Billed as 70th Anniversary event for Castle Combe race circuit (first opened in 1950) this year’s Castle Combe Autumn Classic was all set to be a two day extravaganza, with a full programme of classic racing from Minis to Frazer Nash, Jaguar Pre 66, Fiscar, Formula 3 500, all the HRDC grids and the feature race from the GT & Sports Car Club.
Sadly the weather had other ideas, but CCC had pulled out all the stops to ensure the event was still special despite the Covid-19 issues, trade stands were out, limited spectators were allowed and also a small number of car clubs attended parking up on the banking to enjoy the racing from there.
All people shots & B/W pics are from Charlie B
Saturday morning was damp with light drizzle as the Dunlop Mini Challenge qualifying kicked off the day. Andrew Jordan was quickest and he converted that Pole to a win in the race, with Kane Austin in second and Rupert Deeth in 3rd. This was followed by the Mini 7 Challenge where it was great to see Jeff Smith take the win now fully recovered and back on the pace after his scary BTCC 12 car pile up incident in 2017 which left him in intensive care for some time.
Minis by Robert Clayson
We were out fielding our 1954 Austin Healey 100M in the 90minute GT & Sports Car event, which followed the brave souls battling it out in Historic single seaters (results here) and the packed Frazer Nash grid where the pole sitting Blakeney-Edwards family (Joe and Patrick) made way for Tom Waterfield to take the race win with Dougal Cawley 2nd, and Tom Walker in 3rd. Full results here
Pre-War cars by Robert Clayson
For the GT & Sports Car Cup – Marcus Pye reports:
Solid rain made the half-hour qualifying session academic for those on the 36-strong entry who enjoyed our previous visits in 2017 and ’18, thus did not need to acclimatise to the 1.85-mile circuit. For the record, Griffiths – ‘snapped up’ by Clarky to replace Gordon Mutch when Philip Walker withdrew his 2017-winning Lotus 15 pre-event – set the best time, his 1m30.7638s (73.39mph) 0.530s swifter than the irrepressible Jeremy Welch, who clocked 1:31.268 (72.97mph) in Christiaen van Lanschot’s famous Ecurie Chiltern Le Mans Healey ‘DD300.’ Fittingly, the car’s saviour, local legend John Chatham, was on hand to witness it.
The GT3 pacesetter lapped eight-tenths quicker than the Fisken E, which shared the second rank of the grid with Bristolian returnee Mark Williams, soloing in his husky 4.7-litre AC Cobra. The Jags of Gooding/Greensall and Gary Pearson (GT4) were next up, although 2018 winner Pearson elected not to race. Row four comprised SP2 leaders Adams/Finburgh – Ben’s ex-Dickie Le Strange Metcalfe Lola, raced here in 1966, more a peripatetic paddling pool than a roller skate in the rain – on 1:32.810 (71.75mph) and the Haddon/Wolfe Elan, rooted in Bruno Deserti’s hooded period racer. Andy’s last race here was more than 30 years ago in a VW Golf, thus the chicanes (installed for 1999) were a new adventure!
Keith Ahlers/Billy Bellinger (ex-Chris Lawrence 2.1-litre Morgan Plus 4 SLR) and the two-litre Climax FPF-powered Lotus 15 of Brazilian Bernardo Hartogs and IN Racing’s Will Nuthall completed the top 10. Lockie’s time of 1:33.961 (70.68mph) in Orebi Gann’s ex-Gordon Spice SLR – again running in GT2 with a two-litre Triumph engine – netted 11th and set the class standard, more than 2.5 seconds clear of the opposition. John Watson’s Elan, co-driven by regular partner Dan Cox, with Historic Formula 2 ace Matthew Watts drafted in for the third stint, sat 12th.
Now the colourful line-up moved into big Healey territory with the 3000s of Patrick Blakeney-Edwards/Mike Grant Peterkin, Mark Pangborn/Harvey Woods and Crispin Harris/James Wilmoth crowded round Jeremy Cooke’s Shelby Mustang GT350, shared with 1998 Castle Combe Saloon champion Russell Humphrey. Starting beside the E-type FHC of James Hanson, George and Paul Pochciol, the Thorne/Bennett-Baggs Healey 100M in 18th, second in GT2, marked the grid’s half-way point. They had done well to outpace the 3000 of Bristolians Chris Clarkson/David Smithies and GT3 class rival John Emberson’s ex-Pip Arnold Morgan Plus 4 SLR.
Robin Ellis/Nick Trott (Lotus Elan Shapecraft coupé), the Shelby GT350 of Nick Sleep/Stuart Lawson and dad and lad Allan and Daniel Ross-Jones’ Triumph TR4 sat behind the polished aluminium-bodied Moggie, run like Emberson’s more modern Chevron sports racers by Foxcraft Engineering. The TVR Granturas of Joe Ward/Chris Conoley and Malcolm Paul/Rick Bourne sandwiched the similar BMC B series-engined MGBs of Beverley and Chris Phillips/Will Nuthall and Richard Locke/Matthew Green, the last teams inside 1m40s.
Lebanese stalwart Gregoire Audi’s AC Cobra, the Elan of Steve Jones/Robert Barrie and Julian Bronson’s seven-litre Chevrolet Corvette were tightly bunched, but the Chevy – out for the first time in five years – suffered alternator failure with Barry Cannell experiencing it for the first time. “First the wipers went, then I lost the lights, and finally the spark,” said Cannelloni.
David Clark and Ben Cussons’ delightful early two-litre Porsche 911, the Elans of Stephen Bond/Cliff Gray and Simon Evans – either side of the oft-recalcitrant Reliant Sabre Six of Simon and Alex Drabble, trailered by diff failure this time – Brian Lambert/Iain Rowley (MGB) and Tony Worthington/Mark Midgley (Healey 3000) rounded out the pack. Worthington withdrew, joining Pearson and the Drabbles on the sidelines, leaving 33 starters.
The feature Race
The precipitation had not eased one iota and the skies over Wiltshire remained leaden as the field formed up behind the Honda Civic safety car for the rolling start at 16.00. Griffiths led away, pursued by Fisken and Williams, whose snarling Cobra gobbled former Caterham racer Haddon’s Elan up as the stampede headed over the crest of Avon Rise. Forming an orderly queue through the tricky right-handed Quarry corner, they headed for the first bottleneck at the Esses.
Van Lanschot, treading cautiously, came round fifth at the end of the opening lap, followed by Adams, Ahlers, Gooding, Grant Peterkin (the turquoise Healey up three places), Harris, Hanson on his usual charge, Hartogs, Pangborn, Orebi Gann – already in the clutches of GT2 rival Thorne – Clarkson, Cooke, Emberson, Ellis and Lawson completing the top 20. Bronson pitted the black Corvette immediately and, following some under bonnet fettling, resumed only to park it after another tour with a suspected blocked carburettor jet. Engine failure (a suspected broken camshaft) thwarted Ahlers after five laps, but extraordinarily there were no more retirements!
Griffiths commanded the first of the race’s three phases, but Haddon and Fisken were locked together, around 16 seconds down, when they pitted in tandem after 24 laps, relaying Wolfe and Franchitti respectively. Miles stopped next time round for the mandatory minute, having maxed his stint, handing over to Clark who remained 11 seconds clear of Wolfe, with Franchitti howling after him, then Adams, a lap ahead of George Pochciol (continuing Hanson’s stout work), Blakeney-Edwards, Williams and Nuthall, drenched in Hartogs’ open Lotus.
Clark fell prey to Wolfe and Haddon within three laps and put Griffiths back into bat once the critical 50-minute barrier was passed. With less than 40 remaining, Miles could drive until the end – after he had taken the additional 30 second non-owners’ imposition. His mastery would be a feature thereafter, but the focus for the moment was a humdinger of a scrap between past European Super Sports Cup and FIA F1 champion Wolfe and modern prototype star Franchitti, with IMSA’s 2014 Sebring 12 Hours gold on his CV. The Italo-Scot reeled-in Wolfe with a sub-1:30 lap and the chase became a full-blooded duel.
For the next six laps the two aces walked on water, carving through constant traffic with utmost precision and slithering through the corners under power. “It was fantastic fun,” reflected Andy afterwards. “Actually, the rain made it easier because the drivers of the slower cars couldn’t see us coming. They stayed where they were, concentrating on their own races, leaving us to find a safe way past. That’s how it should be.” A one and a half lap safety car interlude, for marshals to pluck an exhaust pipe from the track at Bobbies [the second chicane] brought a few cars in, but Wolfe and Franchitti pitted together as it ended, leaving car owners Haddon and Fisken to slug it out to the finish.
Gregor gained about a second through this stop to be breathing down Andrew’s neck at the end of their out lap, with 24 minutes remaining on TSL’s clock. Traffic fell pretty evenly as they tackled the spray for the second time, but just as Fisken was back on Haddon’s rear bumper one slip as they worked their way through a 10-car train decided the race. “I’d got very close and Andrew had a little love tap – for which I apologised – but I was having to take chances. Then I got up alongside a Cobra at the Esses, but it was his line and I spun.” Suddenly the white and green Elan had a cushion of nine seconds. Job done, but Gregor and Marino earned GT3 gold in the first Jaguar home.
Both drivers had thrown caution to the wind, but ultimately the lighter 1600cc Lotus’ lithe chassis just countered the 3.8-litre XK engine’s superior torque. “After 45 minutes I was hoping to see the chequered flag. It’s a nice track and I don’t mind the rain, but it could have come a lap earlier,” beamed Haddon, who saw it as he logged his car’s 55th lap. Having survived a massive moment on standing water at Old Paddock, the fast right-hander after the Esses mid-way through his stint, Wolfe was ecstatic. “The race had a great Pro-Ammy feel to it. That scrap with Marino was awesome,” he said.
During the central phase, Welch had hurled van Lanschot’s Healey back to third, lapping consistently quicker than the leaders, but the ubiquitous Greensall also ran long and was flying in fellow Daytona 24 Hours veteran David Gooding’s GT3 E-type and growled ahead as Jeremy re-installed Christiaen. Having briefly ceded the Lola to Finburgh, Adams and Griffiths were closing in though and passed David to annex third and fourth.
Miles was only seven seconds shy of Fisken and less than five ahead of gallant SP2 division winner Adams, having overtaken the black car four circuits from home. “The spray was a struggle in traffic but it was the same for everybody. And the car’s in one piece,” said Griffiths, whose fastest race lap of 1:29.329 (74.55mph) eclipsed his qualifying best.
A lap down, Gooding continued Greensall’s outstanding work, their reward an excellent fifth and runners-up in GT3. The first of the Healeys – the British Racing Green Clarkson/Smithies #1 – crossed the line but 2.3s later. Having retaken the wheel from ‘Auto Sergei’s stunt double, Clarkson had diligently caught and passed van Lanschot for sixth on lap 53. The Dutchman then concentrated on repelling Grant Peterkin’s 3000 which filled his mirrors at the flag.
Williams deserved better than ninth having wrestled his Cobra for 53 gruelling laps. Harris/Wilmoth finished 10th after a long tussle with Pangborn/Woods, Mark having chased Crispin down to be a second behind when the time was exhausted. Hartogs/Nuthall completed the top 12.
The balance of power in GT2 see-sawed throughout the race. Orebi Gann and Lockie won the class, in 14th place overall, but their quest was far from straightforward. Thorne had bustled his gunmetal Healey past Simon on lap two and continued to eke out a cushion of 30 seconds, sliding it round beautifully. Mike pitted after 15 laps, having got ahead of van Lanschot’s gruntier GT3 Healey, and was only lapped by leader Griffiths as Sarah B-B was waiting patiently to take over.
Lockie had been in the Morgan for a couple of laps, thus was up to speed and the Scot set about eroding his team’s deficit with gusto, setting 10thbest time. Beyond firing range of the TVRs of Conoley and Bourne, and the Clark/Cussons Porsche, Calum returned the red aerodyne to its owner 25 laps later (his full quota), two laps off the overall lead but two clear of Bourne who sent Paul back into the fray seconds later. Thorne was now well into his stride again. He took a lap back from Orebi Gann and as the pit stagger unwound passed Ward to claim a brilliant second in class in the oldest car in the race. The Mustangs of Lawson and Cooke separated them in the results.
Ward/Conoley’s blue TVR ‘Grannie’ was third in GT2, in which the Clark/Cussons Porsche was credited with fourth ahead of the red TVR of Paul/Bourne. Veterans Lambert/Rowley were best of the three MGBs. There were dramas too, when Jones spun his grey Elan through 540 degrees on the exit of Camp corner and Ellis/Trott’s fastback version lost a wheel in the final laps.
Despite treacherously slippery and gloomy conditions, all but two of the 33 starters were classified as finishers. A remarkable achievement which drew universal praise.
Editor (above: having a kip in the collection area 🙂 – So there we have it, another unforgettable race, fielding the oldest car on the grid we kept it all on the black stuff enough to walk away all in piece, with a 2nd in (GT2) class trophy. When we returned to Castle Combe on the Sunday morning to race our Austin A30 in Julius Thurgood’s HRDC grids, the rain had stepped up a gear and alas the day after several track inspections had to be abandoned. Such a shame, and you have to feel slightly gutted for the circuit organisers on their chosen anniversary event. I wonder what the weather was like in 1950 on the day the track opened?
Words: Sarah Bennett-Baggs / Marcus Pye report on GTSCC