The British Racing & Sports Car Club’s first of two visits to Castle Combe Circuit this year has been one of the most talked about and anticipated race meetings of the season. After runaway success elsewhere around the world, the TCR Concept landed on UK shores this season and chose to put the top-spec-tin-tops through their paces at the fast Wiltshire Circuit. For a fleeting moment however, the headline act was in danger of being overshadowed due to some other minor sporting event. As it turned out, the thing that was supposed to ‘come home’ would only be making it as far as Calais at best!
This weekend would see the three home championships stage their next encounters, while the Hot Hatches would be rested. Over the two-day meeting, the TCR and CCRC Championships would be joined by a mix of tin-top, open wheeled sports car and sports special racing. Golf GTIs, Mazda MX5s, BMW Compacts, and Porsches would all entertain, as would the National Formula Fords, F1000s and Sports 2000s. While the England Team would only be playing for a token consolation prize, the faithful Combe crowds would be rewarded with all-to-play for action from some of the best racing championships in the UK.
CASTLE COMBE FF1600 CHAMPIONSHIP
ROUND 6 QUALIFYING
The first half of the circuit’s famous open-wheeled championship was played out with disappointingly few cast members. Sadly, the commencement of the second half of the season would fare even worse with just eight cars taking to the circuit.
Luke Cooper leads the way, occupying top spot in the championship table with a ‘perfect-game’ maximum so far. The continuation of his impeccable record hit a bump in the road in testing when his Swift’s Kent engine started to part company with its oil. Well into the wee hours, said engine was still sat on the Swift Cooper HQ workbench, so qualifying would no doubt be a nervy affair.
Paul Mason’s domination of class B means he sits closest to Cooper in the overall standings, albeit with a mountainous 38 point deficit to overcome.
David Vivian has become very well acquainted with his new-this-season Class A Spectrum, running right at the sharp end from the outset and occupying 3rd spot just 8 points adrift of Mason.
David Vivian was the first to get into his stride, the continuing heatwave allowing the Avon tyres on his Wiltshire College run Spectrum to get up to temperature with haste. Josh Fisher set about eating away at Vivian’s time while Luke Cooper appeared to be concentrating more on his Swift SC16’s gauges than his lap timer in the early stages. With Vivian in the low 1m11s, Fisher was first to break the all-important 1m10s barrier and steal the top spot.
Paul Mason had only one class challenger and propped up the class A times to stay above Shaun Macklin on the time sheets. Class C leader Steve Bracegirdle was in a near identical position, running comfortably clear of his only challenger Michael Phillips.
After chalking up several laps without any repeat of its recent engine oil escapology act, Luke Cooper wound his Swift up to full pace and turned his attention to the times being displayed on his pit board. He secured pole on his seventh lap, beating Fisher’s best by just under two tenths of a second.
Tom Hawkins was pushing hard to trump Vivian’s time but was ultimately unsuccessful, meaning the pair would line up on the second row.
Row three would comprise of the class B and class C leaders; Mason and Bracegirdle, with Mason in prime position in P5.
The fourth and sadly final row of the grid would be occupied by Shaun Macklin and Michael Phillips respectively.
ROUND 6 RACE
The Castle Combe Formula Fords were the opening act of the BRSCC TCR weekend. With just 9 cars entered on the day, it was a relief to see that the earlier qualifying session hadn’t claimed any victims, as all 9 took their place on the grid.
The sequence of the starting lights changed for this event; from the usual 1,2,3,4,5-OFF format to all five on/all five off system. This meant the rev limiters of the Ford ‘Crossflow’ engines were employed the second the 5 second board was raised. Whether or not this had any bearing, Josh Fisher made the clearly better start from P2, blocking pole-man Cooper’s view with relative ease. The story was replicated on the second row, with the Tom Hawkins also finding superior traction from the left-hand side of the grid, passing the in-form David Vivian to immediately promote himself one place up the order. Vivian wasted no time in redeeming himself, slicing his Spectrum back past Hawkins’ Swift on the first run to the Essess. Paul Mason also found himself demoted at the hands of Steve Bracegirdle, but unlike Vivian, was unable to restore the order, coming under a second attack from Shaun Macklin, keen to take the fight to his main class rival.
With such evenly matched machines, the opening lap of any Formula Ford race can be crucial. Well aware of this, Tom Hawkins, in an effort to improve his track position early on, overestimated the brakes of his Swift, spinning through Bobbies. This left him stranded in the complex and disrupted Luke Cooper’s momentum in the process, dropping to third behind Vivian. The incident played well into the hands of Josh Fisher, allowing him to amass a valuable gap and employ Vivian as first line of defence against the charging Cooper. Fisher’s advantage would be short lived however, as the stranded Hawkins caused the red flags to be waved. A reprieve for Cooper and a second chance to make a first impression on the restart.
Once the track was cleared and another green flag lap completed, Josh Fisher proved his first attempt was no fluke, his Avon rubber working in perfect harmony with the tarmac and winning the race to Quarry for a second time.
Cooper grabbed a tow from Fisher and with the row all to himself, David Vivian was able to concentrate purely on the red and white Swift Cooper liveried car in front. The spectrum got away well and even had a look alongside Cooper but didn’t have the legs to make the move stick, even having to momentarily take to the grass before slotting back into 3rd.
In chasing the pack, Mason was defending from Steve Bracegirdle who was simultaneously keeping a close eye on his mirrors which were full of the Swift of Shaun Macklin. Macklin’s efforts were rewarded on the ninth lap, leapfrogging the class C Van Diemen to assume fifth.
Josh Fisher completed the first two tours of the circuit with a narrow but sufficient gap over Cooper. By the end of lap 3 however, the gap was quoshed as Cooper clearly carried much better speed through Camp, sling-shotting out of Fisher’s slipstream to take the lead on the climb to Avon Rise. The leading pair had a good margin over Vivian, who proved with a fastest lap that he wasn’t yet ready to settle for the bronze medal.
Paul Mason commenced what would be a very lonely race, unable to catch Vivian but also under no threat from Steve Bracegirdle. Steve wasn’t shy of company however, with Shaun Macklin in the 92 Swift, steadily reeling in it’s younger (94) sibling.
Fisher kept Cooper honest for the remainder of the race but never really looked like he’d be in any position to mount a challenge. Cooper continued his perfect season, scooping up another maximum with the outright win and the fastest lap.
Fisher settled for the second podium step with a nearly ten seconds of fresh air back to David Vivian.
Paul Mason chalked up another class B victory comfortably from rival Macklin some five seconds down the road.
Steve Bracegirdle took the class C honours unchallenged by Michael Phillips, but no doubt enjoyed the race long encounter with Macklin.
Luke Cooper goes one step closer to a maiden championship victory with his ‘perfect-game’ still intact. Paul Mason has done everything asked of him to keep himself in the fight but finds himself a daunting 45 points adrift. With just four rounds remaining and the drop scores in his back pocket, Luke Cooper has one hand firmly on the championship trophy already. With a double header at the next round, there is a strong chance that Luke Cooper could be crowned the 2018 FF1600 Champion before the sun sets on the August bank holiday.Posted by Jo Lewkowicz on Thursday 19 July 2018
5 April 2021