Staff and spectators donned their glad rags and vintage gear last weekend for the annual west country festival of historic racing – Castle Combe Autumn Classic. Whilst a wet forecast may have put some off, despite a damp start the sun forced its way through the cloud and the event enjoyed a clear autumn day.
As usual the fast, flowing circuit served up some exciting races, there were three races from the HRDC including the Coy’s 100 Trophy where Ambrogio Perfetti took overall victory in his electric blue Ford Cortina.
Perfetti, who started from pole position, led the 45-minute two-driver race – the longest of the event – pretty much from start-to-finish, and despite jumping the start and picking up a 10-second penalty, brought his Lotus Ford Cortina Mk1 home 10.869sec up on Chambers.
It was Pete Chambers, however, who posted the fastest race lap – a 1min 21.605sec lap – and as a result was presented with the prestigious Terry Sanger trophy in memory of the well-known West Country racer and former chief instructor at Castle Combe Racing School.
Alex Thistlethwayte was third in his Ford Mustang with 28 of the 40 starters classified at the end, although sadly Take That’s Howard Donald was not one of them, retiring with 10 laps to go.
Meanwhile, I was out fielding the family Austin A30 for the first time (for me) in the HRDC Allstars race, a baptism of fire on the packed grid mixing it with the Bristol Healey mafioso ‘Smithies & Clarkson’, Jaguar E-Types, Mustangs and the mighty Cobra of Mark Williams. The race was sadly curtailed but won by the Cobra of Mark Williams who finished 5.949sec up on Grant Williams. I had a blast in the A30 – once you stop giggling at the ridiculous acceleration of the Speedwell A-series engine it is flat-out pretty much everywhere. More practice is needed to stop braking, but what serious fun! I have to thank Westbourne Motorsport for the support and the whole Colburn family!
I had a coffee in the morning with Marc Swaffer, we laughed over the upside down Jaffa cakes in Julius’ cake emporium he provides for his competitors. Marc was telling me how much he enjoyed racing his Austin A40 all thanks, mainly to his brilliant mechanic. He said he used to race motorbikes but preferred the safety of having a metal box around him rather than experiencing 30 bikes all heading for the same bit of tarmac on the first corner. We giggled, and I was really pleased to have made a new friend.
Marc very sadly left the circuit at bobbies in his A40 during the race, drove into the cornfield suffering a heart attack, from which he sadly didn’t recover. Fellow racers were shocked and saddened, myself included. I think we all raised a glass or two in his honour that evening and thoughts are with his nearest and dearest. He will certainly be remembered very fondly.
Back to the racing highlights, earlier in the day, Michael Grant Peterkin led from start-to-finish in the HSCC Historic Formula Ford race, bringing his Braham BT21 home 3.698sec ahead of Clive Richards, with Timothy Brise third.
In the FJHRA/HSCC Silverline Historic Formula Junior Championship, Stuart Roach pulled off another lights-to-flag triumph from pole position, beating Christopher Drake by 1.476sec. Iain Rowley was a distant third in his Lola Mk5, 39.468sec further back.
Of the rest, Jonathan Abecassis came through from fourth on the grid with a storming first lap in his Austin Healey 100 2660 to bag the victory in the FISCAR Historic 1950s Inter-Marque race.
Brian Arculus and Robin Pearce were second and third respectively, less than five tenths between them – although the former was 2.764sec shy of P1.
As for the HRDC Classic Alfa Challenge, pole sitter Ted Pearson enjoyed a good early battle with eventual runner-up Chris Snowdon, before pulling away and setting the fastest lap en route to a building a 10.079sec cushion at the chequered flag. Antony Ross was third.
Finally, Martin Hunt beat Alan Bull to claim the victory in the Norman Dewis Trophy for Pre-66 Jaguars, while Patrick Blakeney-Edwards dominated the Frazer Nash Freddie Giles Memorial Trophy, the eighth and final race of the meeting, bagging pole position, fastest lap and the race win, 7.227sec up on Shepton Mallet’s Tom Waterfield. Eddie Williams from Cirencester was third from Tony Lees and Julian Grimwade.
Away from the 1.85-mile circuit, the Autumn Classic was also home to hordes of classic club car stands, as well as spectacular ‘star car’ displays (which this year commemorated the 1959 Le Mans victory of Aston Martin and Avon Tyres).
What makes this event so special, is the unique atmosphere that the organisers generate, it is clear the staff enjoy their work and this filters right the way through the circuit from the man on the gate, to paramedics and pit lane marshals. Trauma aside (and it must have been a difficult day) – they do appear to be having fun, there’s a great vibe throughout the paddock. If this is one event you haven’t yet ticked off, then, I would definitely put it on the ‘to-do’ list, make sure you sign up for next year!
Images: Oliver Read/Avon Tyres