Despite a poor weather forecast the day turned out to be pretty good with long spells of sunshine. However there were problems. There were a couple of problems with the timing gear and a massive queue in the restaurant at Lunchtime (a clashing Medical Seminar organised by the Castle Combe Racing Club the Sprint organisers knew nothing about until the day!) which all together must have lost well over an hour of track time. Throw in a more than average number of incidents and the reason for just a single run Top 12 was evident.
Practice as usual at an early season event was littered with incidents – mainly mechanical! Peter Howgate managed to switch off the ignition on his practice run; Stewart Robb’s V8 sounded like it had a misfire but cleared itself on the second lap whilst Stewart was also getting accustomed to the flappy paddle gear change; Mike Musson had all four bolts holding the rear wing in place shear which made the car handle rather strangely; Steve Miles had all the water blow out of the ‘new’ Van Diemen; whilst several others failed to make it round and had to be recovered!
After a protracted lunch things got back underway and once again things started to go wrong. Kevin Lealan ran out of fuel – the Pilbeam drank 5 litres of methanol in less than two laps! Steve Miles had the oil pressure dip; Phil Lynch and John Payne suffered an electrical connector problem and several cars broke down.
In Class C1 – Up to 1400 Mod Prod – Steve Dummett was the top dog; In C2 – 1400 to 1800 – Chris Vinall BMW Mini-Cooper was too fast for Lewis Bird’s elderly 1.6 205GTi. In C3 – Over 1800 – Ian Beacham outran Bradley Hobday’s Clio despite the latter having three attempts to complete his practice run! In C4 – Mod Prod Sports Cars – Craig Sampson & Matt Hillam in the SBD Duratec powered Westfield were split by Paul Aspden in Derek Hodder’s supercharged machine. There were two Sports Libre classes and in the Up to 1800 class Andy Laurence in the ADR was well clear of the Spire GTR of Tom Arnold. In the Over 1800 class Simon Bainbridge not only set a new class record but consigned Ian Hall to second – no mean feat considering Ian’s wealth of experience racing at Combe. Jus two cars contested D3 – Rally Cars – and it was Josh Payton who won the battle of the Escorts. Into the Racing Car classes and with no tiddlers (Up to 1100s) the 1600 brigade led the way. Tom Potter set a new class record en route to the win whilst Scott & Dave Pillinger were second & third in their DSP IV which was running very well & reliably now the drive-shafts had been sorted. With this class there were a couple of Formula Fords which although outpaced in the grand scheme of things none-the-less had a titanic battle. Dennis Pickett led after the first runs from Chris Bennett and despite improving his time Dennis got pushed back to second Chris got on the pace from the start.
The 2 litre Racing Car class was another fascinating battle. Steve Broughton battled through to the win assisted when his co-driver Mark Smith had a huge spin at Bobbies and went mowing the grass. Smith still retained second with Steve Miles third. Phil Lynch took fourth just ahead of Kevin Lealan whilst Mike Musson was fifth ahead of Martin Webb & Tony Jarvis. Stuart Ridge was making his return to the Sprint Championship after a 20 year break! The March 792, the oldest car competing believe it or not, was somewhat under-geared but Stuart enjoyed the event and will be getting quicker! Class E4 for the over 2 litres saw a freshly liveried Ralt in the hands of Howgate & Woffenden, the pair improved throughout the day and should start to get the car into the run-offs shortly. Up front Stewart Robb was initially second but just pipped Terry Holmes for the class win when the Chichester Chippy had gear selection problems. Graham Porrett finished third ahead of Terry Graves, Peter Howgate & Brian Woffenden.
Then it was the turn of the Road Going classes. Steve Larcombe took A1 for Up to 1400s whilst in A2 Hugh Trotman led home Graham Wild and Julian Rainbow in an Elise 1-2-3. In A3 – 1800 to 2600 – Luke Wilcox led throughout with Pete Goodman in the Clio second. In A4 – over 2600 – Trevor Hartland kept clear of Mike McBaida & Christian Thorne in a Mitsubishi EVO 1-2-3.
In the first of the kit Car classes (B2) Ben Perry in the Fisher Fury finished a=head of a closing Mike Smith in the Puma-powered Striker. Tim Richardson in the Caterham Superlight was third ahead of Su Hill in the first of the Westfields. In the final class (B3) Kevin Jones took the class in the Noble M12 whilst Ian Parr in the sparse Sylva Riot was second. Adrian Clinton-Watkins & Barry Slingsby were third & fourth sharing the latter’s Westfield with Peter Goulding fifth in another Westie.
All the delays earlier meant that there wasn’t enough time to guarantee two Top 12 runs so everyone knew it would more than likely be a one-shot affair. First to the line was the slightly rusty Mike Musson and he carved just over 4 tenths off his Q-time in a well judged run. Kevin Lealan was still anxious about fuel and was pushed into the pit lane & up to the line where he started the MP62 just as the green light came on. Kev just gave it the beans and clipped an impressive three seconds off his Q-time as he slipped into the lead. Phil Lynch was next and looked impressive off the line but he pulled in before completing a lap with a gearbox problem – possibly having stripped fourth gear. Steve Miles was next and Inspector Gadget followed Kevin Lealan’s example and clipped over 3 seconds off his Q-time in a very impressive display in his “new” Van Diemen – bags of potential there – and moved ahead of Lealan into the lead.
Mark Smith was next and he had to make sure there wasn’t a repeat of the spin on this run. The Welshman was very quick indeed on the run down to Tower and was equally impressive through Camp. As he headed towards Bobbies on his second lap everyone held their breath but it was Ok as he rocketed over the line and into the lead with a 121.39 to move into the lead. Then it was the turn of Graham Porrett; had the Chichester Flyers resolved the gear-linkage problem? Off the line it was superb and Porrett got his head down. He needed to find nearly four seconds to take the lead. He did make a substantial improvement but couldn’t match the pace of the Reynard driver so had to settle for second at that stage. Next to the line was Terry Graves and the GR37 was very quickly into its stride. Graves didn’t look that quick but it was deceptive as he too made inroads into his Q-time to post his best time of the day but he failed to beat close rival Porrett and duly slotted into third at this point. Next was Simon Bainbridge whose pace in the Sports Libre Audi had shocked many especially as the car looked so unsettled on the Combe lumps & bumps. The Audi was again flying until part way round the second lap the engine misfired & then cut-out. He coasted through Bobbies and over the line to get an unrepresentative time – but at least he had a time and would get some points! So with just 4 runners left the abbreviated run-off was starting to get very interesting. Tom Potter was next off the line and the diminutive Jedi was electrifyingly quick through the corners with Tom’s car-control keeping the car on-line. Through Camp the car was sliding off the bumps and looked a handful but through Bobbies it was really stable. As Tom crossed the line he was only fractionally quicker than in qualifying but would pick up an extra point for being inside the 1600 Racing Car Championship Record. However it was fractionally slower than Mark Smith so slotted Potter into second. Steve Broughton left the line knowing a repeat of his Q-time would take him into the lead ahead of co-driver Smith. However the SBD founder hit trouble when the crank sensor failed and the engine management system shutdown – a great pity as Steve had been so quick earlier that it was possible that he would have been challenging for a Top 3 placing. Terry Holmes was next and the Chichester Chippy was again going well, that is until he “got a boxful of neutrals” this happened three times on the run and saw him drop three seconds off his qualifying pace. Never-the-less he did move into the lead. The final runner was Stewart Robb Senior and the MP88’s Judd engine crackled off the line after a momentary hesitation and he disappeared in a shower of sparks towards Tower. In the gloomy conditions the orange Pilbeam stood out and as he rocketed towards Camp he looked to have the run-off in the bag. Past the pits and through Folly the car was sparking and bottoming out but Stewart kept his right foot planted. Through the chicanes the MP88 was super smooth and he flashed between the Chequer boards to stop the clocks at 112.96 a new Sprint Course record. His flying lap time of 60.20 was less than a second shy of the Outright Course Record not bad considering that “it’s a bit dark out there for an old man!”
With round one in the bag all thoughts now turn to Silverstone Stowe circuit when there should be more contenders present, the question is will the run-off be as nail-biting?
1 Stewart Robb Snr (4.0 Pilbeam-Judd MP88) 112.96secs; 2 Terry Holmes (3.5 Lola-Judd/Swindon ERH) 119.42secs; 3 Mark Smith (2.0 Reynard-Duratec/SBD 903/DB-Mk01) 121.39secs; 4 Tom Potter (1.0t Jedi-Suzuki Mk 4) 121.98secs; 5 Graham Porrett (3.5 Lola-Judd/Swindon ERH) 123.73secs; 6 Terry Graves (3.5 Gould-Cosworth DFR GR37) 123.96secs; 7 Steve Miles (2.0 Van Diemen-Duratec/SBD RF96MM11) 124.44secs; 8 Kevin Lealan (2.0 Pilbeam-Vauxhall/Lealan MP62) 127.20secs; 9 Mike Musson (1.3t Force-Suzuki/Holeshot PT11) 131.21secs; 10 Simon Bainbridge (4.2t Audi TT Replica 4-w-d) 136.37secs; Steve Broughton (2.0 Reynard-Duratec/SBD 903/DB-Mk01) Failed; Phil Lynch (2.0 Dallara-Vauxhall F301) Failed
Stephen Dummett (1.4 Austin Mini) 162.03secs; Christopher Vinall (1.6t BMW Mini JCW) 157.13secs; Ian Beacham (2.0 Peugeot 205GTi) 144.93secs; Craig Sampson (2.0 Westfield-Duratec/SBD S2000) 133.81secs; Andy Laurence (1.0 ADR Sport 2) 141.67secs; Simon Bainbridge 125.88secs - Record; Josh Paylon (2.0 Ford Escort) 151.52secs; Tom Potter 122.05secs – Record; Steve Broughton 121.33secs; Stewart Robb Snr 116.18secs – Record; Steve Larcombe (1.4 Rover Metro) 172.99secs; Hugh Trotman (1.8 Lotus Elise) 156.66secs; Luke Wilcox (1.3t Toyota Starlet) 155.55secs; Trevor Hartland (2.0t Mitsubishi EVO 5 RS) 150.75secs; Ben Perry (0.9 Fisher Fury Spyder) 142.36secs; Ian Parr (1.3 Sylva Riot) 137.76secs.