HOT HATCH CHALLENGE SERIES sponsored by Motul - Curnow’s Honda and Southcott’s Pug on top
Jordan Curnow (Honda Civic) rewrote the Hot Hatch lap record under intense pressure from Chris Southcott (Peugeot 205) in the first leg of Easter Monday’s season-opener, but thoughts of a double victory soon evaporated when he dropped it on cold tyres at the Esses on lap 1 of the sequel, in which the snarling Pug triumphed. Curnow's stirring recovery drive from the back to third was among the highlights of the Howard’s Day programme which enthralled enthusiasts watching on live streaming as the event was run behind closed doors.
A newly-inked commercial partnership which sees innovative French oil company Motul lubricating both the CCRC’s popular Hot Hatch Challenge Series and the circuit itself buoyed a superb 27-car entry - the meeting’s largest - as qualifying got under way. Curnow’s 1m12.435s (91.94mph) pole time was almost nine tenths of a second quicker than Class B pacesetter Tim Adams’ in another of the potent Civics at the closest circuit to Honda UK Manufacturing’s Swindon factory. Also in the 1m 13 second bracket were Southcott’s battleship grey Pug and seasoned Combe campaigner Mark Wyatt in his Interceptor Racing Vauxhall Astra.
Class B leader Ross Parker (Honda Civic EF) was fifth overall on 1:15.878 (87.77mph), separated from rival Tony Cooper (Peugeot 106 GTi) by 0.712s and physically by Sam Stride’s Civic. Dave Spiller and Darren Duffield headed the [BMW] Mini Cooper S split, eighth and ninth respectively, with Jamie Bigwood (Renault Clio) and Civic men Joe Dorrington and Mike Wyatt completing the top dozen. Locally-domiciled Dane Erling Jensen’s zebra-striped Cooper S was also in the 18s, pursued by Ben Osbourne (Astra).
Also inside 1m20 were a cosmopolitan bunch comprising Lewis Clark (Fiesta), Lee Waterman (MG ZR), Class C leader Mark Pope (Ford Puma), Shaun Deacon (Peugeot 106 GTi), John Barnard (Clio) and Steve Kite (Mini R53). Lurking at the back behind another six runners and riders was former Clio pilot Michael Bowle who completed only two laps in his Honda Integra DC5. A combo to be kept an eye on.
Charging into a short flurry of snow and hail as the competitors got going made for a surreal start to the first race with Curnow and Southcott ragging their cars through the corners as they endeavoured to bring tyres up to temperature and maximise grip. Adams, in a lonely third, was clear of Cooper, Stride, Parker and Cooper S duellists Duffield and Spiller, Bigwood and Jordan, eager to get on terms with his fellow Mini men.
Southcott kept Curnow focused out front, remaining omnipresent in his mirrors. Jordan drove all 17 laps over the 20 minutes “as if they were qualifiers” to secure victory, his best of 1:12.454s (91.92mph) only a whisker away from his morning standard but establishing a new race record. Unbeknown to Curnow, his only problem was an intermittent transponder signal which saw him drop off the radar at one point until TSL Timing’s crew reinstated him atop the lap charts. “Traffic worked well for me; Chris kept me honest all the way though,” he said afterwards.
Almost 40 seconds after the winner, and 36s behind Class A rival Southcott, Adams finished third. Class B dominator Cooper was a distant fourth ahead of Dorrington and Duffield, whose sparring partner Jensen was lapped by Curnow approaching the line. Bigwood was eighth from Bowle - who enjoyed a fine run from the back - and Parker. Eleventh placed Barnard had Waterman, Deacon, Pope and Clarke jostling behind him at the chequered flag. Deacon wrested Class C from Pope by 0.110s.
Mark Wyatt - Combe Saloon champion back in 2015 - spun out on the opening lap, and Spiller didn’t go much further. Stride and Mike Wyatt were among the other casualties.
Southcott resolved to go out of the blocks harder second time out, figuring it was the only way to beat Curnow on the day. “I need to get the jump on him,” said Chris, eager to atone now that last year’s engine problems appear to have been licked. The cunning plan didn’t quite work, at least not before the Esses where - with rear tyres not as warm as the fronts - Jordan had a tank-slapper on the exit. He fought the car most of the way to Old Paddock like a rodeo rider, missing the marshals’ post on the right before he dropped it. Once everybody was safely past he battled back through the pack in spectacular fashion to finish third, which he regained on lap 7! Adams, almost 10 seconds behind winner Southcott having tested him in the early stages, pipped Curnow to fastest lap.
Cooper was fourth home, clear of the tightly-packed Duffield, Bigwood and Bowle who had again worked his way through the field, set loose from a grid decided by each competitor’s second best Q-times. Jensen - Combe’s GT champion back in 1993 driving a Maguire Stiletto and father of previous FF1600 title-chaser Steven - was 1.6s behind the trio when the chequered flag was brandished.
Barnard finished ninth, chased by class winner Pope whose peach-hued Puma this time had rival Deacon’s Peugeot 106 in its slipstream at the finish, pursued by Waterman’s spiritedly-driven MG. Dorrington fell by the wayside after 10 laps, having bustled past Duffield and Jensen to fifth.
MARCUS PYEPosted on Thursday 8 April 2021