The Spencer Lane-Jones Trophy
Castle Combe Autumn Classic
1st October, 2016
FISCAR's Inter-Marque season finale at Castle Combe, once again, provided our biggest grid of the year and the biggest at this meeting. As conditions go, October is expected to be a wet month but until this year, this meeting had defied the odds and tended to be both dry and unseasonably sunny. However, on this occasion, whilst the sun made sporadic attempts to gain ascendancy, the weather was predominantly wet ........ very wet! Those in open cars got soaked and those in closed cars, got steamed up. It was that sort of day! It is a tad trite to trot out the old saying that spirits were not dampened but it tended to hold true here.
The field was made up of our usual Inter-Marque cars with the addition of a few FLIERS and some Chairmans cars, although this year we excluded quicker elements of the latter class. Among the entries were no less than four Jaguar XK150s which I'm pretty sure is a record for that model in a FISCAR race. Welcome new additions to the grid were Kevin Kivlochan, HRS Chairman in his AC Ace, Sean Mooney in his special bodied Daimler SP250, Tom McWhirter all the way down from Scotland in his Tojeiro Bristol and there were a number of returnees that we hadn't seen for a while. Dispensation given to a very few cars to run tyres other than Dunlop R5 or Ls which at the time of request seemed acceptable, with hindsight proved to be a mistake for which this writer, briefly acquiring broad shoulders, will take responsibility! The advantage that these tyres have in the dry grew substantially in the wet conditions, but that said we saw some excellent racing and some wonderfully controlled driving in extremely tricky conditions.
Even before qualifying started we lost the Lotus Elite of Brian Arculus. It was fine when he set off for scrutineering, drove through paddock and joined the end of the short queue, but when he tried to move forward, there was no drive. Brian reports that this has recently been found to be an intermittent fault within the clutch hydraulic system, the culprit being the inner seal to the slave cylinder. Whilst he was unable to practice, Brian was able to join the race at the back of the rid with his charismatic Lotus IX, resplendent in American racing colours, having qualified it for the Jon Gross Memorial Trophy race.
A very wet qualifying session proved to be a shoot out between Steve Boultbee-Brooks in the Aston Martin DB3S and Nick Matthews, finally with a decent set of Dunlops on his Austin Healey 100/4. Steve just pipped Nick by a hundredth of a second, so a fine battle was thought to be in store, particularly if conditions for the race were unchanged. Kevin Zwolinski and Geoff Ottley qualified their splendid Jaguar XK120s in 3rd and 4th, but I don't think that I am doing either driver's abilities a disservice by saying that their fine efforts were aided by their Vredestein tyres. The Austin Healey 100/4 of Jonathan Abecassis, sharing with Richard Woolmer, qualified 5th and, not unexpectedly, alongside was Patrick Blakeney Edwards in Martin Hunt's Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica which Martin was to takeover at the pit stop, having practiced late, out of session. On the 4th row, was Marc Gordon in his Jaguar XK150 and Kevin Kivlochan in his AC Ace Bristol. The top ten qualifying positions were completed by Mike Freeman in the first of the Lotus Elites and Tim Pearce in his AC Ace Bristol. I won't list all 38 of the qualifying cars but would mention that Sean Mooney bringing up the rear had not raced at Castle Combe for 10 years found the conditions and visibility hard going particularly since he also had clutch problems. His day was not to get any better.
Whilst conditions may not have been quite as bad as those which attended qualifying, they weren't a whole lot better either and it was still raining as our substantial grid of 39 superb cars lined up for our usual 30 minute race with compulsory pit stop. This was actually one more car than had qualified in our session, as a welcome addition to the field was the late entry of Charles Fripp in the Gomm Jaguar . He had practised during qualifying for the Norman Dewis Trophy for Jaguars and was therefore able join the back of our grid. Brian Arculus joined him at the back with the Lotus IX, but we had lost the Jowett Jupiter of Richard Gane & John Arnold (cause unknown at this stage).
In the poor conditions, Steve Boultbee-Brooks took the beautiful DB3S off the line in splendid fashion, whilst fellow front row man, Nick Matthews spun up his wheels a tad to allow the two Jaguar XKs on the second row to take full advantage to punch passed him, Geoff Ottley slotting in behind the Aston closely pursued by Kevin Zwolinski. Behind these four, the massive grid made pretty good starts, some obviously better than others, but giving each other plenty of room and they all got away without mishap, although Nick Ruddell reports a disappointing tap to the back of his Aston Martin DB2/4 going into Quarry for the first time.
As they crossed the line to complete the first lap, Steve had the Aston 2 seconds ahead of Geoff, who was now being challenged by Kevin Z, the two XK120s having pulled over 2 seconds clear of Nick in his Austin Healey. Patrick had the Frazer Nash wound up, in 5th with Jonathan Abecassis just over one second behind. Mike Freeman was holding down 7th in the Elite followed by Kevin K in the Ace Bristol. Up to an excellent 9th was Jason Harris in his Austin Healey having started from 13th and Alex Quattlebaum had gone one better to bring the LECo 2 into 10th having started from 15th. Others also had some great first laps. Amongst these, Rob Cobden ('I thought I was the only one moving') made a spectacular start in the incredibly rare little Fairthorpe Electron. He went from 28th on the grid to 15th. Nigel Winchester, repeating his Silverstone charge, was up to 17th from 27th in the special bodied 'Venezuelan' AC Ace Bristol; Paul Ziller was up to 16th from 22nd in a determined and an initially successful bid to get ahead of fellow TR2 man, Mark Hoble, and Keith Hampson had improved 7 places on his 37th starting position in his Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans. As this big field streamed, literally, over the startline, Sean Mooney was seen to enter the pitlane and retire the Daimler SP250 Special, the clutch not fully disengaging. It was not the most auspicious start to Sean's membership of FISCAR and we can but hope that both the sun and better fortune shines on him the next time he enters one of our races.
The only real change to the status quo over the next few laps was Kevin Zwolinski moving ahead of Geoff Ottley on lap 2 and Jonathan Abecassis who moved his Austin Healey 10o/4 passed Patrick Blakeney-Edwards in the Frazer Nash. Steve Boultbee-Brooks had a small cushion in the lead which shrunk to under a second on lap 4 as the leaders started to lap the backmarkers. At Camp on lap 5, Kevin K got up the inside of the Aston, and Steve B-B electing discretion over valour with such a valuable car in these conditions took to the grass. Fortunately, the Aston regained the track to give chase to the XK and as the lap was completed, these two had 4 lapped cars between them and the chasing Nick Matthews who had taken his Austin Healey into 3rd by passing Geoff Ottley. Jonathan Abecassis was just over 2 seconds behind in 5th, the Austin Healey slowly pulling away from Patrick B-E who was very safely ensconced in 6th, as the closely circulating chasing group of Mike Freeman (Lotus Elite), Kevin Kivlochan (AC Ace Bristol) and Jason Harris (Austin Healey 100) were by now a further 20 seconds behind, wrapped up in their own battle. We were also now into the pitting phase of the race with 4 cars going in on lap 5, although two, Brian Arculus (Lotus IX), inevitably, and Jeremy Holden (Austin Healey 100) had already done so at the earliest opportunity on lap 3.
During the ensuing few laps the gap between Kevin, leading in the XK120, and Steve, in the Aston, fluctuated but was never more than 3 seconds and usually less, much of this variation due the fact that they were working their way through lapped cars and coping with the conditions. Their advantage over the pursuers continued to go out slowly and there was little change in the positions during this part of the race. Further back, Rob Cobden's great start in the Fairthorpe was to no avail as the car started to overheat badly and he dropped down the field retiring at the end of lap 6. Charles Fripp had retired the Gomm Jaguar one lap earlier but I am as yet unaware of the reason. Almost half the field took their pit stops between laps 7 & 9, although the two leaders continued on their way and well beyond the halfway stage before taking their stops. By lap 7, Jonathan Abecassis had closed in on Geoff Ottley who pitted his XK120 on lap 8, handing 4th to Jonathan, who himself then pitted on lap 9 to hand his Austin Healey over to Richard Woolmer. Nick Matthews pitted from 3rd on the same lap. Could the three of them make inroads into the leading pair over the next 9 laps?
The race was almost two thirds complete when Steve Boultbee-Brooks brought the second place Aston in for his pit stop on lap 11. The leader, Kevin Zwolinski followed suit on the next lap, but the Jaguar was held, as also were one or two others, an unduly long time at the pitlane exit. Apparently, the absence of pitlane exit lights now requires the presence of a flag marshal to control the exit and in this case it cost Kevin in the region of 40 seconds. This meant that he emerged in 4th place behind Geoff Ottley in the other XK 120 although he was soon to latch onto the tail of the latter. However, Kevin, too, was being caught by a flying Richard Woolmer who had taken over the Austin Healey from Jonathan Abecassis at the end of lap 9, and by lap 15, the 3 cars were in line astern as they started lap 16. At this stage, Steve B-B, driving the Aston beautifully, was leading by 32 seconds from Nick Matthews in his Austin Healey, also mastering the tricky conditions, and Nick was clear of the battling trio by just over 9 seconds. The only other car on the lead lap was the Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica of Martin Hunt who had taken over his car from Patrick Blakeney-Edwards at the end of lap 7.
During the course of Lap 16, Richard Woolmer had passed both the XKs to take 3rd and they had themselves swapped positions as Kevin Z had also passed Geoff Ottley to take 4th. With two laps to go, it seemed a tall order for Richard to catch Nick Matthews in 2nd place but we were not to find out, as on lap 17, Kevin endeavouring to regain the position from Richard, going into Camp, struck the Austin Healey in the door pushing the Austin Healey off line. Whilst Richard regained the track, the two places captured on the previous lap were lost with no time left to recover them.
In an excellent 7th place was the first of the AC Aces, driven by Kevin Kivlochan and a fine 8th was Glenn and Rory Tollet in the MGA Coupe. Jason Harris maintaining form throughout finished 9th, and 10th was Marc Gordon in his XK150 and thus we had 3 Austin Healeys and 3 Jaguar XKs in the top 10. I've noted that one or two cars dropped down the order and when I establish the reasons I will amend this report. However, one is Mike Freeman, who finished 19th in the Lotus Elite. He has advised me that his rear tyres had seen better days, but that he also was held at the pitlane exit otherwise I think a top 10 finish was on the cards.
It is clear that, despite the large entry, our members handled the conditions superbly well, and I will at this point finish with the words of Kevin Kivlochan who subsequently contacted us to say that 'The race was super and driving standards were very high. The organisation and hospitality was absolutely superb. A really friendly bunch , it reminded me of the good old days of the Gentleman drivers, great times.'
Full results and Photo Gallery follow (every entrant should have at least one pic in this report subject to availability!)