FF1600 QUALIFYING - 2018 sees the Castle Combe Formula Ford Championship enter its 49th season. Whilst not always sporting the largest grids, many circuit stalwarts are unanimous in their opinion that more often than not, the simple single seater machines provide the closest and most entertaining racing action. Less than 12 months from it’s golden anniversary it was sad to see a considerably depleted grid take to the track for their first qualifying session of the season.
Although not originally appearing on the entry list, reigning champion Josh Fisher made a fashionably late entrance. The most notable absence was from the dominant Kevin Mills Racing Team drivers. Ex-champion Roger Orgee, twice runner-up and regular front-runner Nathan Ward were all AWOL, leaving only the 2017 newcomer Michael Eastwell flying the solitary KMR flag. After a storming rookie season in 2017, Eastwell finds himself as a hotly tipped contender for 2018. His closest rival is likely to be Luke Cooper, who will be keen to show the true potential of his Swift SC16, now with a full season of development under its belt.
After the delayed start to proceedings, the clouds sprung another leak, resulting in the single seater pilots tip-toeing their way through the puddles for a very cautious and thankfully uneventful qualifying session.
Josh Fisher started the season exactly where he left off, securing pole in his Van Diemen with a pedestrian 1:23:628, giving an indication of just how little grip the Wiltshire circuit was currently offering. Eastwell proved his performance last season wasn’t just beginner’s luck with a P2, nearly a second down on Fisher. Luke Cooper found himself in a no doubt disappointing P3, given that he has acquired a reputation as something of a wet weather master. David Vivian completed the second the quartet of class A cars occupying the first two rows, with Paul Mason securing P5 to lead the class B contingent on his championship debut.
FF1600 ROUND 1 - By the time the Formula Fords took their grid positions, the rain had stopped but grip was still in short supply. Fortunately the Avon control tyre removes any tactical head-scratching over tyre choice, only the chassis setup was to be deliberated.
Despite the conditions, all occupants of the front two rows made cracking starts and saw the leaders climb Avon Rise three abreast. Luke Cooper found himself in prime position to brake the latest, maintain his pace through Quarry corner and emerge in the lead. Fisher tucked in under Cooper’s gearbox with Michael Eastwell in tow. David Vivian has stepped up to class A this year in a Spectrum chassis and defended his P4 start with ease. By the end of the first lap, Cooper had a surprising lead, explained by the spluttering soundtrack emanating from Fisher’s Van Diemen. Fisher wouldn’t last the lap, retiring and allowing Eastwell to inherit second. At the end of his first lap, Alex Rivett mysteriously lost control of his Swift well past the start/finish line, leaving it stalled and stranded on the tarmac. As the leaders came to the end of lap two, the safety car boards came out as Rivett was unable to shepherd his Ray Racing GR10 to safety under its own steam. This was great news for Eastwell, who was able to bring Cooper back into range, ready to mount a renewed campaign for the race lead at the restart.
Race leaders following a safety car with extinguished lights are frequently seen deploying all sorts of ‘slight of hand’ antics in a bid to catch the following cars napping. No such deceptions were staged by Luke Cooper however, wasting no time in putting pedal to the metal straight out of Bobbies as the Honda Type R Safety car peeled off down the pit lane.
The order remained unchanged at the restart as the thin field got back up to full race pace. The best battles were in the mid pack, involving Paul Mason, Shaun Macklin and Tom Hawkins. Back at the sharp end, Michael Eastwell’s pursuit of Luke Cooper saw him set the fastest lap, only for Cooper to respond accordingly, dialling in a bit of extra pace and lapping faster still.
The rest of the race was somewhat processional with Luke Copper managing the gap confidently and taking the chequered flag nearly two seconds clear of Michael Eastwell. David Vivian had a lonely race but nevertheless was delighted with a podium finish on his debut in the class A Swift.
Paul Mason’s first race in the championship was rewarded with fourth overall and the class B honours, while Steve Bracegirdle only needed to keep Michael Phillips at bay at the back of the grid to win class C.
FF1600 ROUND 2 - Both Josh Fisher and Alex Rivett had remedied their respective mechanical issues from the earlier race to take their positions on the now dry track. The front rows made an equally rapid start with Luke Cooper again winning the race to Quarry corner. Eastwell tucked into Cooper’s slipstream with Fisher in third, defending from David Vivian. No sooner had the leaders formed a single file, Cooper discovered a damp patch at Old Paddock sending him wide onto the grass. Eastwell being so close followed Cooper in sympathy allowing the reigning champion to make hay and assume the lead. David Vivian followed through on Fisher’s coat tails as Cooper and Eastwell regained their composure. Cooper wasted no time in sliding past Vivian to climb to second and set about making up for his mistake by closing the gap to the leader. The timing screens showed Cooper having gone on fastest on lap two and by the third the gap was visibly shrinking. Fisher was using all of the circuit to keep Cooper in his mirrors but on the exit of Camp corner used a little too much putting two wheels onto the grass. Cooper didn’t need to be asked twice to profit from Fisher’s momentary loss of momentum and found himself back in the lead just two laps after he thought he may have thrown it away.
In the mid pack, Steve Bracegirdle and Josh Mason were enjoying their own private duel, as were Paul Mason and Sean Macklin. With the leading pair pulling away, David Vivian turned his attention to his mirrors, where a distant Michael Eastwell appeared to be looming larger with each lap, confirmed by the timing screens showing the young KMR driver was lapping faster than the race leader. The pressure for the class B battle was relieved from Paul Mason as his chaser span out at Bobbies, and class A runner Tom Hawkins also failed to appear to commence his next lap.
Back at the sharp end, Luke Cooper had his head down and was managing the gap to Fisher and stormed on to make it a hattrick of wins for the weekend, having not only won the earlier race, but had also taken a win at Silverstone.
Josh Fisher David Vivian valiantly defended from the charging Michael Eastwell for 80% of the race but conceded in the latter stages. Eastwell kept the bit between his teeth and set his sights on Fisher but ran out of laps to enable him to steal second.
Paul Mason completed a perfect debut in the championship with his second class B victory, crossing the line in fifth, ahead of Steve Bracegirdle who also chalked up his second win in class C.
While the field may have been sparse in terms of total crop yield, the action was no less dramatic in the opening act of the season. Cooper will be hoping his dream weekend will be an omen for the rest of the season, while the Wayne Poole Racing Team will no doubt be fine tuning Josh Fisher’s Van Diemen (which is actually a different chassis to last year) in an effort to put up a stronger defence of his title at the next round.
Posted on Friday 6 April 2018
at Castle Combe Circuit
2 October 2021