It has been 20 years since a modern Formula 1 car last raced at the Castle Combe circuit and most spectators believed they would never see such beasts at their local track again.
But at the Autumn Classic Historic Racing Festival, Supported by Bristol Forklifts on Saturday October 7, Welshman Steve Griffiths provided fans with a sight and sound which will remain with them for a long time.
As part of the Autumn Classic’s three demonstration runs for a huge variety of rare and important vehicles, Griffiths brought along his Lotus Judd from the late 1980s. The V8 engined machine, resplendent in its original yellow Camel colours, came from an era when most F1 cars were normally aspirated and therefore music to the ears of enthusiasts, unlike the modern breed of Grand Prix car. Using every inch of the track, Griffiths provided a very small taste of how a modern F1 race might look on the 1.85 mile circuit. Those who witnessed the sight and sound will remain in awe.
But almost as intoxicating was a performance from the man who set the all-time outright record at the last F1 race in 1997. Cheltenham’s Nigel Greensall, as an aside from his later race in the headlining ‘GT & Sports Car Cup’, demonstrated a 1975 Formula 5000 Lola T332, unable to resist a wheel spinning racing start to show the prodigious power of the mighty machine. The car’s owner, Neil Glover, himself a very accomplished driver, also drove his Chevron B37 which American Peter Gethin raced in the US championship in 1976. Greensall and Glover stage managed a mock race with the two cars circulating together at what many might have believed were racing speeds.
Also happy to show the true potential of his car was event sponsor Julian Bronson from Bristol who demonstrated his Scarab F1 from 1959. One of the last front engined Grand Prix cars, the Scarab is noted for its American Offenhauser engine. Bronson delighted the crowds with a no holds barred unleashing of its V8.
Rain in qualifying created a number of mixed up grids, the slippery conditions favouring those with less powerful cars or more talent. Amongst those was Sir John Chisholm who made the most of the wet conditions in qualifying to take a fine pole position in the Bristol Aeroplane Company Motor Sports Club Challenge Trophy race for 500cc Formula 3 cars. His unusual Arnott was totally outclassed in the dry race, from which he retired, the win going to Darrell Woods ahead of Xavier Kingsland, both driving Starides. Stuart Wright was 3rd in the Cooper Mk XI.
Also showing his immense skill in the wet qualifying conditions of the ‘GT & Sports Car Cup’ race was Greensall. Driving the GT3 class E Type Jaguar in which he had led the prestigious Kinrara Trophy race at Goodwood, the Cheltenham man again humbled the lightweight Jaguars and Cobras from the GT4 class with a time 1.8 seconds faster than his nearest rivals, Philip Walker and Miles Griffiths in Walker’s Lotus 15.
This is the first time the one hour race has visited Castle Combe, a huge accolade for the event as only four high profile rounds are held each year. Compulsory pit stops are a feature of the races, with the owners having to complete at least 50% of the driving, preventing professionals like Greensall from dominating. Greensall’s team mate, Chris Milner, started the race but it was the impressive opposition rather than any lack of skill from Milner which saw the Jag’ drop to 6th in the dry conditions.
It was Walker in the Lotus who made the early running, but Ben Adams, solo driving a Lola Mk1 took the lead as the race evolved, with Nailsea’s Mark Williams moving up quickly from his 8th place in qualifying to hold third.
The pit stops, which saw Walker vacate the Lotus for his young hot-shoe Griffiths, were not kind to Adams who had to remain stationary for a minute. This played into the hands of Walker and Griffiths, the Lola unable to recover and the win going to the Lotus team. Despite an engine problem which reduced the Cobra’s power by 70 bhp, Williams drove valiantly to retain 3rd. Greensall meanwhile used all his skill to recover the E Type to 4th, ahead of a host of faster cars.
The Healey 3000 team of Chris Clarkson from Westbury on Trym and Dave Smithies from Flax Bourton overcame an electrical issue in qualifying to take 10th overall and 3rd in class.
The 'Silverline' Historic Formula Junior championship race saw Ben Tilley take a great victory in the Lotus 22 with pole man Peter De La Roche in the drum braked BMC Mk 2 a fine second. Richard Smeeton was a fine 3rd in the unusual Wainer.
Patrick Blakeney-Edwards dominated the Vintage Sports Car Club’s Formula Vintage race for Pre-war sports, taking his Frazer Nash Super Sports from pole to a 5” win over his young rival Eddy Williams in a similar car. The Blakeney-Edwards family were well represented in the race, with Patrick’s brother Simon being the top local finisher in 8th, also in an FN Super Sports. Simon’s wife Jo retired her similar car having out-qualified her husband. Glastonbury’s Barry Foster brought his MG Montlhery home 16th.
An over optimistic Mark Gillies was given a 30” penalty for his restart after an initial ‘Safety Car’ period, his 3rd on the road being demoted to 5th, handing his place to Tim Kneller in the Riley TT Sprite.
The Filton, Bristol, based Jaguar Enthusiast’s Club’s Norman Dewis Trophy race for pre '66 Jaguars saw E Types dominate the dry 30 minute encounter. Harry Wyndham drove a great race from 9th on the grid to take the win, with the flamboyant Grant Williams sliding his way to 2nd. Chris Milner improved dramatically from his 17th place qualifying slot to take 3rd in the same E Type which later featured in the ‘GT & Sports Car Cup’ race.
The Jon Gross Memorial Trophy race for Historic Aston Martins saw West Country property magnate Steve Boultbee Brooks take his wonderful Aston Martin DB3S to its 3rd consecutive win at the Autumn Classic. That feat was repeated in the well supported FiSCaR '50s Inter-marque' race, some 3” ahead of the Lotus Elite of Robin Ellis. Nick Matthews added variety to the podium with his Austin Healey 100/4.
Images courtesy of Carl Jones and Oliver Read