Castle Combe’s Autumn Classic remains a firm favourite with the GT & Sports Car Cup fraternity, which turns out for Automobiles Historiques’ invitation series for Pre-1966 cars’ sixth visit to the fabled Wiltshire venue since 2017.
Fun and good manners on track and the best of camaraderie and hospitality off it are the tenets of Flavien and Vanessa Marçais’ promotion, which debuted in 2007. Superb hospitality has been laid on by Automobiles Historiques in the comfort of the Strawford Centre, overlooking the challenging track first used in 1950.
It is a delight to welcome 11 family teams to the fray on Saturday, one split between two cars in a stellar 32-strong grid showcasing eight marques. Austin-Healey, Lotus, MG, Morgan, Porsche and TVR are set to compete for honours in the GT2 division, which truly is a meeting of the clans. Local brothers Kyle and Kane Tilley’s 911 brings extra spice to the contest at the venue where father Charles cut his racing teeth the 1970s.
As ever, MG Bs are the strongest sub-set, with Mark Hope/Jason Minshaw, Dan Pickett/Den Pickett/David Brise, Nick Thompson/Chris Thompson and soloist Oliver Marçais aiming to take the fight to a trio of TVR Grantura teams, led by past masters Malcolm Paul/Rick Bourne and Joe and Piers Ward. Bristol-based husband and wife Mike Thorne/Sarah Bennett-Baggs (Austin-Healey 100) know the 1.84-mile circuit well, but the nippy Lotus Elite of Marc Gordon/Nick Finburgh and the Morgan +4 SS of Simon King/Peter Cole are not to be discounted.
It’s great to see Chris Phillips back in the saddle of wife Beverley’s MG B and ‘belle stars’ Arabella and Emily Welch – the sisters fresh from their prize-winning accolades at Donington – back at the circuit where Emily tested their B last year. New to the line-up is Jeremy Rogers who shares David Green’s B, as son Matt has been seconded to drive Alice Locke’s Broadspeed Mini GTS in the 1300cc Touring Car division in which they face Ellie Birchenough/Nick Topliss in the Dorset Racing Mini Cooper S.
At the spiritual home of the big Healey – thanks in no small part to the derring-do of John Chatham and Stewart Hands in the swinging ’60s, a bumper crop of rorty straight-six representatives is likely to provide the most sideways action. Local duo David Smithies/Chris Clarkson are due some luck as they face Jeremy Welch not only in Christiaen van Lanschot’s ex-Le Mans DD300, but also in Doug Muirhead’s historic example. Mike Grant Peterkin/Theo Hunt is another strong combination for Mark Pangborn/Harvey Woods and George and Paul Ingram to tussle with. Jaguar opposition comes from Martin Melling/Jason Minshaw’s early E-Type and past master Rob Newall’s XK120.
A brace of later spec Es, piloted by Germany’s Rhea Sautter/Andy Newall and the Adams family square up to the AC Cobras of Chris Chiles Jr/Sr – last September’s winners – and Mark Williams, who has been close on previous occasions, but not landed the cigar. Fine handling Lotus Elan 26Rs will carry more speed through the chicanes, thus newcomers Graham Ridgway/Tom Smith – both with Historic Formula Ford 2000 and F2 experience – newly-crowned Classic FF1600 champion Ben Tinkler with Steve Jones and veterans Stephen Bond/Cliff Gray could surprise.
As ever, though, the fly in the ointment could be the splendid little Lola-Climax Mk1 of Nick Finburgh/Ollie Crosthwaite which, while lacking in engine power, does not seem interested in braking for the corners. Eric Broadley’s dynasty-starting masterpieces competed at Le Mans and Sebring, as well as in Castle Combe club races well into the ’60s with Jim Morley and Dickie Le Strange Metcalfe, Goodwood’s final contemporary race winner.
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