Castle Combe Circuit – 5th October 2019 – By Graham Duplock.
Many members who show their cars through the summer will know I have our old family 1968 Austin Cambridge as well as my 105 series Bertone 2.0 L GTV as pictured below exhibited at Herne Bay and the Grand Old Timer rally in Folkestone during the year. Later in the season each year I visit old friends from the Austin Cambridge Westminster Car Club at the Castle Combe Autumn Classic. Castle Combe is a real chocolate box village and is located near Chippenham just off the M4 in the West Country and this year was a bit special.
The Castle Combe airfield opened in May 1941 on land of the Castle Combe estate, owned by the Gorst family, operating as RAF Castle Combe for seven years before being decommissioned in 1948 and was a fighter-base for Polish airmen.
Castle Combe Racing Circuit opened in 1950, and the first meeting was staged on the 8 July by the Bristol Motorcycle & Light Car Club. Over the next few years, the circuit attracted star names such as Stirling Moss, Mike Hawthorne, Roy Salvadori and John Surtees. The RAF control tower can still be seen intact in the below photo taken in 1963.
Castle Combe has staged many different motorsport disciplines over the years. In 1997, Nigel Greensall established a new lap record. His Tyrell 022 lapped the circuit at 130.93 mph (210.71 km/h). However, this was the last year that the circuit would remain unaltered. A tragic accident involving the death of a spectator forced the owners into installing two new chicanes in order to slow the cars down. The new layout was slightly longer at 1.85 miles (2.98 km), and was completed over the winter of 1998-1999.
Formula Three returned to Castle Combe in 2001. However, it would not stay long. In 2005, the circuit was issued with a noise nuisance order, which meant that the circuit had to reduce its noise levels. The British Formula Three Championship and the British GT Championship were both louder than permitted, and were sadly prevented from returning.
These days races include a home-circuit championship with classes for Saloon cars, Sports & GTs as well as Formula Ford. Racing clubs from around the UK include Castle Combe in their events for their championships including the 750 Motor Club and The BRSCC. As well as holding track days for both cars and motorcycles. Castle Combe Circuit hosts a large number of car shows. These shows follow a general motorsport theme and exhibit show stands, market stalls, stunt demonstrations, classic displays and on certain days the circuit is able to hold track sessions. The shows have proven to be a big success, offering the motoring community a place to display their vehicles and use them on a racetrack in a safe and controlled environment, with each year building on the last and gaining larger and larger crowds.
Motoring shows Top Gear and Fifth Gear have used this circuit to race or test cars for their shows. Top Gear used the circuit for their ’70’s Supercar challenge and Jeremy Clarkson said “It’s a fierce track this, one of the fastest in Britain, a real car breaker.”
One aspect of the circuit which has remained unchanged throughout the years is the large population of rabbits who live in the extensive tyre barriers around the circuit.
Having given the Cambridge a full check earlier in the week I left at 6:30 Saturday morning. The Cambridge gave me a good motorway run; happy at around 65 mph with enough left to overtake safely, arriving without incident just after 10:00. On arriving at our club pitch, I noticed the voltage regulator points chattering when idling although this stopped when I increased the revs. At that stage I was not too worried…
Having greeted my fellow club members (only 4 of us this year) I noted a red GTV identical to mine and a couple of Berlinas almost opposite on the N. Devon Sports and Classics CC stand. I then started my walk up through the paddock area to the restaurant to get one of their excellent “Big Breakfast Specials”, two of everything, to set me up for the day.
There were a number of race prepared Alfas that I’d not seen for years before, particularly a superb blue Giulia Super Ti. After breakfast walking back I spent some time looking at the impressive Frazer Nash display in the old Paddock, cars dating back to the 1920’s, some no more than wooden boxes on wheels with hefty chain drives. Just before arriving back at my car I purchased my event programme and then some of what I had seen began to fall into place.
To my delight the eight race programme included the “Classic Alfa Challenge” from the Historic Drivers’ Racing Club for 750, 101, 105 and 116 series cars (that’s why there were so many in the paddock!) and “Freddie Giles Memorial Trophy” for single seaters and chain driven Frazer Nash cars from the 1920s and 30s. I had no idea I was to be rewarded with both these bonuses on track and to drool over in the paddock.
The track was basically dry for morning qualifying and this was uneventful.
There’s always a great variety of club displays and individual classics around the circuit to inspect during the racing lunch break. The Bristol and Ford GT40 (8 there last year) displays have impressed me over the years. A surprise this year was to encounter Colin Craven and his Duetto, they do get everywhere!
We were treated to some great racing, although I’m not keen on Formula Ford or Junior Ford single seater racing. Unfortunately, there was one moment of sadness during the HRDC Dunlop Allstars race when an A35 driver left the track following a probable heart attack and luckily came to rest in the maize field within the middle of the circuit without hitting anything. Sadly, he did not survive. There was a second delay at the start of the next race when a Kellard caught fire on the front of the grid, only noticed by an adjacent driver.
Eventually the Alfa Challenge Race got underway. What a grid! A great variety of Classic Alfas, with the little 1974 1.3l AlfaSud Ti Trofeo of Ted Pearson (making one of its few annual performances) on pole but dropping to 3rd from the start with Chris Snowden’s 1975 Alfetta GTV 2000 taking the lead. In 2nd place Richard Merrell’s 1969 GTJ (to retire after 2 laps), in Lap 2: the Alfasud got up to 2nd place before taking a slender lead on Lap3. This started a great duel throughout the rest of the race between the AlfaSud and GTV. Lap 4: the GTV just got back in the lead. Lap5: the Alfasud takes it again and stays there till Lap 9 when missing a gear concedes the lead only to retake it in Lap 10. He then holds on and eventually takes the chequered flag at the end of Lap 12 by 10 secs following the GTV’s spin on the last lap. 3rd place goes to Antony Ross’s 1969 Duetto. What a race, what a little car!
Highlights of the classic Alfa Challenge can be seen here: https://youtu.be/LD8WaaYkhq8
It was a great bonus to see all these racing Classic Alfas close up in the paddock and racing so competitively. Something I had no idea I would witness when I left home, but there was more drama to come!
Due to the delays it was after 6pm when I left following the Alfa race, stopping in Chippenham to fill up with petrol. The Regulator chatter problem did not reappear. I stopped at The Membury Services with it starting to get dark. On restarting and to my alarm the generator light remained full on when the engine was re started and at high revs. Oh No! I thought, not charging! What are my choices? I could ring recovery and get trailered back home from there or try to drive as far as I could get/all the way on just the battery. Would it make it? I tried a calculation in my head: battery should be fully charged from drive down, 60AHr. My headlights 2 x 36W, other lights about 30W, that’s about 9 amps and ignition? (no idea of average current, say 6 amps). Total of 15 amps and would give me 4 hours driving. Journey time should be 3.5 hours. Perhaps I could make it? So off I set (I’m a half full type of person), feeling very stressed. The major worry was finally coming to a halt on a “Smart Motorway” stretch of the M4 or M25 with no lights and it was not funny! Driving on I gradually became more confident, don’t know why, watching the brightness of my headlights and thinking there’re getting dimmer when I don’t believe they actually were. The M4 was completed, Bracknell passed, M3 yes! Then onto the M25, busy as always and past Clacket Lane Services but still going OK. M20 closed round Maidstone reading from the overhead gantry signs. No! That will mean going through Maidstone, loads of queues I thought but that will take too long so up to M2 and hope! The M2 was good, no lane closures and nearly home via the Canterbury on A2 stretch. The lights were definitely dimming as I passed Canterbury and got to my exit. Up the hill to home and the lights were really struggling but somehow, I made it at about 9:30 – Phew, What relief!!
The dynamo was checked on the Sunday and confirmed no output. I removed and dropped the Lucas C40 dynamo with regulator to the local auto electrician and he’s waiting for bearings to complete the refurbishment, by the weekend, hopefully, as it’s on the drive in front of my Alfa.
A very enjoyable day out with loads of great Alfas, I recommend it for next year and despite such a stressful drive home. Such a different circuit from Brands Hatch.
I’ve since purchased some LED amber Road Flares which I will take on all my classic trips in future together with my triangle and power pack, just in case there’re needed.