As we near the end of the season, the Hot Hatch Challenge is still adding to its band of followers, attracting both new and established drivers. The latest recruit to the series is GT front runner Chris Southcott who has become the latest member to join the Peugeot 205 GTi owners club. The series has also tempted two veteran saloon drivers out of retirement, with Arthur Marks and 2005 Champion Russell Poynter Brown. The pair were class D sparring partners in the saloon and Marks has dusted off his trusty Suzuki Swift for a play in the Hot Hatch races. Russell meanwhile has acquired an MG ZR which joined the fray as we would expect from RPB – immaculately presented in its ‘On-Pole’ livery. Also returning was previous saloon campaigner Ray Ferguson. Despite now being most often found racing Ferraris, Ray can never resist good value for money track time so gave one of his MG ZRs a run out. Saloon regular Geoff Wade has also been bitten by the bug, swapping his regular Honda Integra for a Ford Fiesta.
The great value entry fee also attracted two more to the grid from the budget endurance Citroen C1 racing series; their drivers looking to obtain signatures in preparation for a 24-hour race at Spa Francorchamps in late October.
All drivers were well aware of the need to put in two quick times in qualifying due to the double header format. This resulted in the grids for both races being near identical, with P1-5 occupied by class A cars.
Mark Wyatt’s piloted his yellow Astra to pole, narrowly beating Gary Prebble by two tenths of a second in his 205. Chris Southcott’s debut Hot Hatch outing saw him secure P3 alongside the Honda Civic of Josh Harvey. The third row was made up of the Ford Focus of Mike Webb and Christopher Rawlings in the ex-Haydn King Peugeot 106; the fastest of the class C cars by some margin. Matthew Bawtree continued to lead the class B pack, putting his Honda Integra on P9, while Arthur Marks showed he’d not lost any of his driving prowess, qualifying his Suzuki seven places clear of his nearest class D competitor; Mark Sutton.
Wyatt’s retirement in the earlier saloon race meant he left his hard-earned pole position vacant for the first Hot Hatch race. Christopher Rawlings also experienced mechanical issues in the saloon race which were serious enough to mean he would take no further part in any of the day’s remaining races. Mike Webb was AWOL and Arthur Marks’ promising qualifying performance would not be built upon, his time served Swift objecting to coming out of retirement.
Josh Harvey’s reflexes proved to be sharpest when the last red light went out, diving into the empty space and assuming the lead. Southcott assumed second, leading a trio of 205s, with Gary Prebble and Mike Harris in tow. By the end of the first lap, Southcott had taken the lead, with Prebble also passing Harvey on the next lap. Mike Harris was keen to follow suit but Josh defended resiliently and kept him from joining his teammate.
Matthew Bawtree was running with the front pack, leaving his class B rivals a long way back down the field. Saloon regular Izaac Channing was fairing equally well, comfortably controlling proceedings in class C.
The lead battle was hotting up as the pair of Peugeots were displaying quite different characteristics. Southcott’s green 205 had the straight line speed whereas the red Pug of Prebble was looking much more planted in the corners. This made for a great battle over the first half of the race. Southcott’s lack of grip seemed to be worsening as the battle wore on, the car looking more unsettled in the corners with every lap. Just when Prebble was about to make his move for the lead, the safety car was scrambled as a result of Josh Hignell’s being in the tyres at Tower. The safety car was no doubt a welcome sight for Chris Southcott, the reduced pace allowing his tyres a little time to cool.
The safety car peeled off with just three laps remaining and the lead battle resumed exactly where it had left off. The hiatus hadn’t helped Southcott’s car as much as he would have liked as he was still wrestling with it as Prebble swarmed all over him. A pass looked inevitable until a rare misjudgement from Gary saw him take to the grass at Tower. He managed to gather it up and rejoin the tarmac but he had tumbled down the order in the process. Josh Harvey was the grateful recipient of second and now was also able to observe Southcott’s struggles. Harvey took advantage with a lap to go, slipping his Honda up the inside, into the lead, and on to the race win. Mike Harris also fancied his chances of improving his position, Southcott however kept his car on the ragged edge to take second. Harris himself was under attack from Nick Adams in another Civic and did well to protect the final podium step.
Matthew Bawtree’s fifth place gave him a dominant class win, five places clear of his nearest rival James Blake. Izaac Channing took class C honours in similar comfort while the absence of Arthur Marks allowed Mark Sutton to lead class D home at the back of the field.
On paper the grid for the second race looked pretty much identical to the earlier race. The day’s other races had caused some attrition meaning there were a fair few gaps when the grid formed. Mike Harris was also missing, but due to a gesture of goodwill rather than mechanical failure. Adam Prebble had yet another miserable meeting, his Rover Tomcat failing yet again and counting him out of both GT and Hot Hatch races. Harris kindly offered up his Peugeot to Adam for the second Hot Hatch race, which he accepted and started from the back of the grid. Mark Wyatt’s Interceptor team had managed to restore his Astra to race fitness in time for him to take up his pole position and salvage something from the day. The yellow Vauxhall got off to a tardy start however, dropping back to 4th by the time the pack arrived at Quarry for the first time. Southcott and Harvey made excellent starts, passing Wyatt and locking horns in the race to quarry. Southcott turned into the right hander ahead with Harvey and Gary Prebble in tow. Mark Wyatt wasted no time in reversing his start line misfortunes and before the end of the first lap would take both Harvey and Prebble to start the second lap in pursuit of the leader. It only took one more lap to take the lead from Southcott, whose Peugeot was still clearly lacking in the grip department, not able to get its nose tucked into the apexes at all.
Matthew Bawtree was running strongly again, keeping the leading pack in sight and heading up his class without challenge. Izaac Channing was also repeating his earlier performance in class C, while Mark Sutton was keeping Geoff Wade at arm’s length in class D.
Adam Prebble was enjoying being behind the wheel of a well behaved car and had overtaken half the field in the first two laps. His sibling meanwhile was turning up the heat on Southcott who Wyatt had left behind as he turned full defensive of second place. The defence was valiant despite his green 205 doing its best to refuse to turn into the corners and he kept Prebble in his mirrors for most of the race. Prebble picked his moment well, stealing second on lap 13. It was then Josh Harvey’s turn to try to take advantage of Southcott’s cornering woes, but thankfully the power of the Peugeot on the straights was sufficient to keep Harvey of the podium.
Wyatt chalked up yet another dominant win, finishing seven seconds clear of Gary Prebble. Southcott hold of third ahead of Josh Harvey. Matthew Bawtree managed to hold off Nick Adams for the second time that day, taking his second fifth place finish and class B win, just half a second clear of Adams. Izaac Channing had a lonely race to win class C while Mark Sutton had broken well clear of Geoff Wade to take the honours in class D.
The viral effect of the series is still in full swing even at this late stage in the season, with rumours of many other Combe regulars having their own favourite flavour of Hot Hatch in various states of build ready for next season!Posted on Monday 9 October 2017