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Castle Combe Race Circuit

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THRILLS AND SPILLS AT SUN-SOAKED COMBE CARNIVAL

GULF RACE FUELS FORMULA FORD CHAMPIONSHIP – WALKER DOUBLE THROWS TITLE RACE WIDE OPEN

Alex Walker became the third new race winner in five rounds when he aced the first of Bank Holiday Monday’s Combe Carnival encounters from pole position in a Wayne Poole Racing with Richard Hudson-Evans Van Diemen RF01. As an intriguing season of many permutations unfolds, the 20-year-old BRDC Rising Star staked his claim to join the title race by doubling-up later in the day, again apparently impervious to relentless pressure from double champions Felix Fisher and Luke Cooper on quadruple Castle Combe titlist Bob Higgins’ 75th birthday!

With Easter Monday’s double winner Josh Fisher unlikely to return before the end of the season and May Madness victors Andrew Rackstraw [the South African chasing his Porsche Carrera Cup GB priority] and erstwhile points leader Rory Smith elsewhere, it’s all change at the top of the table. Heading to the Summer Spectacular, which will take the contest past its half-way stage on June 15, Fisher and Cooper – second and third in both races – are now the pacesetters as they have been since the middle of 2022.

Neither has added to his win tally in this campaign, however, Luke’s relatively fallow period now stretching back to last October and Felix’s to August! But Walker, who missed the season-opener, thus can discard two zeroes from his final score should he keep amassing big points, is making headway and closing in. The end game is always crucial at Combe, where the definitive situation rarely presents itself until the dropped score stagger unwinds on Grand Finals day. Clearly there is all to play for, with Smith also gunning for the crown in an enthralling four-way fight which may well go all the way once more.

QUALIFYING

Confidence brimming from his first British GT podium at Donington the previous day, only Walker – son of 2008 750 Motor Club F4 champion Jeremy; grandson of longtime Volkswagen Motorsport supremo Nigel – of the leading combatants subscribed to the free practice session which was offered at the start of the day, which dawned dry. That he topped it with a promising 1m10.683s warm-up was no surprise.

Come the official session – anointed by a few drops of rain which sent everybody scurrying into the pits, the more serious among them for subtle suspension setting tweaks – Walker and Fisher (TM Racing Ray GR05) traded best times, Alex cementing pole with 1:10.497s (94.47mph) to 1:10.661 on his penultimate lap. Walker’s second best effort of 1:10.586 earned P1 for race two, incidentally, again shading Fisher and Cooper (works Swift SC20), both within quarter of a second, despite a broken wheel stud being found on Luke’s car afterwards.

The withdrawal of Cooper’s team mate Robert Hall, whose Swift SC24 was damaged in a heavy Thursday testing shunt at Camp [“I’ll have it repaired for the June event,” said Alan Cooper, Luke’s dad] and others reduced the field to 17, the thinnest of the season.

Closest to the top trio was the irrepressible Nathan Ward in his Golden Bull Graphics Swift SC92. Class B’s [1990-1995] long-time yardstick, the Coventry driver’s 1:12.118 earned him the other second row grid slot, with Sam Street a mere 0.417s adrift in his sister car. Class C’s [1985-’89] battlers David Cobbold and Tom ‘Tommy Mac’ McArthur were next up in their Van Diemen RF89s – run by Brian Soule’s Souley Motorsport and Wayne Poole respectively – on 1:12.759 and 1:13.053.

A Hawkins secured eighth overall, not Tom but FF veteran father Bob, going really well in his TM Racing/Springbridge Direct Ray GR10. Fresh from setting a personal best 6.43s standing start quarter mile – with a terminal velocity of 205mph – at Santa Pod Raceway in Time Traveller 2, his nitromethane-burning slingshot dragster, Bob posted a stout 1:13.076 to reflect his confidence in what must seem like slow motion.

The engine on Hawkins Junior’s Ray GR11 had jettisoned a con rod spectacularly in Thursday testing, punching a gaping hole in the block, so he substituted his Swift SC95. A double Super Classic Pre-’99 FF winner at Mallory Park the previous weekend, its engine popped a main oil seal after a lap in free practice, but with his spare being rebuilt the team set about changing the seal for him to start race 1 from the back, having been granted qualification through recent circuit familiarity.

On the grid’s fulcrum point sat Bristolian Tom Radburn in his black and red Echo Motorsport/KMR Spectrum. Following recent karting practice at Llandow, he lapped within 0.006s of Hawkins the elder and 0.015s quicker than Historic ace Sam Mitchell in the venerable RH-E Merlyn Mk20, the Class D lap record holder in older brother Ben’s hands.

The exuberant Vincent Jay (Van Diemen RF90 ‘stealth bomber,’ improved by set-up changes), seasonal debutant Shaun Macklin chasing a fluffy misfire in his Swift SC92 and Stephen Bracegirdle’s vivid green-nosed WPR Van Diemen RF01 were next. Alicia Hamlen (Ray GR09), local championship newcomer Dane Catanzaro – a Monoposto regular in his Puzzle Electrics RF89 – and Richard Earl (RF88) completed the colourful line-up.

RACE 1

Poleman Walker got out of the blocks very rapidly and for 12 laps the talented youngster calmly stemmed everything circuit specialists Cooper and Fisher threw at him. Luke usurped Felix to grab second time round, and stayed there by inches until lap seven when, having just set fastest lap at 1:10.932 (93.89mph), he could no longer hold Fisher back. As the leaders flashed under the chequered flag in line astern, Felix was 0.542s behind Walker and 0.512s ahead of arch-rival Cooper. “It was good to get the win, but those two coming up behind made it tough – and no overtaking at the last corner [Camp was declared a yellow zone for the rest of the day following a barrier-damaging incident in a Renault Clio Sport Championship race] made it tougher,” grinned Walker.

Once past sharp-shooter Cobbold’s yellow Van Diemen on lap two, Ward enjoyed a comfortably lonely run to fourth and Class B gold. Nathan’s task was eased when Street retired after seven laps, his engine having ingested an air filter mounting nut which scarred a piston and the cylinder head as souvenirs of its journey. After a very rapid start from the back, which saw him use a bit of infield grass in making several places at the lights, Tom Hawkins waved cheerily to his father on lap two and continued his advance to sixth, second of the B men. Tom bagged the point for class fastest lap, his 1:12.162 mark swifter than Ward’s by 0.150s.

Between them, in fifth, Cobbold had a strong race to top Class C as Tommy Mac’s challenge went up in smoke. The first signs of trouble were spotted on lap four, but as the emissions worsened from a vent in the engine cover he received the meatball flag – then the black. The Mancunian pitted, but was out for the day, with only a fastest lap point to show for it. Bob Hawkins thus crossed the finish line seventh, less than five seconds behind his lad, having notched a 1:12.816s lap.

Mitchell, eighth at the end of the opening lap, slipped back to 10th, but retirements enabled him to recover the lost places. Macklin was on Sam’s tail at the close, clear of the gaggle comprising Bracegirdle, Hamlen and Radburn. Early spinner Jay and Catanzaro completed the 14 finishers, Earl having fallen in the closing stages.

RACE 2

The pattern of the second race was spookily similar to its predecessor, even down to Cooper snatching second from Fisher on lap two, albeit with Felix nabbing it back after four more circuits, a lap earlier than before. Walker hardly dared look in his mirrors as the local aces battled, keeping his head down and charging on through the lap countdown. In a sterner test of character and resolve, Fisher was 0.207s shy at the close, with Cooper 0.187s behind in his slipstream. This time Felix claimed the point for fastest lap of 1:10.411 (94.58mph), the day’s quickest.

Super-consistent Ward lapped fractionally quicker than in R1 – posting 1:12.266 (92.15mph) – en route to fourth, 19 seconds clear of Cobbold. Mitchell and Radburn harassed David for much of the race, Radburn eventually claiming sixth with an encouraging 1:12.188 best lap in his sleek Australian-originated machine.

Hawkins Junior made initial progress on the left this time, but spent much of the race with an al fresco driving position, having knocked his car’s nose and cockpit front panel off, to the detriment of its aero, against his dad’s gearbox and left rear wheel approaching Tower, after slipstreaming him through Hammerdown. “[team chief] Tom Margetson’s last words to me before the race were don’t let him past,” said Bob. He did make it later, then towed Senior round to an improved 1:12.554 as they finished eighth and ninth to end a fun family day out.

Macklin was 10th in his faithful #27 Swift, clear of Bracegirdle who had Earl in tow. Jay, Hamlen and Catanzaro all lapped quicker than in their earlier outings to round out the finishers.

Heading into rounds seven and eight of the 14 on Summer Spectacular Saturday, June 15, title hat-trick aspirant Fisher leads the championship on 116 points, to Cooper’s 104, Ward’s 91, Walker’s 81 and Rory Smith’s 80.

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GULF RACE FUELS GT CHAMPIONSHIP – WATSON AND BUTCHER REPRISE EASTER BATTLES

In another tussle of rampant Italian stallions, Easter Monday winners Keith Butcher (Lamborghini Huracan Evo GT3) and Doug Watson (Ferrari 488 Challenge) repeated their successes, in the opposite order, in rounds three and four of the Gulf Race Fuels GT Championship at the Combe Carnival event on Monday, May 27. In an entry further depleted by a high-speed incident which saw the opening stanza red flagged and restarted, Watson improved his personal best lap to 1m06.677s (99.88mph) in a tight opening race. Butcher extended his points lead when his rival missed race two. Doug has the opportunity to close the gap at the next double-header – at the Summer Spectacular on June 15/16 – which Keith is sitting out, but should attract more starters.

QUALIFYING

Only a dozen competitors made it to Combe following Nigel Mustill’s Volvo-Chevrolet S60’s engine failure at Thruxton the previous weekend, an ongoing fix of defending champion Jamie Sturges’ ultra-rapid Cupra Competicion TCR and Jordan Billinton’s Lamborghini Gallardo Reiter GT3 being laid up without an engine, but the pace was hot. Not only that but it was a very different car which would start the first race from pole position, with a record number of Ginettas comprising half of the pack.

Second [behind Angus Fender’s Dodge Viper] in last October’s Grand Finals races aboard his mighty Ariel Atom, Tom Walpole was back, saddling an astonishing KTM Evo GT4+ debuted recently at Spa. The only example in the UK, the Austrian machine, built on a carbonfibre monocoque chassis and powered by a turbocharged two-litre Audi engine turned up to make 440bhp, looked like a fighter plane with its flip-top cockpit canopy. It certainly turned heads in free practice, when the combo broke 1m10s, serving gentle notice of a lot more to come.

In the Q session Glastonbury’s Martin Thomas was first to get going in his newly-acquired 3.7-litre Ford V6-engined Ginetta G55, one of three previously owned by Tom Hibbert. Walpole supplanted him, before being betterted in turn by Josh Smith – getting familiar with his 1.6-litre 280bhp RLM Suzuki Hayabusa-powered Caterham, despite losing its clutch – and Watson’s turbocharged 4.0-litre Ferrari. But Walpole had the final say, setting a sizzling 1:06.659 (99.91mph) pole time in the KTM, 0.922s inside Butcher’s Class A race record of 1:07.581, set on April 1 under the new category structure for 2024.

Watson (1:06.959), Dylan Popovic (7.0 Ginetta-Chevrolet G50, 1:07.082), Class D leader Smith (1:07.173), Butcher (1:07.263) and championship newcomer Simon Griffiths (3.7 Ginetta-Ford G55 GT4, 1:07.622) were all flying as they claimed the first three rows of the grid. Ginetta-Chev pilots Chris Everill (6.2 G55, 1:08.045) and David Krayem (7.0 G50 GT3, 1:08.341) sat behind them, with Thomas – previously out in a sister Porsche 991 GT3 Cup car to 2022 champion Kevin Bird’s – for company on 1:08.578.

Keith Johnston (3.5 Ginetta-Ford G50) and Tim Bishop (2.3 Caterham 7-Duratec) were next on 1:10.683 and 1:10.808 respectively. Outgunned in this company, plucky Armed Forces Racing Challenge regular Jasmin Norman rounded out the field in her Army Motorsport Audi TT Mk1.

RACE 1

Starting with unprecedented confidence, Watson made the best getaway as the red lights went out, opening a 4.2 second lead over Walpole, Popovic and Everill in the course of two laps. Butcher ousted Everill on lap four and was closing on the leading pair when contact between Walpole and Popovic at Folly triggered a big shunt.

As the KTM stuttered, Popovic instinctively moved right towards the kink’s clipping point under hard acceleration, but Walpole in the left-hand-drive machine did not see him in the blind spot as full power chimed in again. The initial brush with the Ginetta’s front wing – at 133mph on Dylan’s data logger – appeared to slice open the KTM’s right front tyre, which compromised its grip and steering. A second impact sent Tom left, hard into the barrier, where the Recticel cushioning did its job superbly. Thankfully both drivers emerged unscathed, shook hands and put it down to a pure racing incident. The tubeframe Ginetta, with a buckled left front corner, should be back on track inside three weeks.

Following a stoppage to replace barrier posts and reinstate several savaged cushioning blocks, the remaining 10 cars formed up for another go. Watson started hard again, but Butcher responded, setting a new 1:06.789 record on lap three. It lasted a lap, for Watson’s 1:06.677 (99.88mph) took the bonus point and he resisted constant pressure to win by 0.941s. “Keith pushed me all the way. It was very hot in the car, but I used a bit more power on a mid-setting today,” he said. “I think Doug’s narrower front tyres warmed-up quicker than mine, but I got in the sixes a couple of times so I’m very happy,” said Keith.

Everill and Smith – who started like a rocket from the pit lane, the clutch issue having been traced to the slave cylinder bracket being shaken off the engine – led the chase before the Caterham wriggled past to a class-winning third, and a mighty 1:07.641 (98.46mph) class lap record.

As Everill slowed, then crept back to the pits with a wheel speed sensor down, putting his machine into limp mode, former Legends racer Griffiths, Krayem and Thomas were classified fourth, fifth and sixth. Johnston and Bishop finished a lap down, but Norman retired.

RACE 2

Neither Watson nor Thomas – who had done enough for the day, exploring his new car – appeared for the second race, shortened to 11 laps in the interests of completing the programme, leaving eight starters. Smith shot his potent Caterham into the lead at the rolling start, opening a four second lead over Griffiths, Butcher and Everill on the first lap. Former Radical ace Josh’s advantage grew to over 13 seconds over four circuits, before suddenly shrinking to 4.5s over Butcher’s black and purple Lambo, Keith having screamed past Griffiths into the Esses.

Bishop straight-lined the Esses in his efforts to keep fifth from Krayem and Everill did likewise three laps later, essaying to demote Griffiths, who had lost a headlight in the grass. Meanwhile, Smith was struggling out front – the Caterham ‘busa stuck in fourth gear, thus restricted to 103mph flat out, rather than 140 ish. Josh’s schoolboy error was lapping Norman’s Audi entering the well-briefed temporary yellow zone from Camp to the timing line, which brought exclusion from the result and had his race licence endorsed with four points for the contravention.

Butcher, with Griffiths in the red-nosed 350bhp Ginetta occupying his mirrors, opened out a gap of 2.260s over the remaining three laps to the chequer. “He was going really well,” said Keith, who did not have to lap as quickly as before. Everill and Krayem were third and fourth – David’s best lap 0.006s quicker, in the nines –  ahead of Bishop, Johnston and the lapped Norman. Butcher now leads the championship by 11 points from Jamie Sturges, with Watson third a further point adrift.

Pic credits: Michael Stokes

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