With green shoots of COVID recovery clearly visible throughout the UK and unusually balmy spring weather abounding, the motor racing calendar started with a bang at Castle Combe on Saturday when the Racing Club organised a well-supported Media and Track Day for competitors in the club’s 2022 races and championships, writes Ken Davies.
Remarkably, given the Wiltshire circuit’s distinguished 72-year history, this was the first time that this sort of publicity event had been arranged to preview championship competitors to the national motorsport Press.
The day also provided a great opportunity for club members to track-test cars before the white-hot-heat of competition kicks-off in earnest with Howard’s Day, the circuit’s season opening race meeting on Easter Monday, named in honour of the circuit’s late owner – and saviour – Welshman Howard Strawford, a former genial chairman of Swansea Motor Club.
Cars representing Castle Combe Racing Club’s four resident championships ran on track during the busy day, arranged in four 15-minute sessions each running 6 times between 9am and 4pm. Saloons, GTs, Formula Fords and Hot Hatches which included a few Mighty Minis (above) joining CCRC’s portfolio of races for the first time this year although they have been ‘guesting’ at the circuit’s races for many years.
Anniversaries being celebrated at Combe this year include the Circuit’s 72ndbirthday, 70 years sponsorship from Avon, 60 years since a BMC racing Mini first raced at the circuit, 54 years of the Formula Ford, 47 years of the GT and 27 years of the Saloon Car Championships. A popular Hot Hatch series was added 5 years ago and has proved a great success with its low-cost and competitive racing format. This year commemorates 40-years since the great Ayrton Senna won a FF2000 race at the circuit in the works Van Diemen RF82, prior to winning three F1 Championships.
The 2022 season also sees Castle Combe Racing Club strengthen links with the prestigious historic racing series GT & Sports Car Cup, a four-event endurance-racing style series for cars that competed in the golden 1950s/60s era of international racing, pitching iconic Sports & GT cars including AC Cobra, Jaguar E Type, Healey 3000, Lotus Elite, MGB against one another in a multiclass one or two-driver pit-stop format. The GTSCC will provide the feature 90-minute race at this year’s Autumn Classic meeting which has its 10thanniversary in September.
Some of the GT and Sports cars equipped with two seats were present and provided white-knuckle passenger rides, providing proof of just how fast these well-developed historic cars can lap the 1·85-mile circuit on relatively skinny wheels and tyres as well as demonstrating the challenging and uncompromising nature of the former WWII airfield.
For those wanting to lap Castle Combe’s challenging circuit without risking their insurance policy, Wiltshire College, resident on the site, had set up their Caterham race simulator in the relative safety of the Kay Thomas Centre, encouraging a steady stream of aspiring and more experienced drivers, eager to test their skills all through the day. Quickest lap of the day was rewarded with a trophy at the awards ceremony.
Among competitors’ taking part was 2021 Castle Combe GT Champion Tony Bennett in his Caterham 300, who said, “A very enjoyable day. Great, well-organised and fun, rounded off with the 2021 awards party in the evening, hosted by Chris Dawes, himself the worthy recipient of Spirit of Castle Combe award.
“I was deeply honoured to receive Driver of the Year trophy. Huge thank you to all at Castle Combe Racing Club.”
Also using the pre-season test day was Wayne Poole Racing – WPR. Team owner Wayne Poole had three Formula Ford cars taking part and said: “Don’t change anything for next year, leave the format of the day exactly the same, including this great weather!”
Also running FF cars at the event was Souley Motorsport, a professional racing team based in Stroud, Gloucestershire and operated by former competitor Brian Soule who said: “We’ve enjoyed a useful and productive day testing before the season starts and like the format.”
This year too the Autumn Classic will present a race for pre 1983 historic Group 1 Touring cars, titled the Vince Woodman Trophy race, in memory of the Bristol driver who competed in the international saloon racing arena and was a regular race winner and firm spectator favourite at Castle Combe before his retirement in the 1990s. Woodman passed away May 2021.
Other significant Circuit anniversaries include:
Based on positive feedback from participants following the inaugural event, the preseason Media & Trackday could now become an annual feature on Castle Combe Racing Club’s sporting calendar.
© Images Michael Stokes & words Ken Davies