QUALIFYING - The 50th Formula Ford season at Combe continues to be sparsely populated, thanks partly to the popularity of the National championship for the 1600cc Kent-engined cars, yet the speed of its frontrunners is undeniable. Eleven drivers turned out this time, but it took a supreme last lap effort by runaway points leader Luke Cooper, with a ‘tow,’ to land pole position for race one in the Future Inns Swift SC16, his 1m10.000s best a scant 0.134s from Michael Moyers’ exceptional 1m09.866s record. “I was quite frustrated not to be able to go a thousandths quicker [for a coveted ‘nine’],’ said the circuit neighbour.
The Kevin Mills Racing Spectrum 011s of Michael Eastwell and rapid Combe debutant Hugo Bently-Ellis – a promising National contender buoyed by testing miles – were on Cooper’s heels, a fifth of a second apart on 1:10.241 and 1:10.441 respectively, with returning 2015-’16 champion Roger Orgee (Ray GR17) and David Vivian in another of the Australian Spectrums also in the tens. Behind them, Tom Hawkins (Ray GR11) and reigning champion Josh Fisher (Wayne Poole Racing Van Diemen JL14) were in the 12s. Josh would play no further part however, having felt his engine’s crank tighten on his fourth lap.
Welcome returnee Paul Barnes (Swift SC92) and Class B points leader Paul Mason (Swift SC94) were split by thousandths in the 13s, suggesting tough duels. Indefatigable solo Class C runner Steve Bracegirdle (Van Diemen RF89) and Alex Rivett, finding his way in another Swift SC92, completed the field.
RACE 1- The 10 survivors were reduced to nine inside a lap when Hawkins had an off at Camp and was stranded in the middle of the circuit. The race was red-flagged and restarted without him, Cooper and Eastwell immediately shooting clear of Bently-Ellis and Orgee, already rather too close for comfort. Cooper was straight down into the 1m10s with 2017 breakthrough man Eastwell not far adrift when the latter’s clutch failed on lap five. Michael limped round hoping [in vain] to salvage fifth in class.
As Cooper sped to his fourth successive victory, Bently-Ellis tagged Orgee into a spin at Quarry, but kept second ahead of Vivian, crossing the line 8.367s behind Luke. Orgee, less than gruntled, recovered to fourth. Mason, carrying a slight misfire, narrowly lost out to Class B rival Barnes in a protracted tussle for fifth. Bracegirdle and Rivett – who improved on his best Q-time by three seconds – chased the black Swifts home.
RACE 2 - The grid for race 2 was set by each competitor’s second best morning time which, discounting the sidelined Fisher, left the pecking order the same. Four-time champion Kevin Mills’ well-drilled crew had replaced Eastwell’s clutch in less than 90 minutes to get him out. As the red lights went out Bently-Ellis made the best start, but Cooper was quickly ahead, half a second clear at the end of the opening lap, pursued by Eastwell, Vivian, Orgee and HB-E, again in the thick of a heavy battle.
Eastwell led second time round from Orgee, Cooper, HB-E and Vivian, but the top quartet’s order was far from settled. Bently-Ellis somehow muscled his way to the front on lap three, with team-mate Eastwell the naturally unwilling buffer to Cooper. Luke split them next time round, then engaged HB-E in combat.
Using his superior circuit knowledge, honed over several seasons, Cooper went ahead, only for his young rival to counter immediately. With the other quick boys watching like hawks, maybe a surprise was on the cards, but the resurgent Orgee, Eastwell and Vivian remained eager to pick up the scraps.
Aware that his 100% win record was seriously under threat, Cooper pulled of the decisive move on the breathless final lap and just help on, taking the chequered flag for the fifth time in as many home races by 0.332s. “That was really difficult, but I carried more speed through Camp and grabbed the place at Folly,” said the victor. “I got off the line slightly better [than Luke], but it didn’t stick. I’m pretty pleased with [what was only] my fourth car race. I’m improving every time,” said Bently-Ellis, who is keen to return.
Barnes and Mason were barely separable again, crossing the line 0.271s apart this time with Mason’s engine still fluffing at Old Paddock. Bracegirdle was the final finisher, Rivett having backed his yellow Swift into the barrier exiting Quarry on lap seven, without injury.Posted on Friday 1 June 2018