Cooper climax cant stop Fisher!

Felix Fisher and Luke Cooper have spent most of the past two seasons fighting for every inch of track in the Castle Combe Formula Ford Championship, the west country heroes delighting onlookers with their speed and sportsmanship. Having run in the shadow of older brother Josh for so long, Fisher broke through to claim his first title in 2022 in TM Racing’s immaculate Ray GR05. This term, the combo defended their crown over another superb season. Now he and Luke have two championships apiece.

Despite being narrowly beaten in each of the first four rounds, Cooper (Swift SC20) never threw in the towel, but with odds stacked against him – Felix’s 6-2 win advantage coming to the Grand Finals was always going to be tough to counter – battled tirelessly and only conceded the fight in Saturday’s penultimate round which he won by 0.897s. “That’s the championship done, but massive congrats to Felix who has had another great season. Close racing is what Formula Ford is all about.”

“I didn’t need to take any risks today, but it’s good to get the job done,” said Fisher. “Having tried for so long, championships are a bit like buses. You don’t see one for years then get two on the bounce. This year I’ve won one before Max Verstappen! Huge thanks to Tom Margetson and Ringo Hine for the car, which has been perfect, and to my wife who enables me to do this. Also to Luke who is a brilliant driver to race with.”

In the absence of Anglo-Pole Lucas Romanek – who Cooper was banking on splitting him from Fisher to aid his cause – Ben Mitchell seized his second silver of the season [and fifth podium] in the finale to grab third in the final reckoning in Richard Hudson-Evans’ Wayne Poole Racing-run Van Diemen JL16.

Fisher qualified quickest for the fifth time in six double-headers, Romanek having grabbed the honours in July. Felix’s 1m10.641s (94.27mph) best was 0.301s swifter than Cooper’s effort, with Jack Sullivan a tremendous third on his Combe debut in the first of Ammonite Motorsport’s Ray GR18s. Sullivan, 17, from Ohio and Ayrton Houk, 20, from Indiana, who qualified seventh, are the 2023 Team USA Scholarship winners, non-scoring invitees using the event as their second acclimatisation outings in the build-up to the Festival at Brands Hatch and Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone.

Mitchell, Tom Hawkins (Ray GR11) – who landed an excellent third in August – and 1985-’89 pacesetter Sam Street (Swift SC92) split the Americans. Kieran Attwood (Ray GR07), Class B points leader Nathan Ward (SC92) and Class C champion David Cobbold (Van Diemen RF89) completed the top 10. From Sullivan’s 1:11.102 the next five were within 0.716s.

The opening race, round 11, was a cracker as Fisher, Cooper, Mitchell and Sullivan broke away from the pack. Street shot from seventh to fifth on lap one, but once Houk usurped him was back in the clutch of rival Ward until the recovering Hawkins split them again.

In response to Bob Hawkins (Ray GR10) and Tom Radburn (Spectrum 011) tangling on lap three, the safety car was deployed as the leaders exited Camp at full chat onto lap five. This brought high drama. As the Honda Civic – driven by FF stalwart Roly Hamblin – left the pit lane and entered the track the jostling quartet was already passing it as they traversed Folly, with Cooper essaying to overtake Fisher. Spare capacity from able drivers precluded rash over-reaction and they slowed diligently, enabling the emergency vehicle to safely pass and take up station, lights flashing. “It was a bit of a late call, we had no time to slow down,” reflected Cooper.

The caution lasted three laps, leaving just three more until the chequer at 10. Ward zapped Street at the green, and challenged Houk into the Esses on lap nine, after Cooper had pierced Fisher’s defences. Luke held on to win – Felix knowing the title was safely his, thus not retaliating – with Mitchell, Sullivan and Tom Hawkins in the chase. Houk was sixth, but Street repassed Ward on the final lap to take class B by 0.174s and tighten their private title contest although Nathan claimed the point for fastest lap.

Behind them class C was close-fought with Cobbold holding sway over Kane Tilley (RF89) by half a second. Vincent Jay (Ray GR21) and Shaun Macklin (Swift SC92) rounded out the top dozen, the latter running as an invitee having been forced to run an unregistered tyre following a puncture in testing.

With the overall championship decided a round early, the pressure was off Fisher and Cooper, but there was no relenting in the end of term sports day, particularly in class B with scores still to be settled. Fisher shot out of the starting blocks, drawing Cooper and Mitchell with him as chasers Sullivan and Houk worked together in a bid to join them, learning all the while. Street led Ward initially, but their order yo-yoed as the Swift fight intensified.

Cooper passed Fisher at half-distance for another well-deserved victory. Four to six certainly looked like a more balanced table. “What a race. That was awesome. Today has been pretty much perfect,” said Luke on the winners’ car. Mitchell followed him through for second on the penultimate lap, outpointing the absent Romanek for third overall and setting fastest lap of 1:11.602 (93.01mph) at the chequer. Fisher finished in their slipstream, with Sullivan, feisty Hawkins Jr and Houk completing the top six.

Sullivan gave a good account of himself and left a lasting impression. “Coming from America it’s really cool to race here,” he said. “I’d heard a lot about about the place and some of the local drivers being really quick. And they are…”

Street pulled off at Quarry on lap five, unbeknown to Ward who went on to finish seventh. “I was looking in my mirrors for the rest of the race, but had no idea he’d gone,” said Nathan, jubilant at having landed the class B title for the fourth successive year in the Golden Bull SC92 Kevin Mills built for him during 2020’s lockdown. Attwood – whose six second track limits penalty cost him two places – Cobbold and Jay completed the top 10, pursued by Tilley and Hawkins Sr. Like Bob’s, Radburn car was repaired between races. He beat Stephen Billett to be first Spectrum home.



Sturges champion by one point

The battle between Castle Combe GT Championship class winners Jamie Sturges (Ramair Filters VW Golf TCR) and Alan Hamilton (Fleurtations Westfield Race Aero) for overall honours went to the wire at the seasonal finale. Sturges’ momentum over a perfect campaign – during which he twice featured on the overall podium in august company – saw the combo prevail by a single point and land the title for the second time. Series stalwart Dylan Popovic (Ginetta-Chevrolet G50) finished a fine third overall, ahead of Doug Watson (Ferrari 488 Challenge) who won the five races he finished.

There was a different look to the double-header’s entry. A clap of automotive thunder heralded the debut of a mighty newcomer, the Dodge Viper Competition of 23-year-old Angus Fender. Shrink-wrapped around an 8.4-litre V10 engine, the veteran of Dutch and Belgian Supercar races hadn’t turned a wheel in anger in 14 months, but GT Cup racer Fender tamed it superbly, winning both races from pole.

With Kevin and Charlie Bird racing their Porsche 991.1 Carrera Cup car at Spa, Doug Watson’s svelte yellow 3.9-litre V8-engined Ferrari turbocar looked favourite, although Kevin Butcher’s 1m07.205s (99.10mph) lap in August Bank Holiday Monday’s Combe Countdown opener with his 5.2-litre Lamborghini Huracan Evo GT3 was the quickest race lap of the summer.

Watson fell during qualifying, having managed only 1:08.476 and fourth when a dry pole time has been low ‘sevens’ all year. Indeed his best was May’s 1:07.027 when he was still learning the 3.9-litre V8 turbocar. “Something didn’t feel quite right,” said Doug. “After the session we found all five left rear wheel drive pegs broken, but the nut did its job. Without a spare hub we were out.”

Fender’s stout 1:07.327 (98.92mph) effort took pole, but another newcomer, Tom Walpole ran him close with 1:07.481 in the family Ariel Atom. Butcher cut 1:07.556, this with 0.229s blanketing the top trio another close race looked on the cards. Dylan Popovic was a long way shy of his 1:07.396 personal best with the hulking purple Ginetta V8, his 1:08.756 shadowed by Sturges’ 1:08.828 in his wonderful two-litre front-wheel-drive VW.

Seventh overall, Reuben Taylor’s Vauxhall-powered Peugeot 206 super silhouette led Hamilton by six places in class B, the latter battling to overcome problems, notably leaking tyre valves and a seeping left halfshaft seal which manifested itself as white smoke while cornering. Alan was but 1.4s quicker than his other class rival, Leo Meakin’s 130bhp Ginetta G40, proudly wearing its new Jolly Nice Chaps Racing stickers – surely worth a few tenths a lap?

Between Taylor and title protagonist Hamilton sat the sonorous BMWs of Gavin Dunn (M3) and Tim Mogridge (M4 GT4), themselves split by the Porsches of Richard Williams (997 GT3 Cup) and Zoe Kyle-Henney (Cayman). Williams’ team mate Adrian Crawford’s Boxster was also ahead of Hamilton. Veteran Steve Coen completed the pack in his 150bhp Lotus Elise, but having broken a long layoff it’s no secret that the 1970s’ F3 racer is building a 550bhp Exige to move forward next season.

From the rolling start in Race 1 Fender rumbled the Viper through Folly and up Avon Rise ahead of Butcher, who maintained contact for a few laps before fading. The former Super Touring racer remained second while Popovic staved off Sturges. Jamie remained fourth until Walpole – only 11th at the end  of the opening lap – galloped past on the penultimate circuit.

Taylor was fourth, ahead of Sturges, after a strong start, but the charging Hamilton annexed the class B lead on lap three before Reuben headed for the pits. Mogridge, Williams, Dunn and Kyle-Henney finished a lap down on the top six. Crawford and Meakin – doubtless cock-a-hoop by getting into the 18s with the little grey Ginetta – and Coen followed them in.

Butcher headed for home before Race 2, reducing Fender’s opposition. Angus built a good lead before losing four seconds lapping  traffic on lap seven. Nonetheless, he improved his best race lap to 1:07.619s (98.49mph). Walpole and Popovic chased hard, Dylan going “as quick as the car would allow me to go” in cutting a very solid 1:07.735.

He finished 41 seconds clear of Sturges, whose maximum points confirmed him as champion. “I’m just the loose nut behind the wheel, but it’s a team effort, with the guys at Zest Race Engineering looking after the car. For it to come down to the last few laps of the season was brilliant,” said the ace Golfer, who has some aces up his sleeve for 2024.

It wasn’t for lack of trying by rival Hamilton, who clawed his way back past Taylor’s rejuvenated machine to land fifth in the race, still on the lead lap, and another class win. Alan was back in the mid-10s again with wisps of smoke trailing behind the blue Westfield.

Williams, Dunn, Mogridge and Kyle-Henney completed 17 laps, finishing ahead of Crawford, Meakin and Coen’s troubled Lotus.



Keepin up appearances in MGs

With the Saloon Car championship crown securely perched on Mike Good’s head since August Bank Holiday Monday, outgoing titlist Adam Prebble’s passage to another two race victories aided by August winner Rob Ellick’s dramas, and Mark Wyatt unhindered in the two-litre division, the focal point of the final double-header was the enthralling Class C struggle between MG ZR pedallers James Keepin, James Blake and Lee Waterman.

Keepin, the overall champion of 2021, held a one point advantage over Blake into rounds 11 and 12, with Waterman only four off the lead, thus all to fight for. First blood was claimed by Keepin, whose 1m17.033s (86.45mph) divisional pole time was good enough for eighth overall, with invitee Robert Watson – second time out in his BMW M3 – a buffer to Blake and Waterman and barely half a second splitting the trio. The combatants’ second best times, determining the later grid, were even tighter, pitching them together, separated by 0.311s, clear of the 3.2-litre Beemer.

The first race favoured Keepin whose maroon Miles Valeting car had Blake’s plain yellow on its tail until clutch slave cylinder failure forced the latter’s retirement. Waterman subsequently wriggled his silver Willand Service Centre car past Watson’s class B machine to finish 0.404s shy of Keepin, with Matt Harvey (ZR) picking up third in C. Blake returned for the second bout, in which Keepin just maintained the uppermost hand, repelling Waterman – who cut best lap in 1:17.016s (86.47mph) – by 0.260s. Their tussle was watched from close quarters by buddy Blake, who set fastest lap.

Out front P2 qualifier Ellick’s TSR Audi TT turbo challenge was unzipped by a jumped start in race one – for which he received a 10 second penalty which bumped him to third behind Harrison Chamberlain’s VW Golf GTI turbo – and an intermittent misfire in its sequel. But both Prebble and Ellick were buoyed by exceptionally quick qualifying times.

“At last I’ve found the missing second, with a change of tyres,” said Prebble, whose pole mark of 1m10.325s (94.70mph) was a mighty 0.313s inside his own record set in May 2022. It pipped Ellick’s earlier target by 0.021s, with Chamberlain also in the 10s. Dave Spiller (Audi TT turbo) sat fourth, in the 12s, way clear of Jack Boulton (VW Golf GTi turbo) and Wyatt, who had almost 1.3s in hand over class rival Corey Webber (Renault Clio).

The absence of Simon Thornton-Norris’ 1.4-litre Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart turbocar – which had left him for dust on a belated seasonal debut in August – took the pressure off runaway class B points leader Wyatt, who thus claimed the overall runner-up spot in his naturally-aspirated Astra, two points short of Good. Prebble finished third overall, a point clear of Keepin, with classmates Blake and Waterman remarkably only five points behind in joint fifth overall and Ellick sixth.

Good’s perfect score was kyboshed when a driveshaft snapped on his Rotex Racing Vauxhall Corsa leaving the line at the first start on Saturday. The Paignton driver parked by the pit exit and slotted a fresh shaft in for the seasonal finale in which normal service was resumed. Dad Roger (Ford Fiesta) was the only D driver left standing in the opener after Tim Swift trailered his Peugeot 106 in the morning.



Sam quickest into winning Stride

Sam Stride’s promising pole position at August Bank Holiday Monday’s Combe Countdown event served notice of the Motul Hot Hatch series returnee’s  intent, but his raucous Silverlake automotive recycling Honda Civic let him down in the opening race. The combo returned stronger, Sam recording a stunning 1m13.203s (90.98mph) lap – the season’s quickest – for the Grand Finals’ singleton race and stormed to an unchallenged victory.

Twenty six competitors arrived for the finale, from whom Ryall – with three second place finishes on his slate this season – emerged as Stride’s closest challenger, albeit 1.515s adrift, with 0.262s in hand over Goverd and 0.41s splitting the next quartet. The field was reduced to 23 when Mark Williams withdrew his Clio after qualifying [his luck having not improved since the Autumn Classic when his Formula Junior De Tomaso’s gearbox broke first time out during the preliminaries], Scott Hughes scratched his 106 and Nathan Sutton’s MG ZR wilted in the opening Saloon contest.

Having already seen his cousin Adam Prebble score the first of two Saloon wins on the day, Stride was first away as the red start lights went out and clearly in no mood to hang around. His 1.9 second advantage over Geoff Ryall (Peugeot 106 GTi), quintuple 2023 race winner Shaun Goverd (Citroen AX), the battling Honda Civics of Jordan Hurman and Tony Cooper, and Shaun Deacon (106 GTi) at the end of the opening lap grew to 5.2s by the end of lap four when the Honda safety car was summoned briefly, with Dean Clayton’s VW Golf GTi Mk2 apparently stranded awkwardly at Tower.

This hiatus reunited the pack, but Stride was on imperious form and plumped out a 6.6s cushion with fastest lap of 1:13.474s (90.64mph) inside four circuits. Goverd – his yellow peril none the worse for its August practice prang, following surgery from Will di Claudio’s team – usurped Ryall for second on lap 8 and Cooper did similarly a couple of laps later, having demoted Hurman’s FD2R. Ryall soon slipped behind ‘The Hurmanator’ and Deacon’s squabble, and was slowing when his Pug shed its right rear wheel.

Jason Stack, whose red Renault Clio plummeted from P6 on the grid to 16th on the first lap, recovered well, regaining his start position ahead of sparring partner Jonathan Fish in his similar car, although Hurman bagged class A honours. Julian Fisher in the quickest Ford Fiesta was eighth, ahead of Tim Fooks-Bale who brought his Clio 172 up smartly from 15th on the grid.

Youngsters George Walker and Olly Kingston gridded 12th and 13th in their BMW Mini Cooper Ss and proceeded to enjoy a fine joust with Gary Franks a distance behind them in his Driven Ohm Racing example. Kingston set the pace, but far from being daunted when Walker’s quicker exit from Camp enabled him to squeeze back ahead at Folly in the closing stages, calmly repassed him audaciously at the Esses. In addition to landing a class-winning 10th, Olly was deservedly named Driver of the Day by the commentary team.



Kirkpatrick, Samways crowned

Overseen by series founder RodgerTello, the CCRC-badged Mighty Minis Championships came home to Castle Combe to finish their season with both divisions still open. Neven Kirkpatrick completed the defence of his title in the 105bhp Super Mighty division in the first of two races. With first past the chequer Steve Rideout bumped to fifth by a 10 second jumped start penalty, Neven was promoted to second, 0.326s behind brother David. Rideout won the sequel by a similar margin over the champion and his brother.

The 80bhp Mighty class accounted for two-thirds of the field, but that title race was not resolved until the finale. Second in the table on arrival, Ben Butler was in a class of his own, winning both bouts from the front. Suzy Inch and Paul Ogborn jostled to finish 2-3 and 3-2 respectively, but points for fourth and fifth were sufficient for Olly Samways – steering clear of trouble having topped the qualifying order – to clinch the crown.