|Castle Combe 5th October 2014
The third running of the Castle Combe Autumn Classic provided the first 500 event at this classic airfield circuit since 1962, that race being won by Howard Bennett with Nigel Rowland and Miss Isobel Robinson on the podium, all in Coopers. The first race, in July 1950, was won by Clive Lones in his Tiger Kitten Iota with Gerry Millington in the Milli-Union, second and Vic Worlock in his eponymous car third, so the a very different line up of cars over the period. As well as a packed day's racing, the 500 OA had seven cars on display at Avon Rise, see Mike Report, below.
Amazingly, after heavy rain on Saturday, the Indian Summer made one last appearance for Sunday, some gentlemen being observed in shorts, to help make the event a great success, helped by a 24 car 500 entry which pleased Marcus Pye, our number one fan, immensely.
It was also a chance the celebrate the competitive career of John Turner, one of the founders of the 500 Owners association in 1968 and still racing hard and fast. As well as several of his cars and some of his personal history, the annual cake competition was held in his honour and the somewhat surreal sight of Shirley exploding from a cardboard box.....
The cake competition proved to be more competitive than ever, judges Ashman and Frost taking their bribes, sorry duties very seriously to declare Martin Sheppard the winner with Kitty Chisholm in second and Doug Yates, third.
Very serious stuff, Nigel and Simon judge the cakes but what's Kitty up to?
Marcus Pye, off duty, turned up in assembly. We'll get him pushing one day.
Conditions were pretty much ideal for qualifying, warm and dry, especially welcome on this very fast and quite bumpy circuit which consists of a series of fast and very fast sweepers punctuated by a couple of chicanes, making judging of entry speeds and lines critical. Roy Hunt and Paul Hughes didn't make the session, both with ignition failure but both were allowed to qualify later to form the back row. Steve Jones took pole with an impressive 1:29.8, his lines very consistent and committed from the off. George Shackleton's Cooper would line up next to him with a 1:30.5 with Simon Frost's Martin in third. Simon completed 8 laps but suffered engine shut down and spent the afternoon changing magnetos, next up was the Mackson of Gordon Russell. Understandably the front two rows featured Norton powered cars at this fast track but the third row was made up of a pair of JAPs; Richard De La Roche's Smith-Buckler and anniversary boy Turner's Cooper. With a nine point lead in Class Two, Richard only needed to keep Gordon in sight to take the championship. Most others spent the session learning the circuit, there was a bigger spread of times than normal but there were few mechanical failures, save for Roy Wright who had to bring the Flash Special in after three laps. Maurice had a few grassy moments in the Fillingham, mainly due to considerately watching his mirrors rather than the tarmac in front! Strangely, the Class Three protagonists qualified lower then usual, Daryl Woods in seventh and Ian Phillips in eleventh, in a borrowed Cooper-Norton. With only two points between then, it was certainly all to play for. Roy Hunt's mechanical failure meant that his chances were now somewhat mathematical. In Class One, Shirley out qualified Alan Croft's JP but Alan's seven point lead meant he just had to finish to be sure. Frosty and Hunt aside, post practice fettling was minor so the others set about enjoying the sunshine, racing, paddock picnic lunch (thanks girls!) and preparing for the tricky matter of cake "sampling".
By five o'clock everyone was ready to get on with it, including the cars, which all fired up nicely and a full twenty four cars lined up for the rolling start. With a pace car leading them round, the formation was particularly tidy as they approached Camp Corner, the flag hanging until its seemed they would have to stop..... George Shackleton that was on it first, the inside line allowing him to get slightly more momentum out of Camp to take the lead going into Quarry, he and Steve set a blistering first lap pace; 1:35 and 36 respectively and again on lap two (both in the 1:29s) to put clear water between themselves and the pack. Having been out manoeuvred, Steve pounced on lap three, when George lost a second, to take the lead and began to steadily increase the gap to three car lengths. Then, just when the race seemed to be over, George was back on his tail and didn't hesitate when they came across a back marker on the apex at the end of lap eight to lead by a couple of tenths over the line. Steve was not to be beaten though, setting a 1:29.4 on lap 9 and fastest lap of all on the final lap, dipping into the 1:28s. A great race and well deserved win.
Simon Frost started from third and steadily pulled out a couple of second's gap to Gordon's Mackson. Then on lap six, he had an audible misfire and a lap later he was out, promoting Russell to the podium and Class 2 win to ensure second in Class for the year. A second or so behind came Richard De La Roche, leading the JAP class and almost matching Gordon's time to take fourth and clinch Class 2 as well as the Turner Trophy. Darrell Woods crossed the line only a couple of tenths behind, having taken Turner on lap one, he steadily closed on Richard, the pair running nose to tail from lap three onwards. Crucially, Darrel would get second in class to take the Championship by two points, with Ian Phillips back in eight overall so second for the year. John Turner was in sixth place with only a second in hand over Roy Hunt, who had started from the very back and whose times would surely have put him on the podium otherwise, at least it consolidated his third overall in Class Three Championship.
Entertainment for the crowd also came from the race long battle was between the Cooper-Triumph of JB Jones and Nigel's Challis's Petty. Nigel seems a little unsure of the swing axle's handling on fast bends but JB was suffering from a misfire at the top of the rev range so the pendulum swung between the two, corner to corner and straight to straight!
Shirley took Class 1 honours in her Cooper-JAP, fifteenth overall, but with Alan bringing the JP round in nineteenth it's the new boy who takes the year overall.
All in all, a terrific way to end the season, a great race at a great circuit and a great atmosphere. Well done to all you drivers, pushers, fettlers, cooks, bottle washers and cake testers!
The Castle Combe Autumn Classic is fast becoming more than just a simple race meeting. In addition to a well constructed programme of races it hosts displays from many car and motorcycle clubs.
GS1 - Squanderbug