Castle Combe

Sports 2000 Enduro Qualifying Castle Combe 16 July

Posted on: August 9th 2017    •    Posted in: General News

This race got confusing before it even began. Either Michael Gibbins was lining up for qualifying in Roger Donnan’s car, or Roger had been using a different skin cream and shampoo at Combe that took years off him. The minimum pitstop time was two minutes spent from pit in – but not the official ‘PIT IN’ line – to pit out, rather than time spent stationary. Some would be doing driver changes, some would stay in the car. As some of the paddock packed up and left on Saturday evening, the talk turned to who would be using new tyres for the race.

Overnight, Michael Gibbins had been having a sneaky look at the class lap record and noticed it was only two tenths quicker than had been seen on Saturday, and conditions were improving all the time. A busy night of spannering under the Law’s gazebo saw two immaculate Shrikes ready to for battle again, any mechanical gremlins chased out of them by Law Sr and “Go Daddy Go” appropriately stickered across the nose of Ash’s car.

A solid qualifying saw ‘Roger Donnan’ land pole with a 1:06.316 – the first time a Sports 2000 car has lapped Castle Combe with an average speed over 100mph! More than one anonymous source reports seeing Roger in the paddock or on the pitwall as his car was on track though, muttering about “that quick lad Gibbins” and wearing a grin as if he knew something they didn’t. An unofficial lap record set (it has to be in a race to count officially) with new tyres gave the pole Gibbins/Donnan MCR an advantage of over a second over Tom Stoten, still on old tyres and keeping the new boots for the race. Nick Bacon took third overall and Giles Billingsley took Derek Bell Trophy pole honours in Duratec by 0.125 seconds from Peter Williams.

Josh Law had obviously been at the Weetabix that morning, storming to Pinto pole over two seconds clear of his weekend nemesis Mike Fry. Damien Griffin had headed home after a dream Saturday, leaving these two to battle it out for Mini Enduro honours in Pinto. Ash Law, with oil pressures now back to normal claimed third spot in Pintos, ahead of Colin Feyerabend who led the way in Pinto Derek Bell. A 15 car grid reduced the pressures of traffic in qualifying, but the long race meant drivers weren’t going all-out for times here.

Enduro Race

Spectators packed the banks for the start of the race. It had nothing to do with Brian Johnson of AC/DC in a sideways historic Mini Cooper going up against Chris Rea in a police panda car liveried Morris Minor, equally sideways, in the race before ours. No, not at all. Under bright skies, Michael Gibbins led the 15 car field round to the rolling start for the planned 45 minute race.

Tom Stoten got the jump over Michael Gibbins at the start, just beating him to Quarry corner as everyone else stacked up on the brakes, looking for space and grip. With Stoten’s Gunn sporting fresh rubber and a fired-up Gibbins chasing a lap record, it was shaping up to be an epic duel for the overall lead.

Enduro Race

Side by side racing over the next few laps put hearts in mouths right around the circuit, including in the cockpit of Donnan’s MCR where Gibbins tried to outbrake Stoten into the off-camber Tower corner, carrying too much speed and saving it with armfuls of opposite lock. The neater but no less intense Stoten held on for another lap. Seemingly inspired by three-wide heroics in the earlier Formula Ford race, Ash Law tried the outside line at Tower but got crossed up, touched the grass and hit the left hand wall, sliding along it into the gravel trap and retiring on the spot. A sad end to a miserable weekend for him, and a poor reward for overnight repair work after Saturday’s mechanical dramas.

Peter Williams headed into the pits with a suspect puncture as the safety car came out, and later rejoined three laps down on the overall leaders, which were Stoten-Gibbins-Bacon-Houghton-Owen under the safety car.

This time, it was Stoten’s turn to get jumped. Learning from his rolling start issues, Gibbins squeezed his way into the lead by the time the leaders were braking for Quarry and tried to make a gap – it wasn’t going to happen. Nick Day’s Tiga was broadside to the racing line at Bobbies chicane, nosecone separated from the rest of the car, and cars were having to take to the grass in avoidance. Double waved yellows quickly became a red flag as cars were starting to make mandatory pitstops. Teams on the pitwall weren’t kept informed of Race Control decisions, with many saying they had no idea what position they were in or whether they could legitimately pit.

Jonathan Owen and Chris Snowden came in to serve their pitstops, and were told that as long as they observed the 2 minute mandatory time between pit in and pit out, it would count. By now, the decision had been taken to shorten the race again and count this as a restart, which confused things even more. Cars which had already been in the pits at the beginning of the window wouldn’t have to stop again, keeping the advantage gained as the race wasn’t at full speed during their stops.

With 15 minutes on the clock in what had become a bizarre and eventful race, Michael Gibbins handed the MCR over to its owner Roger Donnan, followed a lap later by Stoten. This gave Jonathan Owen in the Fox/Lola the overall lead, courtesy of his earlier stop.

With the clock now showing 11 minutes remaining, the Fry/Law battle in Pintos was still fierce, with firm but respectful moves being exchanged and side by side runs into the final corner delighting the pitwall. The overall classification, affected by pitstop confusion, showed Owen as leading by 17 seconds from the Tiga of Jeremy Knight, who had 11 seconds in hand over Snowdon/Steeper.

However, Owen’s regular laps in the 1:10 range were stretching his lead over Knight, who could only lap in 1:16 and Snowdon/Steeper’s 1:14 efforts. Behind them, Stoten was routinely churning out missile-like performances, consistently lapping through traffic in the 1:07 range. As if this wasn’t going to be close enough come the end of the race, David Houghton and Nick Bacon were battling over sixth and seventh but still catching Donnan at the rate of around 5 seconds a lap.

With fourteen laps complete in the shortened race, Stoten got by the Snowden/Steeper Tiga for third overall as the Fry/Law War of the Pintos closed up, the two running nose to tail. A lap later and Pinto Derek Bell leader Jeremy Knight’s personal best lap of 1:15.8 was no match for Stoten’s Duratec Gunn, giving him second. Five minutes remained and Owen was showing on the timing screens as having a 30 second lead, lapping in the 1:11 range compared to Stoten’s 1:08-1:09, the new tyre advantage starting to wear thin.

Pit stop

With four minutes left, it looked as if Owen had enough of a gap to hold on, thanks to his early pitstop. Remarkably, a Pinto driven by Derek Bell Trophy driver Jeremy Knight still held a spot on the overall podium. David Houghton in the MCR was trying hard to unseat him, having used the Duratec power to get by Snowden/Steeper for fourth overall. Josh Law snuck through Mike Fry as the clock counted down past three minutes, setting the stage for an epic last-ditch fight.

On what we now knew was the penultimate lap, Houghton’s determined charge came good as he got past Jeremy Knight for third overall. Law managed to stretch a bit of a gap over Fry for breathing room, and Owen was still being reeled in but not quickly enough. His 15 second gap with a minute remaining meant all he had to do was not hit anything and he would beat Stoton to the win. Houghton was lying third, and only a few car lengths now separated the Snowdon/Steeper and Knight Tigas. Roger Donnan’s quiet race had him comfortably in the top ten and cruising to a solid finish.

An elated and surprised Owen jumped out of his car at the end “absolutely amazed” at his victory, ecstatic at the result. Stoten, unlucky in the pitstop timings, remarked in the podium interviews that “the rules are just a mess, we need to change them”, feelings echoed by lots of the team members stood on the pitwall trying to understand what exactly was going on out on track.

Understandably, there was a lot of confusion and protests about pitstop timings. A revised results sheet took into account when mandatory pitstops were made, and changed the order of the race. According to the amended results, Tom Stoten won it from David Houghton and Nick Bacon. Roger Donnan was fourth, Jonathan Owen, still amazed by what he thought was an overall win was scored as fifth, ahead of Derek Bell Trophy winner Giles Billingsley. Josh Law still won out over Mike Fry, but Jeremy Knight’s apparently strong performance in the race came out as third in Derek Bell. Still, it was an entertaining race, the early Gibbins/Stoten battle and race-long Fry vs Law challenge particular highlights.

Finally, one last note. As if the weekend couldn’t get any better for Tom Stoten, he won a free set of tyres in the raffle as well. See you all at Bands Hatch in September.

Race report by Joe Morel @JoeMorelMedia