed by an equally delighted James Keepin, the fastest of the MGZRs. Mike Good’s fault causing the smoke had inevitably started to affect his performance, luckily for him, nearest rival Alex Kite had already retired.  Good was going backwards throughout the final lap but just managed to cross the line before falling behind Chris Hignell, the next class D campaigner. 

Interestingly and a something of a first while he had his work cut out for him to take the overall win, Gary Prebble was unchallenged for class points, being the sole class A finisher of the race!

Despite his corner cutting, Simon Thornton Norris extended his lead at the top and looks in good shape to defend his 2016 title.  Mike Good sits in second place just four points behind the leader with his class D lead, Alex’s Kite’s DNF causing him to trail by 15 points.

Geoff Ryall’s incredible consistency and strong finishes sees him the deserving leader of class C, 5 points ahead of WDC thanks to his DNF in the previous round. 

Prebble and Norris seem to have classes A & B well under control respectively.  The second retirement in a row for Mark Wyatt has allowed Kieren Simmons to assume second place in class B while Dave Scaramanga holds onto the corresponding spot in class A, thanks to his nearest rivals suffering similar reliability issues.

The notorious August Bank Holiday means there is no guarantee that the temperatures will heat up – but you can be sure the action in the saloon car championship certainly will!

Posted by Neil Thomas on Thursday 7 September 2017

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4 March 2018

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