FF1600 CHAMPIONSHIP sponsored by Premier Financial Planning
White, Ward and Richard Higgins double-up - Superlative racing throughout a strong 22-car field characterised the opening rounds of the CCRC Formula Ford Championship on Easter Monday, April 5. The eighth Howard’s Day, named for circuit saviour Howard Strawford who died in 2013 and nurtured FF1600 at Combe, was run without spectators due to COVID-19 protocols, but the action thrilled fans via live streaming. Oliver White, Nathan Ward and Richard Higgins each scored double victories, but all were made to fight hard for class honours.
Out front it was a game of fives, barely half a second covering the top quintet, each in different chassis run by rival teams. On a cold morning Felix Fisher, still chasing his first title, threw down the gauntlet with a stout 1m10.241s (94.81mph) to claim pole in TM Racing’s Ray GR05. Oliver White (Souley Motorsport Medina Sport JL17K) was but 0.191s shy. Last lap charges ordered defending champion Luke Cooper (Swift SC18), rapid series debutant Ben Mitchell (RHE/Wayne Poole Racing Van Diemen RF99) and 17-year-old Alex Walker (Kevin Mills Racing Spectrum 011) in their wheel tracks.
Chris Acton (Ray GR08) on 1:11.407, 2013-’14 champ Adam Higgins in a new Riadro Racing Firman RFR21, Matt Hallam (Spectrum 011c) and Tom Hawkins in his Springbridge Ray GR11 were next up. the quartet blanketed by 0.737s. Class B (1990-’95) standout Ward completed the top 10 with a 1:12.162 (92.29mph) in his Swift SC92. Closest challenger Paul Barnes (SC92) was two places and 0.47s adrift in his similar car, Kieran Attwood (Ray GR11) grinding between them.
Exactly 35 years since his race debut - at Combe in a FF2000 Royale RP27 in a Monoposto event - category returnee Pat Blakeney was enjoying his Van Diemen MS13 for the first time. The former FRenault and Historic F1 racer, whose previous FF mount was a Vector, had managed a shakedown test in the ex-Wayne Boyd 2015 Festival winner, and Thruxton’s motor sport chief looked comfortable on 1:12.712.
Young James Colborn and veteran Steve Bracegirdle headed Class C (’85-’89) in their Wayne Poole Racing Van Diemen RF88s, Colborn benefitting from the expert coaching of triple champion Josh Fisher, who is proritising his Bridgwater hairdressing business and family this year. Richard Higgins shadowed Bracegirdle in his Riadro-run RF88.
The evergreen Shaun Macklin in his #27 Swift SC92, drag racer Bob Hawkins - now upgraded to a Ray GR08 - Swift-mounted Michael Phillips (Swift FB87), Paul Morcom (fruit of a single lap in his SC93) were next. Richard Earl in one of the classic Van Diemen RF85s which took the marque through its 1000 cars landmark and quadruple champion Bob Higgins rounded out the field. Bob was shrugging off the pain of a recently scalded foot, but his spluttering Historic Macon MR7 refused to run cleanly.
A short, sharp, sleet shower sent shivers through the paddock as the morning preliminaries concluded, but gave way to a bright afternoon. The FFs were first on and White, Fisher, Mitchell, Cooper and Walker took up their cudgels from the start, when a screech of Avon tyres got the Castle Combe season under way.
The lead fight was frenetically fast and tight, White heading Fisher, Historic FF ace Mitchell, Cooper and Walker initially. Felix slipped ahead of White briefly on lap 5, but Ollie retaliated next time round, blunting his adversary’s speed. Mitchell gratefully pounced to challenge White but as they crested Avon Rise on lap 7 was squeezed left onto the grass. As he rotated spectacularly, Fisher dived right in avoidance and careered over the inside greensward. Unable to slow for Quarry he shot across White’s bows on the exit and into the barrier.
White, Cooper and Walker continued their tussle to the chequer, pursued by Mitchell whose recovered quickly. Acton and Hallam finished fifth and sixth ahead of Ward, whose Class B victory over Barnes and Macklin was convincing. Richard Higgins overcame Colborn on lap 8 and pipped him Class C gold by 0.237s, with Bracegirdle just a second adrift. All three held best lap at one point. Higgins’ success was some consolation for team technician brother Adam, who retired when his distributor clamp loosened, leaving his engine misfiring. Dad Bob finished 16th as the only D runner.
Apart from Fisher and Higgins A, the other retirement was Tom Hawkins whose engine died on the grid. He coaxed it back into life but pitted after a lap with a recurrence. After much head-scratching, Uncle Ted discovered a sliver of silicon blocking a carburettor jet. Having run perfectly for a full day of pre-event testing family Hawkins was mystified…
In the two hours between races massive efforts by the Tom Margetson’s team, Ray Formula Cars boss Gavin Ray and others narrowly failed to get Fisher back out, the front corner impact having bent the car’s steering rack. Frustratingly for last season’s runner-up, rendered a spectator, he must now play catch-up again over the season.
The race was sensational to behold, White, Cooper, Mitchell and Walker running in a high-speed train throughout. With no chinks appearing in anybody’s armour and all too conscious of adding to their points tallies they finished in that order, 0.614s apart. Fastest lap was exchanged eight times, each resetting it in turn on lap 8. Walker had the final say. Tom Hawkins - filling Acton’s mirrors - Hallam and Attwood led the chase at the close.
Ward, running sixth behind Acton, survived a hairy spin exiting Camp on the opening lap and fell to 13th. Quickly back into his stride Nathan hunted down Barnes to claim ninth and B honours. Blakeney and the battling C trio finished on their tails, Bracegirdle having split Higgins and Colburn. Macklin and Higgins Sr were next home, but Adam Higgins was again out of luck, peeling off after a lap. “I was too busy sorting Richard and Dad’s cars out to fix the timing on mine. I made a guess and it was way out.”
MARCUS PYEPosted on Thursday 8 April 2021