CASTLE COMBE: Norton rises to series lead
One of the busiest weekends in the Castle Combe Circuit’s 62-year history saw Bratton’s Ben Norton take two impressive race wins and the lead of the circuit’s Startline Formula Ford 1600 championship.
The Anglo-Japanese Race Weekend featured 25 races, including double headers for each of the circuit’s home championships and a huge field of Mazda MX5s.
Qualifying on pole for both races alongside championship leader Steven Jensen, from Saltford, Norton knew race wins were essential to close the gap which emerged in the opening part of the season as wet meetings inhibited him.
Norton led from the start of Saturday’s race, but the exit of Camp saw the three leading drivers sliding onto the grass after hitting oil which had been deposited from a previous race.
Yatton Keynell’s Luke Cooper, lying in wait, took advantage and went in front, but hit more oil at Quarry and was deposed to second by Norton, with Jensen dropping from second to fourth, eventually finishing sixth.
Norton said: “It was so difficult for all of us at the end of the first lap and I’m so grateful just to get through the laps. Luke was unfortunate enough to arrive at the oil at Quarry as the first car.”
Chippenham’s Adam Higgins also took advantage to take fourth and fastest lap in his Van Diemen.
Sunday’s race two saw Norton and Jensen resume their front row positions, but once Norton had opened a gap at the front, Jensen spent the rest of the race in a tussle with Nathan Ward.
The duo swopped second and third places, with Norton well clear by the flag, winning by nearly eight seconds to take the series lead by two points.
He said “I had nothing to think about as I was on my own at the front and it’s so difficult to keep concentration.”
Langford’s Roger Orgee was third, Ward fourth and Cooper fifth, with Higgins sixth.
Another Wiltshire race winner was Malmesbury’s Tim Clarke, who took his Mitsubishi Evo from pole position in the first Nippon Challenge race to an easy victory over Cricklade’s Nick Holden in the unusual 3.5 litre Lexus-engined Toyota MR2.
Race two saw Clarke lead for the first five laps, only to hand victory to Holden after retiring with engine problems.
Corsham’s Will Di Claudio scored another two class wins in the National Mobile Windscreens Saloon Car races in his Peugeot 106 Gti.
Di Claudio started from the front row of the grid on Saturday alongside eventual outright race winner Adam Prebble.
“I had a good start, Adam made a poor start, but the wind was too strong, the car didn’t like it whatsoever, which is why the lap times are down,’’ said Di Claudio, who had dropped to sixth overall by the finish.
“But I was thinking more about the championship than the positions.”
With plenty of turbo power at his disposal, Melksham’s Rob Ballard had no such problems with the wind, taking second in his SEAT Leon.
After problems with a throttle position sensor in qualifying, Calne’s Tony Hutchings had to fight from the back of the grid in his Audi TT and, after a safety car incident bunched the field, brought his points leading car home an impressive fourth overall.
Sunday’s race brought an identical podium, Tony Dolley standing on the lower step each time. Di Claudio took fourth.
Hutchings’ race came to a halt on lap eight while he was lying second, when a water hose developed a small leak, sidelining the car in a cloud of steam.
Mark Funnell, from Trowbridge, was one of the heroes of Sunday, picking up the Driver of the Day award for his performance.
His Mini had retired from Saturday’s race after the crankshaft pulley broke, leaving him stranded at the back of the grid for race two.
A fine drive through the field took him to sixth overall, with only much more powerful cars ahead of him.
Saturday’s Vadabar Sports and GT championship race saw Trowbridge’s Andrew Shanley leading the race for the first seven laps from the front of the grid before retiring with a blown engine, handing the win to championship leader Simon Tilling.
Bath’s Guy Parr made a cracking start from fifth to hold second place for the first two laps, before being passed by Taunton’s Craig Fleming and taking third overall.
Sunday again saw Tilling make a slow start and by lap four it was Parr who had made it to the front, harried by Fleming. As the pair came out of Camp corner for the 10th time, they came upon slow back marker Dylan Popovic, who appeared to move over to let Fleming past, but failed to see Parr on the other side.
The move sent Parr on to the bumpy grass, with the Nemesis performing a terrifying series of leaps before finding solid ground again.
Parr retired his car shortly afterwards, having been ‘scared to death,’ according to team boss, Wayne Poole.
Fleming went on to take his first win in the championship, with Wrington’s Josh Smith in second, beating his father Darcy Smith, who brought his Radical home fourth, on Father’s Day.
Gary Prebble took class wins in both races in his impressive Mitsubishi Evo, which led Sunday’s race outright before settling for third.