Castle Combe provided the setting for a typically fraught and exciting race for spectators at the weekend. Combe is the 2nd fastest track in the UK and certainly the bumpiest and toughest on cars.With a strong Class 1 showing, Sam Head and Kyle Tilley were pleased with their qualifying result and set a superb time of 1.08.410 and 8th overall in their Class 2 Marcos, just .2 of a second shy of the 997 Porsche of Barrett/Shepherd.
The Jon Harrison and Owen O’Neill pairing in the Class 3 Marcos did their usual by dipping under the radar in 14th overall (followed by a surprise attack in the race). Mick Mercer and Gary Smith in the Ginetta G50 qualified just behind them in 15th to take pole position for Production Class 1 which they are now becoming accustomed to.
A clean getaway for all cars at the start of the race allowed Head to capitalise and claim two places for himself, running in 6th place as they completed the first lap. Overtaking became a theme that stayed with Head for the duration of his drive.O’Neill had a gained a place too as was running in 13th overall, with Mercer holding position in 15th.
It wasn’t long though before the safety car was called into action, by lap 7, two Honda’s were having a spat, ending in tears as they took each other out, one of which ended up on its roof.A lengthy recovery meant that the race did not get started again until lap 15. Head unfortunately found himself towards the back of a lengthy train of cars as the race was restarted and had to dispense with the slower cars to catch back up with his racing adversaries.
Unscheduled stops from the Lockie/White Mosler and the /Wilkins/Scott Viper saw Head leapfrog up to 4th place in the first quarter of the 2 hour race.Another safety car period, this time a short one, had the field bunched up again for the start. Head opted for the outside which worked against him as a slow starting Ferrari headed out of the pit exit as they were rounding Folley. Head was baulked as the Ferrari pulled in front of him, concertina-ing the bunch as they made their way into Quarry Corner. Head was the recipient of a rear end punt which caused him to spear off onto the infield but Head was able to hold onto a very sideways Marcos and rejoin the track but now down into 8th place.
Head was clearly enjoying himself, making short work of the Hood/Glynn TVR Sagaris in 7th and amassing a number of brave passes on cars that should have stayed well ahead of him.
O’Neill, meanwhile, had avoided trouble and was emulating the same progress as Head. Both drivers putting in their best driving performances to date. O’Neill’s hard work had earned him 6 places, running in 8th place overall and 2nd in class.Mercer was taking a slice of the grid too, now running in 12th place and ready to hand over to son-in-law, Smith on lap 36 with 1hr 10minutes remaining.
Head just had enough time to admonish the defence of the Adams Ferrari and claim 5th place before the ever-recurring safety car was deployed with 1 hour 8 minutes of the race still to run. This provided the perfect opportunity to bring the cars in for their pit stop and driver change. With O’Neill approaching the pitlane first, he was first to receive the call-in and pass to the reverent hands of Harrison to finish the race.
With the team strategically separated into two pit crews, Head was able to pull in alongside the O’Neill/Harrison car so that they too could take advantage of the safety car period.
Tilley rejoined in P10, Harrison in P16, and Smith in P19, with most of the other cars still having to make their one and only stop. Grid positions would change dramatically once all pit stops were completed.
The safety car period was again a short one and the benefit of pitting both cars at the same time paid off.Things were looking good for Smith, he was sitting in 3rd in class and was ready to take the lead once the 1st and 2nd placed cars made their pit stop. The whole plan was thrown in to jeopardy though as Smith was forced to make an unscheduled stop to the pits with a suspected flat rear tyre. With no flat tyre apparent, both rear wheels were removed to check bearings and then rapidly a broken wheel was identified. Although the stop was short, Smith dropped to 4th in class and was in danger of losing touch with the leading Production class cars.
An intense exchange of communication for the remainder of the race between Smith and pit crew to locate and home in on his rivals kept Smith more than motivated.50 minutes remaining and Tilley reported loss of drive but was able to make it back to the pits. A suspected broken drive shaft was confirmed and Tilley was confined to the team awning while his car underwent repairs to get him back on track.
Smith had his head down and was now up to 15th setting his best lap of 1min.11.50. Harrison was not to be out done, he set his fastest lap of 1min.10.578 with about 30 remaining and was back up to 7th overall as most cars had done their stops.
Luck favours the brave, Harrison had demonstrated another stunning drive and the leading Class 3 Porsche of Barrett/Shepherd was there for the taking as they coasted slowly down the pit straight with a broken gearbox. They were able to continue to the end with what gears they had left but Harrison sailed past them to take the class lead.Tilley was able to return to the track with 30 minutes remaining to finish the race in order to secure 3rd in class, such was the attrition of cars on the hard and demanding circuit.
With Jon looking comfortable leading his class and under no threat, the focus was now firmly on Smith who was taking 3 second bites per lap out of the Production Class 1, 3rd placed car of Ticehurst, so long as he could maintain pace would catch him just before the end of the race.
Gary picked his moment to pass the Ticehurst car under braking into Camp Corner to take 3rd in class and 13th overall to the delight of the team with just a few minutes remaining. This was not enough though, there was another challenge that Smith and the team could not resist. Only a few seconds ahead was the 2nd placed car of Cunningham and it was just possible that Smith could catch him before the chequered flag. Smith was like a red rag to a bull and attitude was oozing from his car. It became a race of sorts between Smith and overall lead car, the 458 Ferrari ofDryburgh/Gaw. He needed to keep the Ferrari behind him into the final lap which would allow him the extra lap he would need to challenge Cunningham as he was now breathing down his neck. However, the Ferrari was on Smith’s tail as they entered the final corner for the chequered flag. Smith slithered his way out of Camp to try and hold back the much faster Ferrari, an impossibility though as the Ferrari nosed ahead at the flag. Gary was not gifted the extra lap he needed to challenge Cunningham for 2nd in class and the much desired extra points he would have earned. Regardless, they still took the final podium and valuable points. Pace alone would have guaranteed them the class win had it not been for the broken wheel.
Harrison claimed his 2nd Class win this season in as many races and 5th overall, proving perhaps that some things get better with age!Head/Tilley, although disappointed that they were denied a shot at class win, were worthy of applause after a blistering performance. A finish too, meant they could take points for 3nd in class.
The next round is at Snetterton on 13/14th August.