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Saloon Car Race Report - Combe Challenge



SALOON CAR CHAMPIONSHIP Sponsored by Samco Sport

Adam Prebble and Thornton-Norris win amid attrition

Adam Prebble and Simon Thornton-Norris won a race apiece when the Castle Combe Saloon Car Championship’s 25th Anniversary season finally got under way on July 4, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, albeit behind closed doors. While 0.347s spanning the fastest four sizzling turbocars in qualifying looked terrific on paper, extraordinary attrition within the 15-car field meant that only Kevin Bird of the top six finished both legs of the double-header. Three were out before the opening race!

Past master Gary Prebble qualified his snorting SEAT Leon Cupra 20v T on pole, his 1m20.496s (82.73mph) best on a wet and cloudy morning, a scant 0.020s quicker than Rob Ballard’s 1:20.516 before a broken timing chain trailered his VW Scirocco. Class B pacesetter Thornton-Norris and his mighty Mitsbishi Colt Ralliart clocked 1:20.688 and Prebble minor 1.28.843 in his understated Vauxhall Astra.

Two seconds down in fifth was Bird – his Nissan 200SX now sporting a livery inspired by the Skylines fielded in Australia by by Fred Gibson Motorsport in the early 1990s – hampered by the wrong tyre choice. Bath-based British Touring Car Championship racer Josh Cook should have started his Renault Sport Megane sixth, but a glitch with its flat-shift mechanism buzzed the engine, forcing the combo’s withdrawal from the only round he could slot in around his professional programme.

Seventh qualifier Jon Lannon (Citroen Saxo VTS) recorded 1:27.280 to head Class C, but clutch failure meant that he too failed to make the grid. Class A forced induction runners Tony Dolley (SEAT Leon) and Dave Scaramanga (VW Scirocco) both broke 1m30s to be next up, ahead of Mark Sutton (MG ZR 1800) from C and Dave Spiller’s supercharged Mini Cooper S.

Antony Weeks and his 1400cc Saxo made the Class D running with 1:31.044. Terry Thorne’s Ford Fiesta and the Hignell brothers, Chris (1400 Peugeot 106) and Stuart (1600 Saxo), rounded out the field.

Thus it was that a dozen eager competitors arrived on the grid for the season’s first points race. Alas Gary Prebble – Combe’s ‘winningest’ driver – was in trouble immediately. As the white, orange and green SEAT burst out of the blocks it stuttered and flashes of orange flame from the exhaust suggested that all was not well in the engine department. Swallowed by the pack, the Spanish machine managed two laps but a bent turbo shaft spelled curtains for the day.

Meanwhile Prebble’s younger sibling was heading for a relatively straightforward victory in the deceptively rapid Astra. Pursuer Thornton-Norris’s Mitsubishi spirited chase ended in a cloud of grey smoke at Quarry on lap 11, his steed’s oil filter having unscrewed. “This car’s only failed to finish once before, and that was for an identical reason. I’ll have to think of a way to weld it on,” shrugged the 2018 champ.

Bird survived a lairy spin to take the chequer second, safe from attack because pursuers Scaramanga and Dolley were both hobbled by audible misfires. Spiller finished fifth, ahead of class winners Sutton and Weeks, then the Hignells. After a protracted tussle with Spiller’s Mini, Thorne’s Fiesta deranged the Esses tyre wall on lap 10 and remained there.

Neither Prebble made it out for the sequel, damage to Adam’s Vauxhall’s gearbox or diff – thought to have been inflicted by a clonk on the kerbs – needed workshop investigation. Thornton-Norris was back to take up pole, however, on a threadbare nine-car grid decided on second best Q-times. With Ballard absent and no Prebbles to fill the second row, Bird was next on P5, but Cook, Lannon and Scaramanga missing – “when I jacked the car up to investigate the misfire a suspension strut fell out” – Spiller (alongside Dolley on row five) was the first of two competitors on the outside line of the grid!

With little in the way of opposition out to play, Thornton-Norris and the potent Colt scuttled into the distance, finishing more than a minute clear of Bird. Kevin spun twice, on lap 3 and the final one, yet remained a long way clear of Dolley. The Bridgewater veteran had a rough ride. His SEAT was whacked at Quarry on the opening lap – “I was minding my own business and bang; I don’t even know who hit me” but the damage was cosmetic and they spent the rest of the race climbing the lap chart. Spiller was the last unlapped runner, while the Hignells enjoyed a fine duel, Stuart beating Chris in a reverse of their earlier order. Sutton and Weeks fell by the wayside.  

Posted on Monday 3 August 2020

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