The final bout in the GT championship would be fought in two separate classes between Bradley John and Ilsa Cox. John had the biggest mountain to climb with some serious competitors in his class that could rob him of crucial points. Cox looked to have a less threatening contingent of class fellows, so was therefore looking favourite. Her SEAT has been enjoying most welcome reliability in recent rounds and the affectionately known ‘Henry’ Cupra would need to behave himself one last time for his owner to lift the coveted trophy.
The final qualifying session of the season was set to be a strategic affair, with Bradley John and Ilsa Cox needing to position themselves as clear of their respective class rivals as possible. Bradley also had some ‘tourist traffic’ to contend with in the form of some ‘invitation’ class A entries. Despite not being able to claim any championship points, they could still give John a headache on the track.
The session was barely underway when Steve Putt’s awesome V8 powered Mazda RX-7 suffered total brake failure while entering quarry at over 120mph. With only physics available as a means of slowing the car, Putt threw it sideways and skilfully managed to limit the damage to both car and driver as best as he could have hoped for. The striken Mazda caused a red flag in order for it to be recovered.
When the session restarted, Ilsa Cox put in some swift laps to ensure she could park her SEAT on the grid in front of her rivals. Ilsa’s closest challenger this time was Adam Prebble, whose time-served Rover Tomcat was finally enjoying some reliability after a thoroughly miserable season. Prebble qualified four places behind Cox, but knowing what a racer Adam is, could pose a serious threat come race time.
At the front of the grid, a host of class A machines were doing their level best to make life very hard indeed for Bradley John. The returning Barry Squibb placed his Evo on pole alongside the Vauxhall Tigra silhouette of Oliver Bull. Usual suspects Tony Bennett and Chris Southcott parked their low-slung sports cars on the second row ahead of Bradley John, who shared it with invitational runner Dale Gent in his seriously quick Subaru Impreza.
In other classes, there was nothing at stake, many having been secured with low points some time ago as a result of sporadic entries.
Bradley John would find himself staring at the rear end of some seriously quick machines come race time. Reliability and racing incidents could play their part but John still had his work very much cut out for him. Ilsa Cox meanwhile was preparing for a more measured strategy; to keep simultaneously clear of her rivals - and even clearer of everybody else’s battles!
The final round of the GT championship turned out to be a two-part instalment in the form of an abandoned part one and a five lap sprint finish for part two.
The race initially got underway cleanly with the grid pretty much retaining their starting positions after the rolling start. The exception was Ilsa Cox who lost a few places and suddenly found Adam Prebble looming large in her mirrors.
Bradley John found himself chasing a pack of five, all bar one with the potential to deny him crucial class A points. The first obstacle cleared was that of Oliver Bull who retired on lap three. Bull’s usually ultra-reliable Tigra silhouette had recently found some impressive extra pace but also some new-found reliability issues, as is often the case with GT machines. Squibb was streaking away at the front with Dale Gent giving chase.
Chris Southcott and Tony Bennett were battling for third with John closing in.
John made a move and split the pair, as did invitational entry Mike Johnson in another Tigra silhouette.
Bennett led a very tight pack of five cars, with John, Johnson, Southcott and Steve Hall all in tow separated by just half a second. Back markers soon came into play making it even more challenging for the tightly spaced group. Bennett and Hall both held a tight line through Old Paddock as they simultaneously tried to pass back markers to the inside without losing momentum. Unfortunately, the Audi TT caught the rear wheel of the Caterham, sending the lightweight blue silhouette skywards performing terrifying end-over-end and barrel rolls. By the time the car came to rest it was completely unrecognisable, though the integrity of the main crash structure was maintained. Although Steve was shaken and sore, he escaped without serious injury; testimony to the build quality of these lightweight silhouette racing cars. The race was abandoned and the cars regrouped on the start finish straight while the remains of the Audi were cleared and Steve was taken for medical attention.
By the time the race was ready to be restarted, Barry Squibb’s Evo had had enough and did not retake its rightful place on the front row. This was great news for Bradley John, who only had Dale Gent in front of him who was unable to claim championship points. With Ilsa Cox also restarting at the head of class D, it looked like the 2017 GT Championship was going to be a very close call indeed.
After the restart, John was happy to let Gent race to the flag and concentrate on keeping his class rivals at bay and hopefully putting in some clean, fast laps. John was successful in keeping Bennett small enough in his mirrors, and an off at quarry for Southcott just before the earlier stoppage was keeping the Midget from being any threat. An unexpected threat did appear however in the form of Steve Putt. Despite missing much of its aero aids following its dramatic brake failure in qualifying, the RX-7 was tearing through the field. Having originally started from 23rd on the grid, Putt earned himself the coveted ‘Driver of the Day’ award by threading through the pack and up into third position and closing on the Evo. Much to Bradley John’s relief, the chequered flags were waved before Putt was able to get close enough to challenge.
Gent took the win from Bradley John, who had done exactly what he needed to do in being the highest placed class A finisher eligible for points. Tony Bennet’s fourth place was enough to finish in third overall in the championship, which was well deserved after a solid season at the sharp end of the action. Ilsa Cox came home fifth overall, but more importantly, the first finisher in class D.
So with Bradley John and Ilsa Cox both winning their respective classes it was all level on points at the top of the table. The crowning of the GT champion therefore would come down to the solitary but vital point for class fastest lap. Despite his best efforts, John could not match the pace of his fellow Evo driver Barry Squibb who secured the fastest lap in class A before his retirement. Cox however had gone one better and set a faster time than all of her class D competitors.
The 2017 GT Championship was one of the most exciting and closely fought for many seasons, serving up it’s unique brand of entertainment from its eclectic mix of highly modified racing machines. A veteran of Castle Combe, Ilsa Cox was saloon car champion in 1997 and was now found herself lifting a second Castle Combe Championship Trophy. A season long dominance of her class means that Ilsa can now add the line ‘2017 Castle Combe GT Champion’ to her illustrious racing CV!Posted by Neil Thomas on Tuesday 31 October 2017