Looking back for information about some our previous visits to Castle Combe, I realised that the last time we were there, in October 2012, was one of the rare occasions that I have missed an Alfa Championship meeting.
147s ruled the roost, overall race wins going to Roger Evans and Guy Hale in their GTA versions while Neil Smith won Class E twice with his 2 litre car. Best lap was set by Guy with a 1’17.152”, Neil ending with 1’23.038” in class E, the equivalent of today’s Twin Spark Cup. Amazingly, the only drivers entered then who were due to appear this time were Dave Messenger and John Griffiths!
Castle Combe has a long racing history, having first opened in 1950 and for many years some of the top British racers of the day were regular visitors including Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorn and John Surtees. Quarry Corner became known as one of the most difficult on any UK circuit and many an Alfa competitor has found it daunting. A tragic accident which involved the death of a spectator forced the installation of two new chicanes to slow the cars down, the work being finished during the 1998-1999 winter, with the result that the circuit length became its present 1.85 miles. Quarry was untouched as was Camp, the final corner – don’t get onto the grass there! In all this time, the circuit has been owned by the Strawford family, originally led by Howard Strawford who sadly died in February 2013. However, it is good to see his wife Pat and daughter Emma still playing such an active role.
A difference of ideas with the circuit management meant that for several years the BRSCC did not organised meetings at Combe but happily that has now changed. Because of noise restrictions, two day meetings are rare, so it was good to be invited to participate in one of these weekends on July 16th/17th for rounds 9 & 10 of this year’s championship. Following Oulton, we arrived with Tom Hill in a more commanding position in the points table once again, now 39 points clear of Simon Cresswell who had been able to maintain his second position despite a non start in Round 8. Andy Hancock still lay 3rd with Andy Robinson moving up to fourth overall and heading the Modified class. Another strong movement had been made by Andy Inman now 7th overall and 5th in class.
Sadly, as I wrote in my preview, the Combe entry was somewhat disappointing but as events were to show over the two days you can have some very interesting and competitive racing without the need for the eighty five entries that the Historic Racing Drivers Club were able to raise – not that eighty five cars and split grids wouldn’t be nice though, but that wasn’t my point. Among the thirteen Alfa Championship entries that did arrive, it was good to welcome back Bryan Shrubb – another driver having his first run of the year – with his familiar orange 1.9 litre 33 16v, adorned as ever with its BLS logos and with “retired” Tom Shrubb still in charge and Ralph Bee and David Cannard there, as they always are, in support. The 33 was now running crossply 15” tyres instead of radials and this would be Bryan’s first chance to see if they, and the suspension tweaks they had made, would work. We were all going to be interested to see how Andy Robinson’s 156 would match up to the 33 particularly as Andy is showing much more confidence now after winning three of his last four races. In the Power Trophy we had a completely new duo. Keith Waite was there with his 75 3 litre on which there had been some necessary work including a new cage and stronger mandatory side intrusion bars, and some smart new wheel arch extensions which did actually cover the wheels! The other Power Trophy car was not likely to challenge Keith but it helped us to reach the minimum of 4 cars required for the split grid and delayed start. This was a 147 entered by John Griffiths. Basically the car was to Twin Spark Cup spec’ although John had the choice of slicks and treaded tyres.
There were nine entries in the Twin Spark Cup – the 156s of Tom Hill and Simon Cresswell arriving inside the impressive white Bianco transporter. They were joined in the Bianco marquee by the 156 of Mike Tydeman and the Vario sponsored 147 of James Browning, the latter hoping to be well in the hunt for a top result with his rebuilt engine. The Darnells 156 was entered as usual by Dave Messenger, and after two third places at Oulton he was now confident that he was back in contention. There were three more 156s – those of Andy Inman (now being looked after Roger Evans at Peak Alfa), Jeremy Chilton – back after missing Oulton – and Paul Webster. Jeremy hadn’t been able to make Oulton as it was on the Saturday and he had a family commitment but he didn’t have a race free weekend as he was loaned a Mazda MX5 for a couple of Sunday races at Snetterton which he much enjoyed. Final TSC entry for Combe was Andrew Bourke with his GTV, arriving with his wife and young family as enthusiastic supporters. We were very happy to see Clive and Christine Hodgkin for the first time since Silverstone, keeping a particularly watchful eye on their old charges Andy Inman and Paul Webster with Graham and Angie Fletcher. Matt Daly was also there with his daughters Isabel & Evie, eager to see what he might have to match up to if he manages to race later in the year.
With such a full programme, there were bound to be some oddities in the timetable. In our case it was qualifying on Saturday at 2.35 and the first race at 5.20 with race 2 scheduled for 9.50 on Sunday morning. Having said that, it was all quite relaxed, with an early finish on Sunday meaning that some people were not faced with arriving home in the middle of the night. There was, however, a major panic in the Waite camp as the 75 had somehow had its fuel tank filled with diesel rather than petrol! Well, perhaps “panic” is the wrong word as here we had old hands Keith Waite and Paul Legge, plus Keith’s son Tom, launching into action to drain the tank and hope that in endeavouring to start the car only a drop had been drawn into the fuel system. Luckily, Keith had quickly realised what the problem was. With the tank finally filled with petrol the V6 engine started and after much noisy revving and smoke, it all settled down and seemed be to be running well enough to make the 75 a qualifying starter. No harm done then. When you consider what you are always told about the cost of getting diesel in a petrol car or vice versa, perhaps this was a lesson.
Qualifying got underway a couple of minutes early and, as usual, Tom Hill was first on track and motoring quickly on his own. In the end, having set a time of 1’23.303” which looked as though it was good enough for TSC fastest lap, Tom only did half the session despite not having been to Combe before. Part of the reason for this was that with the 6 grid place slot penalty after Oulton he was going to have to start near the back anyway. Andrew Bourke was the only other Twin Spark driver to set his best time in the first half of the session – a 1’25.026” – whereas for most of the field it was a matter of gradually working up to it. In the end it was lap 11 out of a possible 13 before Dave Messenger (1’24.053”) and Simon Cresswell (1’24.133”) grabbed the second and third spots on the grid. They were fractionally ahead of James Browning who had pulled into the pits after 5 laps for a rapid check that all was well under the bonnet with his rebuilt engine. When he returned to the track he had to regain his rhythm and might, otherwise, have been a strong contender to join Dave on the front row. Andrew Bourke ended up 5th quickest ahead of Mike Tydeman, Andy Inman, Paul Webster and Jeremy Chilton. Jeremy, however, was having a gearbox problem and this would be changed by Bianco before the first race, much to Jeremy’s relief as it was touch and go to get the job finished in time.
In the Modified/Power Trophy Group, Bryan Shrubb was taking care to go through the heat cycle with his new tyres while Andy Robinson was taking his time to ease himself back into the while of the 156. Remarkably, they would both set their best time on their penultimate laps with Andy (1’18.094”) just easing out Bryan by 0.773”. Both seemed happy, though, with how things had gone and it looked as though we might be in for an interesting contest. Keith Waite had warned the Clerk of the Course that the 75 might smoke at the start of the session but engine smoke didn’t seem to be a problem, it was more a tyre rubbing on the bodywork and he was called in to have it checked, resuming after a lost couple of minutes. Nontheless, with a best lap in 1’22.908” he had no trouble outrunning John Griffiths 147.
For the races I was able to join Chris Dawes in the main commentary box which has a splendid view of the run down the Dean Straight from the Bobbies chicane, the fast Camp Corner, Folly and Avon Rise. Commentating over on the other side of the circuit was our old friend David George. As the lights went out for Race 1, the four Modified/Power Trophy cars went away together and it seemed a short five seconds before the Twin Spark were under way with Dave Messenger taking a confident class lead from pole. At Quarry, Bryan Shrubb had already taken over the race lead from Andy Robinson but he was never able to pull away to a more than 2” gap as each time he set a faster lap it would be matched or improved on by Andy. Keith Waite was running a lonely third overall after John Griffiths had dropped back. Despite an some robust attempts by Simon Cresswell to take away the Twin Spark lead from Dave Messenger, the red, white and green Darnells 156 was able to stay ahead and Dave was feeling confident that he could defend his position even from Tom Hill who had passed Andrew Bourke and James Browning and was up into third place by the end of lap 2 some 2.5” back.
By the end of lap 4, the gap between Bryan and Andy had settled at just over 2” and we began to think that that was that as both cars were lapping in the 1’17”s. However, Andy clearly had other ideas as his fifth lap was a 1’16.798” and although Bryan also dipped into the 1’16s, Andy was marginally quicker. By the end of lap 7, the gap was just 0.454” and we were all starting to get excited although a qucker lap by Bryan opened it up slightly. Sadly, though, our excitement was premature as the blue 156 was to suffer a broken half shaft, a repeat of an earlier problem, forcing Andy to pull off on lap 10 not quite two thirds distance. With the pressure gone, Bryan was able to cruise to the finish, delighted that all had gone so well for him. Keith Waite would finish second to win the Power Trophy over a minute behind.
Meanwhile the Twin Spark Cup had been offering great entertainment as Dave Messenger continued to lead Simon Cresswell and Tom Hill in what had become a close trio by the end of lap 6 in which just about anything could happen. At the Esses on lap 8 it very nearly did as Simon Cresswell and Tom Hill arrived side by side behind Dave although Tom sensibly gave way. Simon Cresswell had been showing his intentions of trying to pass Dave Messenger on several occasions but on lap 9 he misjudged the exit of Bobbies and ran into the back of Dave’s 156, which was pushed sideways nearly hitting the marshals post (you could see on Dave’s video a marshal diving for cover!). He avoided disappearing into the crops beside the track but it all pushed Dave down to a very disgruntled and hand waving third. A lap later, Simon went very wide at Quarry, damaging his radiator as he crossed the grass, as a delighted Tom Hill saw his closest rival out of contention. Simon headed for the pit road in the orange 156 at the end of the lap causing Diana to write one of her inimitable notes on her la chart – “no 6 retires sounding grotty!”. Meanwhile, Andrew Bourke and James Browning were having a fine battle which also involved John Griffiths for a while. James got himself ahead of Andrew on lap 7 but his race would come to an end four laps later with gear selection problems. At this point Mike Tydeman and Andy Inman were again running together, as were Jeremy Chilton and Paul Webster a little further back.
Dave Messenger had by no means given up and at one point it looked as though he could put Tom Hill under pressure but Tom was able to up his pace, getting back into the 1’23s, although to be fair Dave almost mirrored him. They would cross the line just 1.927” apart. After a splendid drive, Andrew Bourke came home third among the Twin Sparks with his GTV, only 4.7” behind Dave. Mike Tydeman managed to put John Griffiths (2nd in the Power Trophy) between himself and Andy Inman to claim 4th place while Jeremy Chilton just managed to finish ahead of Paul Webster after a tussle that showed you can have a good race wherever you are in the field. Simon Cresswell apologised to Dave Messenger afterwards for the move that had ruined his race and both hoped that their Sunday races would avoid such incidents.
There was plenty of work to do during the evening – Kevin Evans had to sort out Andy Robinson’s driveshaft problem, James Browning had to fix his gear linkage and there was much straightening for Bianco to do at the front of Simon Cresswell’s 156 in addition to fitting a new radiator. They also replaced the sump on Paul Webster’s car. Dave Messenger’s 156 needed to have its rear bumper reattached. It was a tribute to everyone’s efforts that all 13 cars were able to make their way to the grid on Sunday morning.
Race 1 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
As the lights went out for Race 2, Andy Robinson took the 156 away in very gingerly fashion from the second row, trailing Keith Waite for the first lap as Bryan Shrubb powered away to a 7.5” lead at which point we were tempted to think that the race was over. The Twin Sparks all seemed to move off as one and on the run up to Avon Rise Tom Hill found himself being squeezed by Mike Tydeman (on the inside) and Dave Messenger on his left with Andrew Bourke and Simon Cresswell right behind.
Somehow, out of this traffic jam Tom emerged in front as they exited the corner, motoring off towards the Esses in the lead with Dave in pursuit and a great battle developing between Mike Tydeman and Andrew Bourke. Coming from the back, as had the fast starting Simon Cresswell, James Browning soon started to make his presence felt on Simon’s tail. Jeremy Chilton was another to have made an excellent getaway and at this stage was in front of Andy Inman and Paul Webster.
By the end of lap 2, Andy Robinson had pulled clear of Keith Waite but was now 9.4” behind Bryan Shrubb. The lap times of the leaders were nothing special – in fact some 5” off what they had done the previous afternoon. Laps 3 and 4 were better for Andy and suddenly the chase was on with the gap under 7” this being reduced to 5.9” by the end of lap 5. Meanwhile, Tom Hill was established at the front of the Twin Sparks, and once the Power Trophy 147 of John Griffiths had been dealt with, Dave Messenger was in hot pursuit. Three seconds back at the end of lap 2, and locked in a very level contest were Mike Tydeman and Andrew Bourke but Simon Cresswell and James Browning were slightly delayed by John Griffiths who was doing his best to keep out of the way. On lap 3, Andrew Bourke finally managed to pass Mike Tydeman while just behind, Simon Cresswell and James Browning started pushing Mike hard. However, a grassy excursion at Quarry on lap 5 allowed Simon and James past, the latter running very strongly and overtaking Simon on lap 5 and Andrew Bourke on lap 6 to go in pursuit of Dave Messenger now some 5” ahead and himself trying to keep Tom Hill in sight. Further back, Andy Inman had passed Jeremy Chilton on lap 2 as John Griffiths drifted back towards him.
Approaching the half way mark, it was clear that Andy Robinson now had the momentum going his way and he ended lap 8 only 3.25” behind Bryan, the 156 lapping over a second faster than the 33 with a 1’17.65”. A lap later, just when we were getting excited again, it was all over as Bryan Shrubb was seen to be slowing and then diving into the pit road. A reversal of the Saturday race as Andy now took an unassailable lead and Bryan retired following a stuck open throttle – not something you really want at Combe! This left Keith Waite in second place although for the early laps he had had Tom Hill large in his mirrors. By the end of lap 8, though, he had opened up a 4” gap and was now lapping about a second quicker than Tom who was now 5” clear of Dave Messenger. Dave couldn’t relax though as James Browning and Simon Cresswell were in hot pursuit. Andrew Bourke had dropped back from this duo but was still in front of Mike Tydeman.
Over the last five laps, it was James Browning, lights ablaze, who really made the challenge to Dave Messenger, the 147 visibly quicker than the 156 at some parts of the track and as they completed lap 13, the gap was down to half a second. But that was as close as it got. As they crossed the line, Tom Hill took another Twin Spark Cup victory, 6.1” clear of Dave Messenger, 0.676” covering the gap back to James Browning, third after a fine drive, and then a further 0.548” to Simon Cresswell. Andrew Bourke was next home, rueing a couple of mistakes, while Mike Tydeman, Jeremy Chilton, John Griffiths and Paul Webster completed the finishers, the last two having run together in a battle of their own for many laps. Andy Robinson had taken his fourth win in six races, 54” clear of Keith Waite who was nonetheless happy to finish second again with another Power Trophy cup to take home. Tom Hill had also had the satisfaction of setting an new Twin Spark lap record in 1’22.767” early in the race.
At the prize giving afterwards, Paul Legge (a past 33 racer) presented the trophies and Andrew Bourke was adjudged the winner of the Grove & Dean “Driver of the Weekend” award. It was good to meet a number of old friends during the weekend and to see Clive and Christine Hodgkin back on Sunday morning, keeping an eye on the racing out at Quarry. We watched Chris Snowdon and Gavin Watson (who raced a GTV6 with us between 1194 and 1996) take Gavin’s 1600 engined Giulietta to a class win on Saturday in the HRDC Touring Greats/TC63 race. Chris plans to race his 75 with us at Brands. Others who visited us were ex 33 racers Mark Bevington and Simon Hampton, Mark racing an Izuzu Bellett with the HRDC although Mark says they still have the 33. Micky Bolton, provider of our much sought after winners trophies, and his wife Ruth also came for a chat.
Race 2 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
Our thanks go to the BRSCC South West Centre team, led by Ian Danagher, and assisted by Rita and Lucy Ashman who had been drafted in from the Midlands Centre, and to everyone at Castle Combe, including Pat and Emma Strawford who made us feel so welcome. I am also particularly grateful to Dave Messenger for his in-car videos, Matt Daly for his race 1 highlights, Tom Waite (Prize Giving Photos) and to Katy Read and Paul Stone for their usual high quality photos which all help so much in writing the race reports.
The Championship now has Tom Hill as something of a runaway leader with 6 rounds still to go. Simon Cresswell held on to the second spot but Andy Robinson has now moved up to a well merited third ahead of Andy Hancock who is now equal on points with Andy Inman, the latter having his best season for some time.
View the latest standings