(For THE SPENCER LANE - JONES TROPHY)
Castle Combe Autumn Classic - 5th October 2014
Glorious Grid Graces Fantastic FISCAR Finale
The level of entries for our race confirmed the popularity of this meeting. Numerically it was our best grid of the season. In fact, such was the desire to enter, we had to turn away a number of requests because the cars were either too quick, didn’t comply with our regs, or included professional drivers. The one car we allowed in which perhaps was marginal in performance terms was Peter Mann’s Cooper Bristol T24/25 but we felt that as an ex Tony Crook car, it was entirely right that we should pay tribute to Crook who had died earlier this year, on the circuit most local to Bristol Cars which he had owned and run for so many decades.
There were a number of firsts in this race, just as there had been with the Jon Gross Memorial Trophy earlier in the day. It was the first outing for Richard Fores sharing Robin Ellis’s Elite. Now Robin has proved pretty competitive on his own this year so you’d have to say that Richard, a racer and racing instructor, was Robin’s ‘unfair advantage’ (due deference to the late great Mark Donohue). Certainly Brian Arculus would probably have taken that view! It was Martyn Corfield’s first time out with us in his special Austin Healey 100/4 built to replicate the factory’s 1954 Special Test Car, the original of which no longer exists in this form, and was a lovely addition to our grid. Other FISCAR first timers were Sarah Bennett-Baggs sharing Mike Thorne’s Austin Healey 100M, Claire Keith-Lucas in her Jaguar XK150S, Graham Oakins in the Alfa Romeo Guilia Sprint, Jeremy Holden in the ex Andrew Dixey Austin Healey 100 and Ned Spieker, over from the States, in his Frazer Nash High Speed model, a very early (1949) post war car which was clearly the predecessor of the Le Mans Replica model and terrific to see it on our grid. It was also great to see Bruce Chambers out first time with us - he was sharing the late Jon Gross's Aston Martin DB MkIII with Chris Woodgate, so we had a second chance of seeing this historically important car out with us.
The front row, not for the first time, was a Lotus Elite lock out, with the Ellis/Fores car on pole with the only time under 1.25 and Brian Arculus alongside in 1.25.3. Martyn Corfield in the Austin Healey 100/4 was a tenth slower and was joined on the second row by Steve Boultbee-Brooks in the DB3S just a further tenth off. John Ure in the Cooper Bristol, perhaps keeping his powder dry on a 1.25.8, was 5th and Simon Hadfield qualified his wife, Mandie’s, Elva Courier alongside in a tad under 1.26. Andy and Ted Shepherd, now sharing the Ace, qualified 7th with the Austin Healey of Mike Thorne and Sarah Bennett-Baggs alongside. Tim and Robin Pearce, in their AC Ace, shared row 5 with Jonathan Abecassis in his well campaigned Austin Healey 100/4. Behind was the Neil Hardy/Nils-Fredrik Niblaeus Austin Healey and Murray Shepherd in another AC Ace, so we had 3 Austin Healeys and 3 AC Aces qualified in the top 12. Strung out behind were a further 13 rows of cars including race sponsor Peter Campbell in his Wingfield Bristol Special sharing with Andrew Mitchell. They qualified 17th. It was terrific to see Neil Fender’s Triumph TR2 on the grid in 20th. Triumph TRs, for some reason are a rare sight on FISCAR grids and I hope, they, along with the totally absent from this race, MGAs, are able to join us more often next season. I could go on to mention every car on the grid such was the quality and depth but if I may single out one more, that of Hannah Reed in David and Anne’s DB2, in only her second race.
Our Inter-Marque race was Race 6 on the programme and was not only the largest grid of the day but undoubtedly had the greatest variety of cars. 39 cars had entered, but 38 qualified and of those, 4 failed to make the grid due to their exertions (the cars that is!) in earlier races. Steve Wright’s Porsche 356 had run out of brakes in the earlier John Gross Memorial Trophy, much to co-driver Ian Clark’s disappointment, and Richard Walker had enjoyed his first outing so much in the Aston DB2/4 that he decided not to tempt fate by racing it again that day. Graham Love’s Jaguar Mk7 had expired in the Jaguar race with broken suspension and, very unfortunately, Charles Fripp, suffering from fading brakes, had crashed his Gomm Jaguar XK140 Special in the same race, and although the damage to body and exhaust was not severe it was sufficient to prevent the car running again at this meeting.
So the big Castle Combe crowd saw 34 cars lined up in the afternoon sunshine to participate in our 30 minute race which had a compulsory pitstop to enable those who wished to, to change drivers. Since Simon Hadfield had qualified the Elva Courier, 6th on the grid he was ‘instructed’ to start the race as Mandie was not about to head off the grid in front of 30 odd cars! At the start, both Simon, and John Ure, in the Cooper Bristol, burst through the second row, whilst Mike Thorne made the best start of all to join them from the fourth row in his Austin Healey, all three joining poleman Robin Ellis and giving chase to Brian Arculus who had snatched the early advantage in his Elite. Despite the great size of the grid everyone managed to get through Quarry unscathed despite some being 3 or 4 abreast on the exit.
The track was pretty busy in certain places in the early part of the race but they all sorted themselves out with place swapping going on all down the field as the race at the front really hotted up with 5 cars in contention. Brian Arculus was first to pit, from the lead, as the pit window opened which is his normal practice. He says it gives him the opportunity to pass more cars but the writer can’t help feeling that there is also some tactical nous at work here enabling him to lap quickly on a relatively clear track whilst the others are battling it out at the front and it also enables him to get into race rhythm for a longer period!
Paul Chase- Gardner, who had raced his Aston Martin 15/98 in the Mort Goodall Cup, was driving his lovely DB2 in this race but it was not to end well for him. In a very dramatic moment in Quarry when all the load was on the offside rear suspension, the driveshaft snapped, and the car was launched into the air, briefly threatening to roll over (shades of Paul’s accident at Le Mans last year in the same car) but fortunately it came down on it’s 3 remaining wheels and he emerged thankfully unscathed.
Brian Arculus pitting from the lead, and returning to the race down the order, did not reduce the intensity of the battle at the head of the field with every car in that group leading at one stage and they made an interesting band – Lotus Elite, Cooper Bristol, Austin Healey 100 and Elva Courier, a pretty eclectic quartet which entertained the large crowds enormously. There was also plenty to see right down the field and the spectators had little time to reflect as cars were passing in front of them constantly and many embroiled in their own battles. Eventually, of course, the dice at the front broke up briefly as each car pitted within the 20 minute pit window (between 5 minutes after the start and 5 minutes before the end). The pits became very busy, since all cars had to come in and stop for the mandatory 45 seconds and 10 of them involved driver changes. Ollie Read took a whole series of wonderful shots of the pit activity and here are just a few:-
Once the pit stops had been completed and order re-established itself, Brian Arculus resumed the lead as he expected to, but equally he knew he was up against it with both Richard Fores and John Ure on a charge and bearing down on him. In fact it was Ure in the stark but charismatic Cooper Bristol that got to Brian first but it was Fores who eventually annexed the lead and took the white Elite on to victory. Despite posting his fastest lap on the last lap, Brian had to be content with 2nd place, 2 seconds adrift, and John Ure who had no doubt enjoyed his grandstand seat watching the battling Elites for much of the race was 3rd just one second behind and also made his last lap the fastest and indeed it was to prove the race's fastest too. The victory for Richard Fores in his first outing in an Elite, was both significant and emotional since his father had raced an Elite many years ago.
Martyn Corfield took top Austin Healey honours with a lovely consistent run to 4th place but he had Steve Boultbee-Brooks in his Aston Martin DB3S breathing down his neck at the flag, Steve now beginning to show his real pace with that lovely car. Father and son team, Andy and Ted Shepherd brought the Ace Bristol into 6th whilst Sarah Bennett-Baggs backed up Mike Thorne's strong early run to bring the Austin Healey 100M home in 7th. Murray Shepherd showing that he can get even more sideways in an Ace than his Dad, came 8th and Jonathan Abecassis made it 3 Austin Healeys in the top nine. Mandie Hadfield rounded out the top ten with a drive which coupled with that in the Jon Gross Memorial Trophy earned her the FISCAR spirit of the meeting award. No-one expected her to get close to Simon's times but this was a great result and it whetted her appetite for more outings with us next year.
It was not a good race for Jaguar engined cars as of the 5 that entered, only two started and one finished and even that was hobbled by the end of the race. That lone survivor was the lovely XK120 of Geoff Ottley, a car he has owned for 35 years, and sharing his drive, on this occasion with our sometime scribe and reporter, Kevin Zwolinski. Geoff had a good long stint in and Kevin took over for the last few laps. However for much of the race it ran with broken rear antiroll bar which made handling difficult and cornering an interesting exercise both from the spectators and fellow competitors point of view. They brought the car home 23rd out of the 31 classified finishers.
Nick Matthews, driving wonderfully well from the back of the grid, made good use of the 30 minute length of the race to work his way forward to finish a splendid 11th. Looking at lap times suggests that he may not have finished much higher had he had qualified there but I bet he had a lot more fun achieving it this way.
I won't work my way through each finisher since this would make a long report even longer but if any of the competitors want to notify me of any exceptional or interesting moments they had during the race, please let me know. I propose to conclude with a few more photos with suitable captions. Team results on home page. Full results will follow in due course.