Cooper extends Combe championship lead with third win of season

Luke Cooper made it three wins from three in the 2018 Castle Combe FF1600 Championship in association with Melksham Motor Spares, with victory in the May Day Bank Holiday race.

The season already is one-third done and while Cooper’s 23-point advantage after his latest win may appear healthy that is deceptive. Drivers only count their best seven scores from the nine rounds, so that Michael Eastwell was absent in this meeting (the Kevin Mills driver headed to Knockhill early, for extra National prep) and David Vivian retired with a misfire on his Wiltshire College Spectrum 10b was not completely detrimental to their championship hopes.

In the first dry qualifying session of the season – pretty good conditions, a little too warm if anything – Cooper’s 1m10.891s lap was good enough for pole position by more than four-tenths from Josh Fisher. The times didn’t rank well against benchmarks from the recent past, however – Michael Moyers’ pole time last October was a half-second better than Cooper’s mark. Changes in the kerbs and a new track surface both possible factors.

The race was, from the point of view of onlookers at least, very straightforward for Cooper. He got his Swift Cooper Swift SC16 off the line well, and with early exchanges going on behind him, his lead advantage grew from 0.7s at the end of the first lap to 2.1s after four. He won the 15 lap race by just under 4s.

Vivian had jumped Fisher’s Wayne Poole Racing JL14 on the first lap to run second but, prior to the full extent of his engine issues becoming apparent, he lost the place back to Fisher at the Esses on the fourth lap. A grassy moment there a lap later, which allowed Felix Fisher (Ray GR05) through, predicated his smoky misfire demise.

What followed was, by FF1600 standards, a largely subdued contest. Josh Fisher was unable to make any headway towards Cooper and the main interest came towards the end when it seemed Josh might be caught by his younger sibling Felix. Felix indeed set the fastest lap of the race (some 1.3s off Moyers’ 2016 record) on the penultimate tour, slashing the deficit to 0.9s. But he dropped it at the Esses on the final lap, spinning back to fourth.

The driver to seize third place was no less than 2006 champion Matt Rivett, who recorded his first podium at the track in nine years in the Ray GR10 he ran with his father – to the delight, no doubt, of his watching young family.

An enormous gap developed behind the front four and best of the rest in fifth was Tom Hawkins in the Springbridge Direct Ray GR11, the last finisher from the top class following Vivian’s retirement.

Class B was won by Potteries man Paul Mason, who claimed sixth overall (and therefore second in the points standings) in the Swift Cooper Swift SC94 in spite of a misfire and managed to edge away from Shaun Macklin’s Swift SC92 each lap. Steve Bracegirdle (Wayne Poole Racing Van Diemen RF89) was the last finisher on the lead lap and ruing the lack of Pre-’90 opposition, with his only class rival Michael Phillips (Swift FB87) lapped by the top five.

Two class B runners failed to finish, although Paul Jeavons’ early model Ray and Alex Rivett – with his Swift SC92 exhibiting the aural qualities of a Massey Ferguson – were nowhere near the sharp end.

The season continues on Whitsun Bank Holiday in late May, with the second of this year’s three double-headers likely to prove pivotal as the championship reaches its half-way point.

Photo courtesy of Steve Jones

Race results

Pos Class Driver Car Gap
1 A Luke Cooper Swift 15 laps
2 A Josh Fisher Van Diemen +3.970
3 A Matt Rivett Ray +8.502
4 A Felix Fisher Ray +12.732
5 A Tom Hawkins Ray +30.789
6 B Paul Mason Swift +44.979
7 B Shaun Macklin Swift +1m 06.061
8 C Steve Bracegirdle Van Diemen +1m 16.483
9 C Michael Phillips Swift +1 lap
DNF B Alex Rivett Swift 12 laps
DNF A David Vivian Spectrum 6 laps
DNF B Paul Jeavons Ray 6 laps
Fastest Lap: F Fisher, 1m 11.157

Overall Championship Standings – Top 10
1 Cooper 71 2 P Mason 48 54 3 Bracegirdle 41 4 J Fisher 40 5 Eastwell 38 6 Phillips 37 7 Vivian 35 Hawkins 32 9 Macklin 29 10 J Mason 28

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