The Classic Sports Car Club meeting used to be a regular fixture at Castle Combe, but recent calendar clashes has meant that they’ve been missing from the Castle Combe racing calendar for three years. Delighted to be back, the club filled the paddock to capacity with a mouth-watering collection of undisputed ‘classics’ of all ages. The two-day programme entitled the ‘West Country Cracker’ would showcase series for saloon, sports and GT cars from the Swinging Sixties (a championship that required two grids to meet demand) right up to the present day with their ‘New Millennium’ series. The Jaguar Enthusiast’s club were also invited guests for the weekend, bringing their well supported one-make Saloon and GT Championship. Of the Castle Combe Championships, the Formula Fords were slated to join the visitors on the Saturday while the Saloons and GTs would take to the track on the Sunday.
Combe in August is often a damp place to be and true to form, some of the wet stuff was forecast for the Saturday afternoon. Thankfully though, the forecasters had predicted a nice dry Sunday.
Castle Combe GT Championship iaw Simonstone Motors
Round 5 - Qualifying
A strong showing of GT machines passed under the Avon Bridge early on the Sunday morning and onto a track bathed in glorious sunshine. The 19-strong entry list was boosted thanks to value hunters racing elsewhere on the programme and keen to experience the legendary championship from the hot seat.
Two notable absences however were the pair jointly holding second place in the championship. Damage to Bob’s Ginetta sustained at Snetterton while in the hands of son Adam had ruled him out of today’s proceedings, while the silver Ferrari of David Hathaway was also AWOL. On the subject of supercars, this round would also see the appearance of a second Lamborghini Gallardo belonging to Jordan Billington. It would have been a first for the championship to see a pair of ‘Lambos’ battle it out with Nigel Mustill but sadly Nigel was another no show.
Front runners Tony Bennett and Oliver Bull were eager to capitalise on a clear qualifying track and set the early pace. Others looking on form in the early stages was Ilsa Cox and Adam Prebble, both putting in rapid laps from the outset. The good vibes wouldn’t last for Prebble through, his time served Rover Tomcat coming to an abrupt halt just before the pit entry, continuing his seemingly never-ending season of rotten luck.
Unexpected championship contender Tony Hutchings was back but he too suffered a continuation of his previous round woes, returning to the paddock at the end of the session on the back of a circuit recovery vehicle as a result of turbo failure.
Team Southcott were back with a brace of mental Midgets and once warmed up were soon deceiving appearances yet again, Chris and Andy climbing up to second and third on the timing screens respectively. With the conditions seemingly perfect, the top seven cars had all put in sub 1m 10s laps meaning championship leader Bradley John could do no better than P6. Worst still for John was the fact that all five cars ahead were in his class.
Tony Bennett’s storming second lap of 1:08.170 remained unchallenged when the session was red flagged for unknown reasons with just three seconds remaining, giving Tony and his Caterham their first Pole Position of the season. It looked like the Southcott Midgets (obviously a reference to the cars not the drivers!), would take P2 and P3 until a last ditch flyer for Oliver Bull was good enough to split the pairing, Chris retaining his front row position and relegating Andy to 4th.
Simon Smith in another Caterham would take prime position on third row, dwarfed by the imposing Mitsubishi Evo of Bradley John alongside. Ilsa Cox’s strong running was rewarded with P7, two places clear of here nearest class rival which unusually wasn’t Chris Vinall; he was another front running absentee for this round.
Castle Combe GT Championship iaw Simonstone Motors
Round 5 - Race
Conditions were near perfect for the start of the GT race, the air cool and the track still warm from the preceding 40min ‘Modern Classics’ race. Two gaps had appeared on the grid, Matthew Evans should have been the middle man in a trio of BMW M3s but was missing, and the turbo failure that struck Tony Hutchings’ Audi TT in qualifying was clearly unable to be rectified trackside.
Bennett and Chris Southcott controlled the pack well for a clean rolling start. By the end of the first lap, the leading pair were locked together and already gapping the chasing pack. Chris made his move and emerged the leader at the end of lap 2. Brother Andy had initially dropped back behind Bradley John who’d wasted no time in improving on his starting position. Steve Hall was making similar forward progress in his Audi silhouette, having had a disappointing grid placing of 9th. As the GT machines wound up to full race pace, John promoted himself to third and set about closing the gap on the leading pair, leaving the battle of the silhouettes to Bull and Hall. Bennett retook the lead on lap 5, only to give it back two laps later, the battle allowing John to reel the leaders in and keep reducing the gap.
Further down the field Ilsa Cox was comfortably leading her class running in 7th, sandwiched between a pair of visiting Caterhams. While brother Chris had made his latest move stick, stretching out a lead, Andy Southcott was tumbling down the order, but managed to stabilise his issues to regain race pace. The Evo of John was looming menacingly in the Caterhams’ mirrors, launching a successful challenge and stealing 2nd on the ninth tour of the circuit. Fellow Caterham pilot Simon Smith was keeping Bennett honest and had got the better of Oliver Bull, the guests stealing valuable points from the 2015 Champion.
Chris Southcott was unchallenged and the Mighty Midget held together perfectly for his first outright win. John took second and a valuable points hall, while Bennet who looked to be heading for the final podium step fell into the clutches of Simon Smith, who passed Bennett on the very last lap to earn himself some silverware.
Ilsa Cox was able to show her true form with no mechanical gremlins, having a storming drive to 6th, splitting the silhouette pairing of Oliver Bull and Steve Hall.
The combination of his second-place finish and the absence of all his nearest challengers has allowed Bradley John to assume a more comfortable lead at the top of the championship table. Ilsa Cox has become the new challenger, trailing John by four points. Oliver Bull and Tony Bennett are tied in third just one point behind Cox.
The three H’s of Higgins, Hathaway and Hutchings are also still in contention so there is still everything to play for in the GT championship. The pressure is on Bradley John and he’ll need strong finishes and for his Evo to maintain its reliability record!
Posted by Neil Thomas on Thursday 7 September 2017