Castle Combe Autumn Classic; 23rd September 2023
FJHRA/HSCC “Silverline” Championship Round
It was a glorious September morning that greeted the Historic Formula Junior runners in a single race event that combined both the front and rear-engined classes. In amongst the 27-car entry were a few new faces, including Mark Williams who was having his first run out in the 1960 De Sanctis he had bought from Martin Sheppard, a car that had been previously owned by Pat Barford.
Mark who normally races Renault Clios bought the car several years ago without an engine as a piece of art. He had fallen in love with the lines of the little Italian car with no plans to race it. Fast forward a few years and Martin Sheppard was on the telephone again. He had found an original Fiat engine that Mark must buy. Engine installed, the next thing to do was to take the car racing. Castle Combe became the destination and, after a day of testing getting used to a historic car and open wheels, Mark was ready to go.
Martin had brought along his De Tomaso and the red cars looked resplendent in the assembly area side by side as they lined up to qualify. The other newcomer was Paul Booth in the newly purchased ex-Andrew Garside Lotus 20/22. He had tested it at the Silverstone Festival, and this was to be his first race. Ian Robinson was another face who had not raced in Junior for some years, out in the Lola Mk2. Also returning after a break, albeit a shorter one, was Chris Drake who had been living the Rock Star life for the past 6 months and was ready to get back behind the wheel of his Elva 300. Anna Wilson swapped 4-legged horsepower for 4 wheels in the family Brabham BT6, following her success in a National 3-day horse Trial where she finished 2nd the previous weekend, while husband Richard elected to enjoy himself racing the Maserati 250S in the HSCC Griffiths Haig Trophy Race that would qualify immediately after her.
Horatio Fitz-Simon in his Lotus 22 established an early pace setting the fastest lap on lap 6 of the qualifying, being the only driver to go under 1min 15secs. Stuart Roach in the Alexis Mk4 and Mark Carter in the Brabham BT6 appeared to have a contest brewing for second place, until Stuart produced a lap to confirm second on the grid just under 4 tenths slower than Horatio.
Mark Carter was placed third on the grid heading a Speedsport trio of Geoff Underwood (Brabham BT2) in 4th with Alan Schmidt in the Lotus 22 in 5th. Andrew Hibberd led the Front-engined runners with 6th quickest time in the Lola M2 giving the Hibberd team first in front and rear-engined runners.
In 7th heading his class C was a very happy Nic Carlton-Smith back in his Kieft, engine now running well. Eighth was Robin Longdon in the Lola Mk3 with Chris Drake in the Elva just behind him in 9th place, only 2 tenths separating them in their class D battle.
Completing the top 10 was Alex Morton in the Condor SII, Graham Barron was 15th heading class B1. Graham had a few problems to resolve following qualifying which included a flat battery and a misbehaving clutch. It did not stop him setting a time very close to Anna Wilson one place further up the grid.
Unfortunately however, qualifying would see the withdrawal of both Mark Williams with clutch problems and Edoardo Guarino in the Elva 100, with a broken rear trailing arm.
As befits Historic Formula Junior, the cars and drivers were awarded star status lining up for the start of their race early so that the spectators could come down and enjoy a lunch time grid walk. Lending an extra Razzamatazz were the troop of 4 dancers in costume to pose for a group shot at the front of the grid. The presentation did add a little extra pressure on Andrew and Michael Hibberd who were trying to resolve a problem on the Lola, work being conducted amongst the crowd on the grid.
In the assembly area prior to going to the grid Robert Goodwin had been remembering earlier times in the 1990s at Castle Combe when he had raced and beaten Paul Sleeman in a Formula Ford race, Paul having been one of the men to beat at the time. Robert did not think he could replicate that form today particularly with Nic Carlton-Smith ahead of him in his class.
With the fun over, the cars were led around behind the safety car before forming up for a standing start. From the lights Horatio led away from Stuart Roach, the pair quickly getting away from the pursuing pack. Robin Longdon’s race ended at Quarry on the first lap. Going in a little too quickly on the outside, Robin got onto the grass before coming to a halt against the tyre wall.
Geoff Underwood had made a good start, taking him into 3rd place ahead of his teammate Mark Carter, whilst Nic Carlton Smith and Andrew Hibberd had slipped past Alan Schmidt. Chris Drake, in the absence of Robin Longdon, had moved into the lead of Class D2, in 8th place following Alan Schmidt. Crispian Besley in the Cooper was 9th with Alex Morton rounding out the top 10.
Graham Barron with his car now repaired had leaped up to 12th place with Paul Booth and Dave Wall coming through having a great scrap for 19th place. The end of lap 3 and there were some dices brewing. At the front, Stuart Roach had stayed in the wheel tracks of Horatio, Mark Carter was homing in on Geoff Underwood and Andrew Hibberd had slipped back into 8th place behind Alan Schmidt and Chris Drake.
On lap 4 a number of those watching the timing screens could not believe their eyes. Mark Carter was leading from Geoff Underwood. Where were the front two? As the leaders had come up to pass Peter Edbrooke then Ian Robinson, Ian had spotted the blue flags and attempted to make space, but unfortunately he had misjudged Horatio’s position. Horatio took to the grass in avoidance, but the bumpiness of the terrain caused him to spin back onto the track, and in the ensuing melee all three cars were out. Horatio tried at first to continue, but with coolant coming into the cockpit and a front brake caliper that became detached he decided to park up in a safe place.
By lap 6, Mark had extended his lead to over 4 seconds and it looked like the contest for first was run. In third, Nic Carlton-Smith had a comfortable one second gap back to Alan Schmidt in 4th who was being caught by Chris Drake. Crispian Besley was being caught by Alex Morton as the second place front-engined runner, and Anna Wilson had found her own sparring partner in Robert Goodwin.
With lappery now coming into play Mark Carter adopted a more circumspect approach to passing slower cars and his advantage back to Geoff Underwood dramatically reduced, coming down to under 4 tenths on lap 10. On the Speedsport pit wall palms were getting a little slippery as the pair looked to be headed for a close finish.
Nic Carlton-Smith in 3rd place had Chris Drake following but managed to maintain a gap of around one second, Alan Schmidt was in 5th place with Andrew Hibberd pressing on a lonely 6th. Alex Morton had however managed to pass Crispian Besley to take 7th place.
On the penultimate lap it looked like Geoff Underwood could make a challenge for the lead. In the end he finished just 4 tenths back from his teammate Mark Carter, with Nic Carlton-Smith taking 3rd place, and the three of them enjoying a lap of honour, heads poking out of the sunroof of the circuit’s Honda. Andrew Hibberd and Alex Morton finished 1st and 2nd in the front-engined classes with Graham Barron finishing 3rd, in 9th overall and winning class B1. In class C2, behind Nic Carlton-Smith, Crispian Besley brought the Cooper T56 home 2nd with John Hutchison Jnr in the Envoy Mk1 completing the top 10 and taking 3rd in the class. Robert Goodwin was 11th and 4th in the class having lost his sparring partner when Anna made a little mistake which had her brushing the tyre wall without damage to finish 14th. Martin Sheppard was 15th in the De Tomaso won class C3 and Peter Fenichel in the Stanguellini was the winner of Class A, after a race long battle to catch Duncan’s Class B2 Alexis, tantalisingly, just ahead. Horatio Fitz-Simons’ fastest lap of 1’14.863” shaved 0.031” from Sam Wilson’s (unofficial) lap record, Barron and Carlton-Smith also setting new records in their classes.
It had been a race with an unpredicted result, but amongst the competitors afterwards it was an event that was very much enjoyed, and were pleased to be back at again on rotation, on a circuit that has changed little in front of a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience.
by Alan Jones