By John Thorne – Mon, 21 Jul 2008 08:00
Well like most things in life success in motorsport needs a combination of planning, skill and luck and we came up a little short on the luck part this weekend. Castle Combe is always a popular circuit for competitors and spectators alike, the staff and marshalls are friendly and professional, the circuit offers some fantastic viewing and the track itself is fast, flowing (if a little short) and always offers thrills and spills in the day. As a result we were all keen to enjoy a good weekend racing buoyed from our double win in the Astra and the Corsa’s first win at Croft a distant 5 weeks ago.
Testing went well, despite both Simon and Leyton never having raced at Castle Combe before the set ups on both the cars proved to be quick straight from the box, we made a few adjustments to tyres and some minor tweaks on set ups but basically both drivers were on the pace within a few laps.
Interestingly 888 were there testing the cars on the Nurburgring wheels so we expect these will be made available officially to the Astra VXR sometime soon. Martin Wallbank was quick straight away so we knew that he’d be the guy to watch on the weekend especially as Simon Gustersons Megane looked to be struggling for pace.
As well as out on track we were also especially pleased to receive our new marquees from Top Marquees ltd.
We should’ve had all these from the beginning of the season but the previous supplier (Portable Shade) broke the deal but the quality of the product from Top Marquees was fantastic and I think is safe to say that we made an impression in the paddock.
Well it was certainly a close cut thing for Simon in the Astra, all through the first session Martin Wallbank was on pole with a 1.19 with Simon next with low 1.20’s followed by Allison right behind, Castle Combe was certainly favouring the VXR’s as the Seat of Hallamby and the Megane of Gusterson were over a second behind, then, right at the end of the session Simon pulls off a blinding lap to grab pole by 0.004 of a second! In the second session we were hopeful of another blinding lap from Simon again but to no avail, Wallbank grabbed a 18.9 which was very impressive but Simon held off Allison to claim second on the grid for the second race.
Leyton was having a harder time though, Quentin was pretty dominant in the first practice session with Leyton just under 1.5 seconds behind in P2, a frustrated Leyton seemed despondant in the pitlane after the first session but a quiet chat, telling him to forget about the other cars and just drive the best line he knew did the trick for the second qualifying session, he was over 1.6 seconds faster and took second place a mere 0.2 seconds behind the Clio, he did well to put the stress out of his mind and allow himself to drive that much faster.
Simon got a reasonable start but Martin got him from the line so he settled in behind him, but disaster struck almost immediately, Simon ran wide of the exit of camp corner (a high speed right hander leading to the pit straight) and ran onto the grass, at such a high speed (approx 80mph) we all held our breath that the car wouldn’t dig in the grass and flip over but Simon managed to keep it under control and got thrown from one side of the track to the infield and back onto the grass. At that point we hoped we were ok but all of a sudden Simon was airborne (Gusterson in his Megane said he could see the track underneath the Astra) and smash – Simon came back down to earth with a crunch. At that point we all assumed that the car was pretty much dead and almost prepared ourselves for the disappointment but Simon managed to carry on. Despite a hole in the intercooler (you could hear it leaking boost as it came past) Simon managed to get back up to 4th place to finish just behind Shauns SEAT.
Leytons race on the other hand was nothing short of dominant, after a couple of laps he’d got past the Clio and by half distance he’d stretched his lead to over 6 seconds, sensibly he looked after the car and cruised in a comfortable winner – class and a great demonstration of both car and driver. So net result was a class win for the Corsa and 4th place for a damaged Astra – not too bad.
Back in the pits we assessed the damage. The front bumper had been shattered, the intercooler had a sizeable hole in it and the front wiring loom (which is attached to the inside of the bumper) had become wrapped around the driveshaft killing the CV joint, the loom and a range of other components including the engine fan – oh dear, it was amazing the car finished the race let alone got 4th place – tough things these Astras! We had a wide range of spares with us but bumpers aren’t one of them so we got to stripping one of our demonstrator Astra VXR’s to keep us in the racing but sadly we’d not got any spare intercoolers with us. As our demonstrator runs a stage 3 it has a larger intercooler which are banned in the SportMaxx, so we couldn’t use that we were a bit screwed. Well a white knight appeared – literally, James (a customer of one of our Performance Centres, Eden Vauxhall, Newbury) was a guest and he immediately offered his Nurburgring Astra (a mere 2 months old) for us to ‘borrow’ – fantastic. We got to stripping his intercooler off his Astra, which as its name suggests had only recently just come back from a trip round the road the car is named after – James clearly drives his Astra and not just look at it – respect.
So, net result, Simons Astra VXR was back in for race two, it had a Nurburgring Astra intercooler from James’ car and a silver bumper assembly from our demonstrator – pretty it wasn’t. As well as this work we’d had to rig the fan to come on all the time, the entire front end wiring loom was destroyed, we had no idea how much damage had been done in the first race from the fan being smashed but with no time to conduct a complete check on the engine we crossed our fingers and got him into the race.
Conversely all the Corsa needed was a wash after race 1, funny how racing goes sometimes. Before race 2 Dunlop had arranged for a startline walkabout for the crowd and Leyton managed to persuade the Forster Mini team to ‘lend’ us their grid girls…made for a fun photo session on the startline. Whilst the others were gawking at some veeeery long legs I took a walk down the main straight to have a look at where Simon took off, such was the height of the leap I was convinced there was some kind of hidden ramp or something (I was also being pikey trying to find the bumper – maybe it was repairable – sad I know) what I found was pretty impressive. Simon had travelled along the grass at approximately 80mph, hit a small incline in the ground and sailed 21 meters before landing back down to earth again, have a look at the photograph, the tyre tracks are pretty clear, and pretty missing in between take off and landing. Despite the impact (which must have been sizeable) there was no damage to the front suspension whatsoever – KW suspension really is amazing.
To be honest we had no idea what to expect from the Astra but Simon was motivated and wanted a win. At the start he got a reasonable start and slotted in behind pole man Martin and the two quickly built up a gap ahead of Allison, three laps in and Simon executes a perfectly time run up the inside to Avon Rise and takes the lead – fanatastic. Simon quickly built up a small lead and we prepared for the first pitstop, then disaster, smoke began pouring from the engine bay, in came Simon and the fan had stopped again, we managed to get it going again but less than lap later he pulled over with what we suspected was a head gasket failure – sod it.
With Leytons race we were confident of another win for him and almost immediately he’d overtaken Quentins Clio and built up a 6 second lead, we called him in for his pitstop but the Mini came in just ahead of him, inexplicably the Mini proceeded along the pit access road (which is still considered part of the track so has no speed limit) at about 15 mph with Leyton stuck behind him…our 45 second mandatory pitstop turned into an enforced 106 second pitstop. It was too big a gap, Leyton came in second just behind the SEAT Leon by 4 seconds. To say we were disappointed was an understatement, we were crestfallen, but sadly that is racing and you have to take the rough with the smooth.
Net result for the weekend was a Class win and a second place for the Corsa and a 4th place for the Astra. Considering how fast both cars were in practice we felt robbed, four wins was certainly on the cards for us here and a combination of bad luck snatched that from us. The good news is that the combination of Leyton and the Corsa is now a proven winner and we’re hopeful of more wins for him, the car is super quick and Leyton is demonstrating he has the talent to get the best from it. Simon was hugely unlucky with the second race but perhaps very lucky in the first race to come away from such a high speed off with what he did, hard to have a winning position taken away from you though.
Both cars are now off up to the Manchester Motor Show at the Metro Centre then back in action at Donington Park next week end. No rest for racing it seems.
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