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GT Race Report - Combe Challenge

GTs Steve jones

GT CHAMPIONSHIP Sponsored by Reis Motorsport Insurance

Khera and Bull top high-octane catchweight GT bouts

Diametrically-opposed, a factory-built Ferrari 488 – its twin-turbocharged V8 engine pushing out 690 prancing horsepower – and a home-brewed tubeframe Vauxhall Tigra motivated by a 2.3-litre Ford Ecoboost ‘four’ developing 380bhp, were both winners in the Castle Combe GT Championship’s opening double-header on July 4. Such a pity, therefore, that the club was obliged to open the circuit’s 70th anniversary celebrations without spectators, who would have appreciated the catchweight contests.

Lucky Khera, who graduated through a series BMW M3s to be a double winner in a GT3 spec McLaren at Combe last August, sold it to acquire the magnificent Italian stallion which he debuted in the Britcar night race at Brands Hatch in November. Despite the belated start to the circuit’s 70th anniversary season, Oliver Bull – CCRC stalwart in uncle Jeremy Irwin’s ever-evolving Fleurtations Vauxhall Tigra Silhouette – was delighted with cylinder head, cam and turbo modifications to the self-fettled Mustang engine under its bonnet, already proven by a new unofficial best of 1m05.5s in pre-event testing.

Despite the diversity of the hottest machinery, and irrespective of their comparative price tags, Khera landed pole position with a 1m07.247s (99.03mph) on a drying Saturday morning as an indication of his steed’s potential. But Class A pacemaker Bull’s 1:07.661 (98.50mph) more than made the ingenious club racer’s presence felt. Also inside 70 seconds were Class C star Tony Bennett in his reworked Caterham R300 (1:08.971) and Keith Butcher’s magnificent 5.2-litre Audi R8 LMS Ultra on 1:09.823

Before anybody could go out to set a grid time, however, there was a long delay. Returnee Jordan Billinton dropped his Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 in the soggy pit exit road and walloped both barriers before it came to rest on the left. The driver escaped injury and his team talked initially of fixing the car, but the circuit crew had to repair the track ‘furniture’ which unfortunately ate into the timetable.         

Behind the top four, the chase group comprised Lee Frost’s red BMW M3 E36, the Class D leader on 1:10.946, returnee Kevin Jones’s Ford-powered Noble M12 RSR, defending champion Jamie Sturges’ reliveried SEAT Leon Eurocup and Alan Hamilton in his bewinged Westfield Race Aero, replete with a trick gearchange system.

Local giant Chris Everill (Ginetta G55), Tim Woodman’s big-engined Caterham, Jasver Sapra (BMW M3) and Reuben Taylor in his splendidly sinister-looking Peugeot 206 CC Silhouette Special – powered by a Vauxhall ‘red-top’ engine – were next up and closely matched.

The most intriguing car in the field was the ‘Audi Supertourer GT’ which Monoposto Mono Moto champion Dominic Shepherd (21) and his father had acquired from Niki Kristensen in Denmark four days previously and arrived untested. While its Audi connections were tenuous (the German marque’s fabled four-ringed logo and light cluster shapes), the tubeframe machine is one of many built – with various body styles – by the French Mit-Jet concern for pan-European competition, powered by a 3.5-litre Nissan V6 engine. The Bournemouth Uni student’s understandably cautious 1:16.060 qualified it 13th.

Pro-Alloys’ Neil Greenland was less than a second back in his aerodynamically enhanced Mitubishi Colt, the smallest capacity car in the field, pursued by a trio of M3s piloted by Sunny Gill, Simon Khera and Jagjeet Singh Virdee, interspersed with Bristol’s fastest Canadian hotelier Del Brett, going well in his Dan Cox-run Porsche Boxster and Paul Arber’s AB (Andy Bates) Typhon.

Witho Lambo, 19 starters came under orders, Paul Dickinson having been given dispensation to start his Mini RS3 from the back. Alas, first lap contact between Everill and Butcher – the Audi’s right rear corner having been tagged by Everill’s front left – trigger red flags. Sadly both cars were sidelined for the day with suspension damage, after what Butcher sportingly described as “a racing incident,” Also out was Shepherd whose Audi clone lost its bonnet on Avon Rise. Seventeen tried again.

Out front it was all about Khera and Bull, Lucky staying ahead in the rosso corse monster, although Oliver’s best lap was little more than a tenth of a second from the victor’s 1:14.317 (89.61mph) mark. Jones snorted the blue Noble to third, but slid off into the Recticel barriers on the timing line, with Frost chasing hard. Bennett and Sturges were the last unlapped runners. Bull, Frost, Bennett and Gill in his four-litre M3 were class winners.

Hamilton fell back with a gearbox problem, but nursed the blue Westfield home seventh, stuck in one cog. Back in the paddock it freed immediately! Greenland and Woodman were next, with Sapra, Brett and Gill rounding out the top dozen finishers. Taylor’s retired his Peugeot, its engine overheating.

Not wishing to sacrifice a new set of wet tyres with a day’s testing booked at Silverstone on Sunday, Lucky Khera withdrew the second race, which enabled Bull to explore the Tigra’s damp handling with its enhanced grunt. Also missing were team mates Frost and Sapra plus, not unexpectedly, Jones’ scuffed Noble.

With Bull charging and Bennett giving spirited chase the highlight of the second stanza was Sturges’ attempt to reel in Bennett. Lap after lap the SEAT made ground, but Jamie’s efforts fell short by 0.320s. The top three were a lap clear of Hamilton, Greenland and Woodman, with Brett and Simon Khera seventh and eighth. Singh Virdee took Class F following Gill’s retirement after one lap. Taylor also pulled out with a recurrence of his earlier issue on a mild afternoon.  

Posted on Monday 3 August 2020

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