At the end of its 70th Anniversary year – an extraordinary one torpedoed by the global coronavirus pandemic – Castle Combe Circuit deserved a break. The ninth Autumn Classic event was doubled in size and promised a bumper crop of Vintage, Historic and Classic car racing in front of a restricted audience and a good turn-out of car clubs on October 3-4. Yet the fickle British climate wiped out the Sunday, more 48 hours of solid rain waterlogging the run-off area between the Esses and Old Paddock, making racing untenable. In what CCRC chairman Ken Davies charitably described as “a game of two halves,” Saturday’s programme had delivered strongly, however. Its GT & Sports Car Cup finale was among the hardest-fought, and best, races in the venue’s history.
Combe’s seventh 90-minute enduro – circuit historian Pete Stowe has recorded a pair of two-hour car jousts and a six-hour motorcycle marathon – was sensational throughout. Thirty three Pre-’1966 cars, all but two GTs, set off in a ball of spray from a rolling start at 1601 and all but two (both out with mechanical failures inside the first five laps) were classified as finishers when the chequered flag fell. But for a three-minute safety car interlude for the retrieval of an exhaust pipe at Bobbies it was flat out all the way. A superb advert for driving standards and mutual respect within husband-and-wife Flavien Marcais and Vanessa Finburgh’s invitation series, founded in 2008.
In a race in which car owners are mandated to drive for at least 50 per cent of the duration, with a maximum single stint of 40 minutes, Lotus Elan crew Andrew Haddon/Andy Wolfe – both Spa Six Hours winners – beat the Jaguar E-type of Scots Gregor Fisken and 2014 Sebring 12 Hours victor Marino Franchitti by just over 10 seconds. Fantastically, the talented amateurs’ bookend dices were as vital as Wolfe’s mighty mid-race duel with Franchitti in the middle phase.
Pole setter Miles Griffiths set the pace in John Clark’s semi-lightweight GT4 E-type, pursued by Fisken’s earlier GT3 version and Haddon, who displaced Bristolian Mark Williams’ AC Cobra. Ben Adams also passed the Anglo-American brute in his ex-Dickie Le Strange Metcalfe Lola-Climax Mk1 (raced at Combe in ’66) before the first of two mandatory stops.
Griffiths ran 25 laps – one more than Haddon and Fisken – before Clark took over and the dynamic changed. Wolfe and Franchitti ousted the blue Jag inside three laps and stayed aboard for 35 minutes, during which Marino caught Andy who had saved a massive moment on reflexes when he aquaplaned through Old Paddock. For six magical laps they battled it out, pitting together after the full course yellow, relaying Andrew and Gregor who continued their scrap.
Behind the leaders, Jeremy Welch hurled Dutchman Christiaen van Lanschot’s Ecurie Chiltern Le Mans Austin-Healey 3000 ‘DD300’ – a car resurrected by subsequent long-term owner John Chatham, watching from the sidelines – back from midfield to third. Pre-chicane outright lap record holder Nigel Greensall was also flying in David Gooding’s GT3 E-type and growled ahead as van Lanschot headed out for the dash to the finish. Following Lola preparer Nick Finburgh’s turn, Adams and Griffiths passed them to regain third and fourth as Gooding launched his final salvo.
Out front Fisken got a bit too close to Haddon, inadvertently tapping the Elan as they scythed through a large gaggle of lapped cars. When Gregor got up alongside a Cobra at the Esses he ran out of road ceding the corner and spun. That gave Haddon the 10 seconds’ breathing space he needed to secure a memorable victory. He and Wolfe were ecstatic. “The race had a great Pro-Ammy feel to it. That scrap with Marino was awesome,” grinned Andy, who had not raced at Combe for more than 30 years, in his Slick 50 saloon days with a VW Golf GTi.
Seven seconds behind Fisken, Griffiths – obliged to remain stationary for an additional 30 seconds [90 in total] as a non-car owner – brought Clark’s Jag home third, with fastest lap, five seconds clear of Adams, drenched in his open machine. A lap down, Gooding claimed a fine fifth, with the first big Healey – Bristolian class rivals Chris Clarkson/David Smithies’ – homing in. Van Lanschot just held off Mike Grant Peterkin/Patrick Blaleney Edwards’s 3000 by 0.6s. Williams, son of circuit legend Ted, faded to ninth in what was most definitely not snake-charming weather.
GT2 gold went to Simon Orebi Gann/Calum Lockie (ex-Gordon Spice Morgan Plus 4 SLR) by a lap from Bristol husband-and-wife Mike Thorne/Sarah Bennett-Baggs who did a stellar job in their 1955 Healey 100M, the oldest car in the race. Third in the two-litre category was the humble BMC B series-engined TVR Grantura of Joe ‘Giuseppe’ Ward and engine builder Chris Conoley, punching above its weight as ever.
The sweet aroma of methanol fuel pervaded the assembly area as 18 500cc Formula 3 cars of the 1950s, representing 10 chassis marques and three engine manufacturers, prepared to head out for the rolling start in the distant wheeltracks of period stars Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Don Parker and Jim Russell. Missing from their number, alas, was 2016 victor Peter de la Roche who had qualified his Smith Buckler on pole position, only for its JAP motor’s big end bearing to fail as it was run up.
Fellow Cheshire man Mike Fowler, another wet weather specialist, took up the cudgels in his Cooper-Norton Mk5, but was quickly overcome by Norfolk’s George Shackleton in his younger Mk11. Shackleton looked to have the race won when a transmission problem left him with only top gear, hardly ideal, thus he peeled forlornly into the pits and watched the action unfold with his father Robin from the signalling wall.
Nobody could catch Fowler, but the struggle for the other podium places intensified behind Simon Frost, recovering from a spin at the Esses during an early skirmish with Nigel Challis (Cooper Mk8), jostled his forward-control Martin back into second. Challis was defending third when a tag from Stuart Wright, beginning to extend a fresh engine in his Canadian import Cooper Mk11, sent him gyrating at the Esses. Roy Hunt (Martin) just held off the recovering Challis to claim fourth.
Sixth was category newcomer Richard Fuller, finding his Cooper Mk8 a different proposition to the F3000 Lola-Cosworth T87/50 he raced in Combe’s 1989 BRSCC Open Championship closer, and his subsequent two-litre Taydec sportscar. Chris Wilson’s sister Mk8, wrapped in a Guernsey flag, was next home, chased by Cumbrian race debutant William Irving (Mk8), the first JAP-engined finisher, who held off Mike Wood’s early Iota.
The field for the 500OA’s only race of the year also embraced JB Jones’ French Cousy No2 (with Triumph twin rather than original Violet power), Andy Raynor’s JBS, Stephanie Wilton’s Mackson, Simon Dedman’s immaculately restored Cooper Mk10, Duncan Rabagliati’s Comet, Charles Reynolds’ Kieft CK53, Richard Kelly’s minute Whitfill Special and Xavier Kingsland’s Erskine Staride, retired when 2017’s second place finisher’s spectacles steamed-up!
As if to allay his father’s F3 disappointment, Peter de la Roche drove a mighty race in Pat Barford’s Lola Mk3 to beat Lotus-mounted Clive Richards (22) and category maestro Sam Wilson (in Simon Diffey’s second-string 20) in the Historic Formula Junior feature. Stuart Roach, who invariably flies in the wet, flung his front-engined Alexis Mk2 to fourth, ahead of Diffey’s Veedol Lotus 20/22 – in which future Lotus F1 team manger Peter Warr won a period race at the Nurburgring.
Single-seater debutant Tim Child did a super job to place sixth in the Cooper T56 which Swedish-born Curt Lincoln raced in his adopted Finland in ’62. Lincoln’s daughter Nina married ill-starred 1970 F1 champion Jochen Rindt incidentally. Behind Child, Nic Carlton-Smith won class C2 in his Kieft, finishing just ahead of the closely-matched Nick Taylor (Elva-BMC 100) and Alex Morton (Condor) who were runners-up to class B2 standout Roach among the ‘pullers.’
Last year’s Freddie Giles Memorial Trophy Frazer Nash race was a hoot thus word spread and even more of Archie FN’s disciples, and others in chain-driven GN [Godfrey Nash] bolides of the 1920s and ’30s turned out on AFN Ltd’s hallowed old playground, which the controlling Aldington family ran in the 1960s. Patrick Blakeney-Edwards and Eddie Williams had fallen within a couple of laps – to jammed gear linkage and blown head gasket respectively – leaving swashbuckling youngster Tom Waterfield to win in exuberant style aboard stepfather Simon Blakeney-Edwards’ 1500cc FN Super Sports model. His best lap of 1m36.840s (67.61mph) was 1.5s better than anybody else’s.
Longstone Tyres proprietor Dougal Cawley and Tom Walker chased as hard as they dared in their rorty 3.2-litre Ford Model A-powered GNs, Walker only just managing to repel David Wylie (Super Sports) on the run to the chequer. Jo Blakeney-Edwards, Waterfield’s mother, finished a strong fifth in her SS having overtaken and then shaken off Jeremy Brewster in the FN Geoghegan Special. The only post-war Nash in the 30-car pack, Philip Champion’s gorgeous two-litre Mille Miglia sportscar of the 1950s, finished seventh.
The Buncombe family from Weston-Super-Mare on the north Somerset coast have a long history of success at Castle Combe – where John raced HRG, Healey-Silverstone and Jaguar XK120 in the ’50s and son Jonathan was a regular tin-top winner who progressed to the international stage, and starred in Super Saloon races in the controversial Group 6 Chevron-based ‘Chimp’ – but his lad, third generation racer, Alex had not competed at the venue until the Jaguar Enthusiasts’ Club’s Norman Dewis Memorial Trophy Pre-’66 event.
Racing an historic car for the first time in five seasons, 2014 HSCC Autosport Three Hours winner Buncombe dominated in an E-type Fixed Head Coupe built by Valley Motor Sport for his Nissan GT team boss Bob Neville, an MGB GT V8 modsports racer in the 1970s. On pole by seven seconds, Alex’s class was evident, despite serious opposition in the run-up to William Lyons’ most iconic sports car’s 60th anniversary in 2021. Buncombe ‘doubled’ the field with two tours to spare, his best lap of 1:25.996s equating to 77.44mph in the aerodyne whose stunning white coachwork accentuated Malcolm Sayer’s design.
The quickest of the saloons led the chase, fast-starting Essex veteran John Young driving Nigel Webb’s car – raced for Tommy Sopwith’s Equipe Endeavour by Jaguar’s Cheltenham-based ’55 and ’57 Le Mans winner Ivor Bueb in its heyday – beautifully to outdistance Andrew Keith-Lucas’ XK150S. Mark Russell (E-type roadster), Geoff Ottley’s well-raced hooded XK120 and Tom Barclay’s Mk1 rounded out the top six. Notable retirements included Historic F1 and F2 racer Mike Wrigley’s E-type FHC and Paul Pochciol’s C-type, redolent of the ’51 and ’53 LM victors.
The Mini Spares-supported Dunlop National Mini Challenges had subscribed to double-headers, with a race each day for the 50-year-old Se7en and younger Miglia categories. The seemingly endless inclemency of the weather gods allowed them only Saturday’s outing, however. The precipitation finally ceased late on Sunday afternoon, by which time the paddock was long empty and drivers refocused on Thruxton’s deciders.
Andrew Jordan was the man to beat among the 1275cc Miglias, the 2013 British Touring Car Champion adding to his Brands Hatch win in his JRT car. Previous Mini Se7en and Miglia champion Kane Astin kept him on his toes for much of the way. Rupert Deeth, recovering from a spin at Old Paddock, finished third ahead of triple crown aspirant and points leader Aaron Smith. Dan Lewis beat Rob Davis by a whisker in the invitation Libre class, closing the gap atop the table.
Another BTCC veteran, Jeff Smith, emerged atop the 1000cc Mini Se7en brigade. The 2019 champ denied points leader Spencer Wanstall after a tap sent the latter spinning at the Esses. With four maximum scores on the bounce Smith trails Wanstall by two points going to Thruxton. The 1275cc S Class raced concurrently, from a second grid. Conor O’Brien carved through to sixth overall, snookering Thorburn Astin. Series leader Greg Daw was fourth behind Matthew Ayres.
GT & SPORTS CAR CUP - Andrew Haddon/Andy Wolfe (Lotus Elan 26R)
500CC FORMULA 3- Mike Fowler (Cooper-Norton MkV)
HISTORIC FORMULA JUNIOR- Peter de la Roche (Lola Mk3)
FRAZER NASH- Tom Waterfield (Super Sports)
NORMAN DEWIS TROPHY JEC PRE-’66 JAGUARS - Alex Buncombe (E-type FHC)
MINI MIGLIA - Andrew Jordan
MINI SE7EN - Jeff Smith
For full results visit tsl-timing.com
Posted on Friday 9 October 2020
at Castle Combe Circuit
30 August 2021