Castle Combe Compact Cup Cracker

Although there would be 6 races still to come afterwards, this mid season visit to Castle Combe circuit in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside had been highlighted by some as a possible season concluding meeting…meaning that a couple of wins by James Gornall might have allowed him to “break the tow” of his nearest challengers. However, as we all know, nothing is ever quite so straightforward where the Nankang Tyre BMW Compact Cup Championship is concerned!

Although Jiggy has once again been on top form this season, Stephen Dailly had proven with his performances and win at Snetterton, that he had the bit firmly between his teeth and had no inclination to give up the fight quite so soon. Taking these two aside, we’ve also seen some fantastic performances and improvements this season from guys like James Nutbrown, Owen Hunter, Mark Skeats, Sam Yates and Matt Parkes, all of whom are capable of race wins should a bit of luck fall their way. So, as we woke up to a sunny Sunday race day, it really was all still to play for.

Qualifying

For such a large grid of equally matched cars and drivers, qualifying at the fast and technical Castle Combe circuit can be quite tricky. Those trying to develop a gap early on are certain to meet traffic before too many laps, and those trying to hang back to find a bit of track space can quite easily find themselves having to move off line to allow those on flying laps to come through unimpeded. So with this in mind, almost 30 BMW’s snaked onto the circuit.

In the early morning Driver’s Briefing, all competitors were reminded that track limits were being policed very strongly, and to be careful to stay away from any “green bits” whether painted or vegetation. As the session developed however, it was clear that either this advice was being blatantly ignored…or that we had a somewhat overzealous “spotter” out there amongst the Orange Army. The result was that a total of 43…yes 43 lap times were disallowed for cars exceeding track limits….7 of them from Owen Hunter alone. From the 26 cars on circuit, 17 were penalized for exceeding track limits! Although all of us are respectful and mindful of the rules and regulations we abide by in club racing, it seemed to some like we were being a little bit targeted in this session

In the end, everyone managed to get safely through qualy, and the results were as follows.

Top 10 Grid positions for race 1:

Gornall: 1:21.139

Dailly: 1:21.573

Hunter: 1:21.658

Parkes: 1:22.152

Huntley: 1:22.312

Carrington Yates: 1:22.498

Towers: 1:22.587

Skeats: 1:22.659

Nutbrown: 1:22.681

Jones: 1:22.786

Top 10 Grid positions for race 2:

Gornall: 1:21.286

Parkes: 1:22.165

Dailly: 1:22.210

Hunter: 1:22.358

Huntley: 1:22.582

Skeats: 1:22.675

Nutbrown: 1:22.711

Jones: 1:22.786

Towers: 1:22.939

Macmillan: 1:23.035

Race 

As the lights went out to signal the start of our first race of the day, Matt Parkes made a cracker of a start from the 2nd row and got himself level with Gornall and Dailly who had also made fairly clean starts. One big loser at the start was Sam Carrington Yates, who seemed to be struggling to get going and was unfortunately swamped by almost half the field.

Through Folly and over Avon Rise, Gornall, Dailly and Parkes were 3 abreast heading towards Quarry, however all of them got through safely with Dailly eventually taking the race lead as the cars exited The Esses. Jiggy was still on his bumper however and a very determined looking Matt Parkes was hanging in there as well. Owen Hunter hadn’t made a great start and had fallen back to 5th by this point, but James Nutbrown had got off to a flyer and was up from 9th to 4th inside half a lap!

As the leaders raced towards Camp Corner, Jiggy was putting a lot of pressure on Steven and both of them seemed to take Camp a little more enthusiastically than they’d like to have done. This was enough to give Matt Parkes a look at making a move for the lead up the inside as they headed towards Folly to complete lap 1. Once again they were 3 abreast as the cars barreled over Avon, with Matt Parked determined to get through Quarry in the lead…which he did! This was very short lived however as he’d carried just a bit too much momentum into Quarry and stuck a wheel on the grass, this causing him to take a very disappointing trip towards the outside tyre wall. Fortunately he got himself out again, but his challenge at the front end was over for this race at least.

This 3 way squabble the front had allowed Hunter to use his impressive pace to sneak through into 2nd behind Gornall, Hunter having had a blinder of a first lap to pull himself back from a fairly poor start. Dailly hadn’t seen that one coming and was now mindful that a hard charging James Nutbrown was also filling his mirrors. Mark Skeats was in 5th with a little bit of a gap behind him to Ben Huntley who himself had worked a half second advantage from Tom Langford in 6th, Langford having made great progress from 13th on the grid. Behind this there were fights developing for track position right through the field which was creating a racing spectacle loved by the spectators on every corner.

As the cars headed into lap 2, Jiggy led from Hunter with Dailly close behind, these 3 now stretching a bit of a gap to Nutbrown in 4th, Skeats 5th, Huntley 6th, Langford 7th, Tovey 8th, Jones 9th and Towers in 10th after a difficult couple of laps.

Steven Dailly wasn’t about to give up on a win just yet and by putting immense pressure on Hunter through Quarry and into The Esses he’d managed to find a way back through into 2nd and looked determined to hunt down Jiggy in front. Behind these lot, Ben Huntley had been putting massive pressure on Mark Skeats and had managed to squeeze through at Tower, moving himself up into 5th behind Nutbrown.

At this point in the race, at the front it looked like things were settling down a bit with some clear air starting to appear between the front running cars, however at the tail end of the top 10 there were only hundredths of seconds between many of the competitors. Behind this however there followed another half a dozen cars all separated by maybe 1 second…which made for great viewing as they all fought with each other for every inch and position. Huntley was also now visibly gaining on Nutbrown and it seemed inevitable that he’d soon be making a challenge, which came about on lap 4 where he seized an opportunity through Quarry and took the position to move him up to 4th.

Back at the front end,  and as the raced progressed Steven Dailly was nibbling away at what had been a half second deficit to Gornall on front of him, and by lap 5 he had closed to within 2 hundredths to the man in front and was looking to mount a serious challenge for the top spot.

As we always mention in Compact Cup race reports, the best racing you’ll normally see is in the midfield pack, and this one was no different. It shouldn’t really be possible for 4 cars to enter and exit Camp Corner almost fully side by side….but it turns out it is!

So, as the laps were ticked off and the clock was counting down, Steven Dailly got his head down and gave everything he had to close the gap to Jiggy in an attempt to make his move. His car looked planted through the fastest corners of the circuit, where Gornall’s seemed to be a bit looser around the rear end…a fact that clearly wasn’t lost on Dailly. As they headed into lap 9 Steven was right on Jiggy’s back bumper and was putting huge pressure on in the hope of one mistake from the man in front, and his wish came true when Gornall seemed to run a little bit wide at the exit of Quarry. This was enough for Steven to really go for it and he managed to get a better run up to and through The Esses to take the lead. This seemed to take the momentum from Gornall as he couldn’t take an optimum line through the same section, and as a result lost a few car lengths to the new race leader.

Behind this lead battle, Owen Hunter was now comfortable in 3rd place with no real threat from Huntley in 4th. Nutbrown was still sitting in 5th with Langford behind. Local racer, and ex Compact Cup competitor Mike Tovey who had entered this meeting as a one off, had now managed to get past Mark Skeats and was up to a very credible 6th place in a car that was only made race ready the day before. The greatly improved and determined Keith Towers had also made a couple of moves stick and he was glued to the rear end of Tovey’s car, and would be until the chequered flag.

Although Jiggy managed to get pretty close to Steven through the final lap, a delighted Dailly held onto the lead for his 2nd consecutive Compact Cup win, and in doing so set the fastest lap & collected another valuable championship point.

Top 10 finishers: 

Dailly

Gornall

Hunter

Huntley

Nutbrown

Langford

Towers

Jones

Skeats

Carrington Yates

Race 2

In the second race of the day, Gornall had a new front row challenger beside him in the rapidly improving Matt Parkes. The ex Production BMW Champion is now starting to get to grips with his Compact Cup car and is sure to be challenging for race wins very soon. Dailly on row 2 would be forgiven for being a little bit nervous in this one, not only because he had a very determined Owen Hunter beside him, but he also had a confident Ben Huntley directly behind. If Steven didn’t make the best of starts, it could allow him to be swamped by some pretty quick guys, and might allow Jiggy to create a gap that could be impossible to close. So…lot’s of if’s but’s and maybe’s before the start lights went out to start race 2!

As the lights extinguished, Parkes made a great start and managed to get himself into P1 as the cars headed over Avon Rise and towards Quarry. Dailly had also made a cracking start but couldn’t find any way to captalise due to Parkes and Gornall filling the track in front of him. As they all exited Quarry, Parkes led Gornall, followed closely by Dailly in 3rd. Mark Skeats had also made a brilliant start and had squeezed himself through into 4th from 6th on the grid.

Somewhere between Hammerdown and Tower, Parkes must have left a gap because Jiggy appeared at the exit of Tower in the lead with Parkes now directly behind. The pace of the front 3 had already allowed them to break away from the chasing pack by almost a second as they headed through Camp Corner to complete their first lap. Behind the leading trio there was an almighty battle taking place and unbelievably Skeats, Jones and Hunter entered and exited Camp completely three abreast….something that just shouldn’t be possible on the fastest corner of the circuit, but which had the local spectators on their feet. Skeats held position however and crossed the line in 4th with Ian Jones now up to 5th from 8th on the grid after making some brave and decisive moves, and Owen Hunter in 6th.  This group were followed by Gordon MacMillan 7th and James Nutbrown 8th. 

At the front, Dailly had made a better run up to and into Quarry, and this allowed him to make his move on Matt Parkes to take him into 2nd. In doing so however, he lost a bit of momentum which allowed Jiggy to open a half second gap. Although a half second gap isn’t much in many other race series, in the Compact Cup the cars and drivers are so evenly matched that this kind of gap is normally very difficult to claw back. Steven Dailly however can be a very determined racer and he had his head down trying to do just that. Jiggy wasn’t ever going to make it easy for him though, and through laps 3, 4, 5 and 6 he just about maintained his gap.

Behind the 3 leaders, Mark Skeats seemed to make an error on lap 2 heading towards tower and he left the door open for a double mugging by Jones and Hunter. Ben Huntley, James Nutbrown, Gordon MacMillan and Sam Carrington Yates were all having a great scrap for lap after lap, with Huntley eventually managing to battle his way clear of the bunch. Further back, and right towards the back of the field it was the same old story with some mega racing and every driver fighting for any positional gain possible. Keith Towers was a prime example of this, as a little bit of accidental contact on lap 1 had dropped him from 9th on the starting grid back to 20th. Through talent and determination however, by the end of the race he’d fought back to 12th and was still making ground on the cars in front.

The biggest “story” of the weekend was yet to happen however, and we waited until the very last lap of the race to witness it. Through laps 9 and 10, Steven had managed to close the gap to Jiggy, and it was clear he was looking to make a decisive move. On lap 11 (the final lap) he seemed to get a cleaner exit out of Camp and was filling Jiggy’s mirrors all the way down the straight and over Avon Rise. Having made a move stick at Quarry in race 1, he positioned his car to attempt something similar. To Steven’s delight and to Jiggy’s dismay, Jiggy seemed to enter Quarry a little bit off line, this leaving a sniff of a gap for Steven to try to exploit….and he certainly didn’t need a second invitation. From a spectators viewpoint it looked like Dailly had simply squeezed through on the inside of Quarry to take the lead, which he then held onto for the duration of the final lap with Gornall finishing less than half a second behind.

That wasn’t the end of the story however. After the race ended, Jiggy made a protest to the Clerk of the Course regarding Steven’s move at Quarry. His point was that Steven had made contact as he attempted the pass, and that without this contact the pass may not have been possible. Steven disagreed with this view strongly, although the Clerk upheld Jiggy’s protest after viewing in car and spectator footage. As a result of this decision, Steven was issued with a 1 second time penalty which meant that the official amended race result would show Gornall in P1 with Dailly finishing P2.

Matt Parkes took a very well deserved 3rd place by maintaining an almost 1 second gap between himself and Ian Jones in 4th, who himself managed to hold off some late race pressure from Owen Hunter.

Amended Top 10 finishers: 

Gornall

Dailly

Parkes

Jones

Hunter

Skeats

Huntley

Carrington Yates

MacMillan

Tovey

Summary

As has become the norm, the racing demonstrated by Nankang Tyre BMW Compact Cup competitors was without doubt the spectacle of the day. The Castle Combe circuit seems to be purpose built for our cars and judging by the post race smiles and laughs, most people seemed to enjoy the day. It was a shame that some very (overly??) strict track limits policing in the Qualy session threatened to overshadow things initially, however when the racing started, that was quickly forgotten.

As far as the fight for the Championship is concerned, Steven Dailly was on course for 3 wins out of the last 3 races which would have dragged him to within a few points of Jiggy (when dropped scores are considered), however his demotion to 2nd in race 2 dented that momentum a little bit. It’s absolutely not yet done and dusted however, as Steven clearly now has the bit firmly between his teeth and he’ll be determined not to give Jiggy an inch at Silverstone next time out. James is also a very experienced and determined racer, and he’s seen and handled this kind of pressure many times before, all of which makes our next meeting even more of a mouth watering prospect!

Although the common consensus seems to be that Gornall and Dailly are the 2 Championship favourites at this point in the season, Compact Cup racing is never quite that simple and upsets can still happen. Owen Hunter has been steadily gathering points, and although James Nutbrown had a DNF in race 2, he’s also still very much in the running after dropped scores come into play.

Our next meeting is at Silverstone National on 20th August….and it can’t come soon enough!

Photo: Rachel Bourne