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FF1600 Race Report - Combe Challenge


FORMULA FORD CHAMPIONSHIP Sponsored by Premier Financial Planning

Cooper and Fisher share Formula Ford golds

Luke Cooper and Felix Fisher earned a Formula Ford win each, over the other, as the Castle Combe Challenge event belatedly got the circuit’s 70th Anniversary season under way – regrettably behind closed doors per UK government mandate – on Saturday, July 4. With reigning champion Josh Fisher (winner of six of last season’s 10 races) not currently competing, the talented pair who scrapped over slim pickings last term were happy not only to be back but also directly in the spotlight.

Despite worries over the Coronavirus pandemic keeping some stalwart competitors away, and others on the fence, a 23-strong entry – the best since 2019’s opener (24) – was encouraging. Combe newcomers included the re-badged Low Dempsey Racing’s young American hotshoes Bryce Aron (16) and Grant Palmer (19), using the event for mileage in their Rays ahead of National FF1600 programmes.

On a drying track it was clear that for most their quickest lap would be the final clear one. Cooper and Fisher, polemen for last season’s last two rounds, each with sub-1m10s shots, wound up atop the list having tripped TSL’s timing system fully 10 seconds slower than regular dry race times, separated by six thousandths of a second. Cooper (Swift Cooper SC18) held sway on 1:20.573 (82.65mph) from Fisher Junior (TM Racing Ray GR06).

Three tenths split the next five drivers, Palmer sharing row two with Class B leader Paul Barnes (Swift SC92), with gearbox karter James Tucker (SC92), Aron – slowed by a slight engine problem – and David Vivian (Kevin Mills Racing Spectrum 011) tucked in behind in the mid 1m21s bracket. Nathan Ward (SC92), Tom Hawkins (Ray GR11) and Van Diemen RF88-mounted Class C rivals Bob Higgins and Marc de Rozarieux next in the chase.

Chris Acton (Ray GR08) sat 12th, on the grid’s fulcrum point, ahead of Richard Higgins (Firman FR17), young Matt Hallam (Spectrum 11c), Kieran Attwood (Ray GR07) and Lloyd Hopes (Swift SC93). Of the rest, much interest surrounded the return of Bob Hawkins, Tom’s father, 33 years after an ankle-breaking shunt at Brands Hatch prompted him to refocus on business. After a decade of 200mph nostalgia drag racing, his Swift SC92, prepped as ever by brother Ted, must have seemed pedestrian.

Fisher was quickest out of the blocks in the first race on a damp track, but Cooper forged past on lap four of the 10 and stayed there, albeit with Felix’s nosecone metaphorically glued to his gearbox. Only on the final circuit did daylight, such as it was, appear between the cars. The dynamic duo finished more than 12 seconds clear of Aron who, anxious to make up for his practice drama, drove a fine race from P6.

While team mate Palmer had a mare of an opening lap, coming round ninth, Aron eagerly chased local man Vivian past Tucker and Barnes, who fell to seventh and ninth respectively on lap two, redoubling their efforts to make up lost time thereafter. Aron seized third on the penultimate lap, when Vivian spun but lost only one place. From the sixth row Acton climbed to eighth on lap one, and was soon fifth, where he stayed.

Hallam enjoyed a superb run from 14th to sixth, with Class B pugilists Tucker and Barnes in his Spectrum’s slipstream. Tucker prevailed by half a second, finishing three seconds clear of Palmer who had a character-building UK debut. De Rozarieux won Class C after Bob Higgins’s exhaust came adrift. Short of power and making a dreadful racket, the four-time champion slipped to third in the split behind James Colborn (RF89).

Race two was properly wet and Tom Margetson clearly found the sweet spot in Fisher’s Ray’s chassis’ set-up, for appropriately it swam away from Cooper. Imperious from the lights, Felix was 1.9 seconds clear of the Swift driver at the end of the opening lap, and continued to extend his advantage. By half distance he was in a different postcode and when the chequered flag fell he remained 6.531s ahead of Luke, having backed off a tad to make sure of his first Combe victory since Easter Monday last year. 

Palmer atoned for his earlier disappointment, running third for much of the way, but Vivian – summoning his courage and circuit knowledge – snatched the last ‘virtual podium’ place with a breathtaking lunge into Tower on the final lap. Fastest lap, almost six-tenths inside winner Fisher’s best, was a feather in the youngster’s cap. Aron finished fifth, with first race retiree Hawkins Jr behind him. Class B victor Tucker was on his tail, four seconds clear of Ward, who had helped a marshal push his Swift from the earlier grid to the infield when it conked-out.

Richard Higgins in his sleek Firman – from Van Diemen co-founder Ralph’s subsequent enterprise – and Acton completed the top 10, ahead of Barnes and Hallam. Hopes was in hot pursuit, his best lap lapped quicker than those of the trio ahead of him. Attwood was the last unlapped runner, next in Hawkins Sr struggling with a down-on-power engine although he had a spare in the truck for next time. De Rozarieux again won Class C after Bob Higgins hit trouble (this time he binned it at Quarry on lap 4, having lapped five seconds quicker than Mark went), but couldn’t relax with Colborn catching him.

Posted on Monday 3 August 2020

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