Castle Combe Autumn Classic
October 6th, 2018
Castle Combe weather seems to operate in phases. The first four years of our involvement was blessed with great weather, but the last 3 have been dire. 2016 was dreadfully wet throughout. Last year a wet qualifying morning was followed by a gradual improvement but still with a damp, cold and greasy track, and this year was very similar. It doesn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of our members though, since they flock to enter this event every year and we also receive attempts by ‘interlopers’ to get in on the act which rarely occurs elsewhere. There seems to be some magical pull that the Autumn Classic has over the contestants who are drawn to the event every year. An end of term feel? Perhaps. The relative rarity of events for historic cars at the circuit? Maybe, but you feel that there is a bit more to it, than that.
I was sorry not to see Paul De Havilland turn up in the Jaguar XK150, as he had put an entry in. We haven’t seen Paul for awhile, so it would have been great to have him there. We also had to turn away Martin Hunt in the HWM Jaguar, as we felt that, as a quick and successful sports racer, this great car was too quick for the grid although Martin knows that both he and the car have always been welcome at our Tom Cole Trophy Race at Spring Start. Unfortunately, he was unable to substitute his Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, but was very understanding about it all and still enjoyed himself racing in the wet with his E type in a race later on in the day. We also had to exclude Mark Gillies in Dick Skipworth’s Jaguar XK120 since it breached our regs by having a 3.8 litre engine rather than the production 3.4. but Mark who is a pretty quick pedaller in most things was nevertheless also there, winning the Formula Vintage race in the Monoposto Aston Martin, a car that on a previous occasion, he had won our Mort Goodall Cup with. So in all, we had 29 cars go out to a very wet practice.
As the cars splashed their way out onto the circuit, there was a certain degree of inevitability that the status quo would not be maintained here, as outright car performance is not necessarily the dominant factor in these conditions. Smooth driving and great car control become a stronger factor and it was great to see some unusually high placings for cars that we would normally see further down the field. Equally, it was apparent that some were just intent on getting a time, without going off, and hoping to improve their positions during the race.
It was not altogether surprising that ARDS instructor, Richard Fores, put Robin Ellis’s Lotus Elite on pole. He was the only one to dip beneath 1.38 in these incredibly wet conditions. Just a second down, a good effort by Andy Shepherd and his son Murray, put their AC Ace alongside the Elite with an equally splendid effort by Marc Gordon in the big Jaguar XK150, placed third, just a few tenths behind. These 3 were almost 6 seconds clear of the next car, which was the diminutive Frogeye Sprite of Neil & Drew Cameron which Drew took round in just over 1.44. It seemed unlikely that if the conditions improved for the race that they would be able too hold onto this excellent qualifying position. Brian Arculus, no lover of the rain, nevertheless less posted a good time just shy of the Frogeye, in his Elite. Martin Corfield, a real press on driver was 6th on the grid, but out of a number of good qualifying performances, one of the standout times for me was Tony Green in Justin Kennedy’s ex works Aston Martin DB2. Tony exploited the surefootedness of the old Aston and his own rallying experience to great effect to record a 1.46.388 to annex 7th on the grid. The owner, Justin, unfortunately, was unable to share the car for what would have been only his second race. Another fine effort was made by the incorrigible Christopher Mann in the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante to qualify 8th. Stephen Bond was 9th in the charismatic Lister and the top ten was rounded out by the impressively driven Lancia Aurelia of Andrew Davenall sharing with Chris Snowdon. The rain would surely have to stay, for them to maintain such a position in the race.
More fine qualifying performances were registered further down the pack. Glenn & Rory Tollett in the handsome MGA Sebring Coupe was 11th on the grid followed by Jason & Louise Kennedy in the Lancia Aurelia B20 GT, making two of these classic Italian cars in the top half of the grid, a very unlikely occurrence had it been dry, and confirming the fine handling of these cars. Alex Morgan did a great job, qualifying Dad Mark’s AC Ace in 13th - ah, the exuberance of youth eh? Justin Beckett made it an all Ace 7th row. Arthur Smith Fitchett qualified his Arnott Lea Francis in 15th - another great effort, and Harry Naerger & David Leopold grabbing 24th in the Jowett Jupiter was some going in the potentially slowest car on the grid - superb. However, it was also clear that some were keeping their powder dry - well, trying to - notably Tim Stamper in the Aston Martin DB2/4 who, should conditions improve, would surely progress up the field along with several of those just behind him on the grid. Clearly Mike Freeman in his Lotus Elite was out of position, down in 21st. I’m pretty certain that propping up the field, Craig Williams in his Kieft Climax and Alan House in his Morgan Plus 4 had posted unrepresentative times. It was going to be an exciting race!
A fabulous FISCAR grid of cars again graced the Castle Combe circuit, and though the weather remained gloomy, it had at least, stopped raining. Unfortunately, the Camerons Frogeye Sprite was not among them. They had overhauled the brake master cylinder during the week and it had held up well for qualifying but decided to let go in the holding area for the race. A new master cylinder is now on order!
The circuit was beginning to dry a little but the earlier combination of water and oil made the track decidedly tricky. However, some great starts were made as our cars slithered off the line, none more so that Martyn Corfield, who starting from 6th on the grid, made a magnificent launch and blasted his Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica through to the front as they headed up the hill into Quarry for the first time. In many ways, Tim Stamper’s getaway was even more impressive, as from 16th on the grid, he took Richard Bell’s exquisite Aston Martin DB2/4 through a dense pack of cars to reach 8th. Amongst the cars he passed was the AC Ace of Mark Morgan who had himself made a good start from 13th to gain four places. Mark was later to admit that he wasn’t comfortable trying to go at top ten pace and soon dropped back. A glorious phalanx of great cars negotiated Quarry, as Marc Gordon in the Jaguar XK 150 powered passed poleman, Robin Ellis in the Lotus Elite to take 2nd on the run down Farm straight towards the Esses.
At the end of the first lap, Martyn had just a half second lead over Marc’s XK150 which in turn was one second clear of Robin’s Elite but these 3 were already pulling away from the rest of the field which was led by Brian Arculus in his Elite, chased in turn by Andy Shepherd in the AC Ace and Chris Mann in the fabulous Alfa, with another sports racer, the Lister Bristol of Stephen Bond in 7th. Tim Stamper still had the DB2/4 up in 8th place, and a great first lap by Patrick Blakeney -Edwards had brought the Frazer Nash High Speed Model up to 9th. The top 10 was completed by Tony Green in the ex works DB2. It was no surprise to see John Harper making gains in the Jaguar C- type and he came through in 11th place, up 9 places, followed by Peter Bower in his Austin Healey 100M, also making progress. Although, this leading group of 12 cars was a bit strung out - 18 seconds separated them - the next 13 cars were covered by 10 seconds and were tightly bunched and they were followed by the last 4, led by Craig McWilliam in the little Kieft 1100, just beginning to drop away from the pack a little.
I clearly missed this both visually and from the commentary, but on the basis that the camera doesn’t lie, Jeff’s fine photo above shows Marc Gordon ahead of Martyn Corfield. I can only draw the conclusion that on the long drag from Folly and up Avon Rise at the beginning of lap 2, Marc took the XK150 briefly into the lead, but it could have only been briefly because by the time they reached the Esses, a short distance away, Martyn was back in front. I have assumed, and noting Marc’s steering correction, that he maybe was carrying a bit too much momentum and lost enough speed sorting it out, to enable Martyn to dive back up the inside! No doubt someone will enlighten me if I am wrong.
Martyn Corfield, having regained the lead, fended off Marc Gordon, whilst Robin Ellis, sizing up the track conditions lurked just behind them, watching and waiting. These three continued to pull away from the field whilst dicing continued down the field. By the end of lap 2, they were covered by just 2.4 seconds but were 5.5 seconds clear of Andy Shepherd who had taken his AC Ace passed the Lotus Elite of Brian Arculus. Stephen Bond had moved the Lister Flatiron Bristol into 6th, by passing Christopher Mann’s Alfa, but was 5.5 seconds down on Brian. Chris, however had an improving Patrick Blakeney Edwards in the FN High Speed Model breathing down his neck, Patrick having displaced the well driven Aston DB2/4 of Tim Stamper, now 10th. Tony Green in the Ex works DB2 was in a very solid 11th, a position he maintained for several laps before the round of pit stops started. Alex Quattlebaum had a good second lap moving his LECo 2 into 14th, up 3 places. The late middle order was still coming through line astern, making a stirring sight.
Robin Ellis started his charge on lap 3, closing in on Marc Gordon’s Jaguar XK150 and taking his Lotus Elite into 2nd going into the Esses. and immediately giving chase to Martyn Corfield still leading in the FNLMR. Apart from that, the order down the field changed little, although both Alex Quattlebaum in the LECo and Mike Freeman in his Lotus Elite made progress at the expense of Louise Kennedy in the Lancia Aurelia. Louise nevertheless remained ahead of the sister car which had dropped quite a long way back from their qualifying. It would be fair to say that both Lancias were bound to lose places in the drying, but still greasy, conditions following their excellent qualifying pace in full wet conditions. On lap 4, Louise was the first to take the compulsory pit stop and handed over to husband, Jason. Their’s was the only car to stop on that lap.
On Lap 5, Robin Ellis made his move for the lead, again heading into the Esses and Martyn Corfield had to give way, and at the end of the lap was just half a second shy of the flying Elite. At this stage less than 3 seconds covered the first 3 cars as Marc Gordon in the XK150 had also closed up. They seemed to be pretty much in a class of their own and now over 8 seconds clear of 4th placed Andy Shepherd in the AC. Brian Arculus, in 5th, pitted - unusually, not the first to do so - and on the same lap Tim Stamper (DB2/4), Peter Adams (Turner Climax) and the Davenall/Snowdon Lancia followed suit, as well as Alan House, now a lap down in the Morgan. By the end of Lap 6, Robin had extended his lead to 1.2 seconds over Martyn with Marc still just a further 1.3 seconds behind. The majority of cars pitted over the ensuing 3 laps, so it was some time before the true race order was re established. During this time, Robin gradually edged away from Martyn, whilst Marc pitted the Jaguar on lap 8. On the same lap, and having had an off at Tower, Mike Freeman retired his Lotus Elite, deciding that the lack of rear brakes was not conducive to decent lap times in the conditions! Robin was to ease the lead out to 4.6 seconds when he pitted the Elite on Lap 10. It had a been a fine drive and as he handed over to Richard Fores, he must have felt that victory beckoned.
On Lap 11, Martyn Corfield brought the FNLMR in for his pitstop. Richard Fores had Robin Ellis’s Elite in 3rd place just over a minute behind but was bound to retake the lead on lap 12 whilst the Frazer Nash was stationary, as 2nd placed Stephen Bond in the Lister Bristol, was also in for his pitstop. 13 seconds behind Richard, in 4th place, was Marc Gordon, still going great guns after his pit stop in the XK150, well clear of Tristan Bradfield. Tristan was driving very well in the Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans, but was shortly to be passed by Brian Arculus in the second of the Elites, and also making up ground after his stop. There was only one other car still on the lead lap and that was the AC Ace Bristol of Murray Shepherd who had taken the car over from his Dad, Andy, on lap 7, although the stops by some of the leading cars would swell that number.
Meanwhile a further retirement was registered on lap 10, when Alex Morgan, who had been struggling with gear selection after taking over from Dad, Mark, suffered clutch failure which announced itself with a bang and Alex had to coast into the pits. There was even more drama, though, as whilst the lap charts indeed show Richard Fores back in the lead with the Elite at the end of lap 12, he was, in fact, already back in the pits having suffered a drive shaft failure, and that was that, a real disappointment for the team. On Lap 13, therefore, Martyn Corfield regained the lead which he had relinquished on lap 5, although he was still clear of the Marc Gordon’s XK by only 2.8 seconds. In 3rd, after a great drive, almost under the radar, was Stephen Bond in the Lister Flatiron Bristol, a further 9 seconds back but lapping a bit quicker than the Jaguar. Brian Arculus was now 4th, whilst Tristan Bradfield was 5th in Keith Hampson’s Sunbeam but in the pits for his stop, and bound to lose places. Keith decided not to takeover and to leave Tristan in the car. 6th was Murray Shepherd, a minute clear of a great battle which had already been raging for a couple of laps between David Brazell, in the C-Type Jaguar, Tim Stamper in the Aston Martin DB2/4 and Christopher Mann in the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante. Thus we had 9 cars on the lead lap at the end of Lap 13.
Behind those first 9 cars, and a lap down was Alex Quattlebaum, holding 10th in the LECo2, with Ned Spieker 11th in the Frazer Nash High Speed. Ned, quite understandably, was unable to match the pace of Patrick Blakeney -Edwards who had started the car, and was gradually dropping down the order, not helped by a spin in Quarry (see photo above) and falling into the clutches of Tony Green in the Aston DB2, who was himself being caught by an excellent battle between Peter Bower in his Austin Healey 100M and Justin Beckett in his AC Ace Bristol. Behind Justin, was Rory Tollett in the very smart MGA Sebring Coupe, Peter Adams in the Turner Climax, Jason Kennedy in the Lancia Aurelia, Barry Dye in his Lotus Elite, the Davenall/Snowdon Lancia Aurelia and Arthur Smith Fitchett in the Arnott Lea Francis. All the other cars were at least a further lap down, but as the drivers got more used to the conditions and the racing line continued to marginally improve, the race, right down the field got quicker. With one exception, all the surviving cars posted their fastest lap well into the second half of the race.
As the race entered its final phase, Martyn Corfield gradually extended his lead over Marc Gordon, the gap between the leading Frazer Nash and the Jaguar, going out from 2.6 seconds on lap 14 to 5 seconds on lap 17, and then suddenly to 9.8 seconds the following lap. Marc had been caught by the hard charging Stephen Bond in the Lister Bristol. Stephen had initially been only slowly homing in on the XK150, but his lap times towards the end improved substantially and he posted fastest race lap on Lap 16, the only one to get under 1.30, and an apparently safe gap of 10 seconds at the end of lap 12 had been whittled down to just half a second at the end of lap 17. Marc was unable to halt Stephen’s progress and the Lister passed the Jaguar going through Quarry for the penultimate time, but the brief battle had allowed Martyn in the FNLMR to almost double his lead, and he was able to ease back and cruise the last lap home to a fine victory, 6.9 seconds clear of the Lister Bristol, with the XK150 just a further 3 tenths adrift. All 3 drivers had handled the tricky conditions with great aplomb and the fact that just over 7 seconds covered them at the end gave evidence of a close race. Martyn, had always appeared in control once the Ellis/Fores Elite had retired and it was a consistently pacey and well earned victory but Marc had never allowed him ease up and the late race charge of Stephen was a real bonus for the spectators.
Behind the first 3, Brian Arculus brought his Lotus Elite home 4th. Much of his race seemed to be a pretty lonely affair but his main competitor was the Shepherd AC Ace in the early part of the race, and again in the latter stages. Andy Shepherd had got ahead of Brian early on but the gap was rarely more than 2 seconds but of course, this contest was broken up by the pit stops, Brian pitting a couple of laps earlier than Andy who handed over to Murray Shepherd. The stop for the AC was also a little longer so that, Brian led Murray by just under 8 seconds at the end of lap 12, but a determined effort by the AC driver brought the gap down to less than 2 seconds at the flag. The great battle for 6th, alluded to earlier, went the way of David Brazell in the C-type Jaguar who held off a very game challenge from Tim Stamper in the Aston Martin DB2/4, a great drive that netted him 7th, less than 2 seconds behind David. The third party to this dice had been Chris Mann in the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante, but unfortunately Chris had an off, leading to front and rear damage to the Alfa and retirement on lap 15. Tristan Bradfield took an excellent 8th in the Sunbeam Alpine Le Mans, justifying Keith Hampson’s decision to leave him in the car. A hard earned 9th went to Glenn & Rory Tollett in the MGA Sebring Coupe and the top 10 was completed by Alex Quattlebaum in the LECo. Alex had been watching his gauges closely in the closing laps as the engine was showing signs of stress and overheating but he was determined to finish, particularly after a very frustrating non start at Snetterton, a month earlier. Living in the States, he has a very long way to come for our races - terrific commitment.
Three seconds behind Alex came Justin Becket (AC Ace Bristol), Peter Bower (Austin Healey 100/4) and Anthony Green (Aston Martin DB2). They were covered by just 2.5 seconds at the flag, and made a fine sight. Peter Adams was not far behind them, having ‘thoroughly enjoyed’ his race in the neat Turner Climax. He was well ahead of the 15th placed Kellison J4R which would have preferred better conditions but Richard Tyzack and Nick Taylor manfully brought the big V8 home just ahead of a fast closing Jason Kennedy in the Lancia Aurelia B20 GT, who in turn was just 2 seconds clear of sister car, driven by Chris Snowdon, who had taken over from owner, Andrew Davenall. Breathing down the Aurelia’s neck was Barry Dye, in the second surviving Elite. Ned Spieker brought the Frazer Nash Hi Speed Model home in 19th followed by Arthur Smith Fitchett in the Arnott Lea-Francis, Alan House in the Morgan plus 4, Craig McWilliam in the Kieft Climax and Harry Naegar and David Leopold in the Jowett Jupiter. The last 2 cars were a lap down and hadn’t had much to race against but I hope they enjoyed themselves and it was fantastic to see both these very early 50’s cars out with us and I do fervently hope that we can get more like them out in the future. The full results will follow but I cannot avoid mentioning our last retiree, Mark Campbell, in his DB2 which ran out of fuel on lap 16 and sadly, had a rather adverse effect on the Aston Team results.
Reference to pit stop timings show that 3 cars had exceptionally long stops, and that both Tim Stamper in the DB2/4 and the Tolletts in the MGA may well have finished one place higher and the Naegar/Leopold Jupiter would probably have finished on the same lap as Craig’s Kieft.
Please note that where a drive was shared, I was not always aware which driver was in the car at the time but happy to amend if advised!
Finally, grateful thanks to Chairman, Gillian Carr who converted her horsebox into a hospitality unit for the day and also provided much needed and appreciated drinks and cakes, and to Richard Culverhouse who presented the awards. - JT