FTPLCastle Combe 2012


Last of the year’s long-haul events for Kutuka North. Once you get Snetterton, Brands, and Combe out of the way, the rest of the season for us is much more local. Irony here is that what is for us the longest trip of the year is actually the one that takes Comer’s car practically all the way back to where we collected it from, 18 months ago.


In addition to the silver and blue Katrina, the rebuilt Helen is getting her shakedown to make sure she works. She’s in action with the CTCRC next weekend, be helpful to confirm she actually starts, stops and steers.




















































With capacity for 3 cars, and a big diesel bill, it’s better to spread the cost around, and with that in mind a plaintive call for help from our northern saloon brethren adds an XJ6 coupe to the trailer. 3 up, and off we go. The trip in the late evening and the discovery that someone helpfully shut the motorway means the last hour of this is done in pitch black up what they call an A road, but what is really a difficult and poorly-maintained back door into Hades. As the Bear swings 20 tonnes of truck up what is plainly a single-track road in grown up clothes, the occasional oncoming lorry causes sphincter contractions with sufficient frequency as to resemble a rabbit’s nose.


And I swear we passed places called Great Sodomy, and Badminton, which frankly sounds like a terrible afternoon.


Safe arrival at the brilliant gem that is Castle Combe was marked by the traditional kissing of the tarmac, and alcoholic celebration. But for Kutuka to arrive at a track with only one XJS destined for the race meeting, and with no McGivern support expected, this does mark our smallest paddock presence for 5 years.




















































Morning revealed that we were stuffed into a side paddock, which was an actually very pretty little campsite without the amenities, with a bloody annoying access road right down the middle that entices Joe Public to drive up and down aimlessly dribbling. Thanks for the private Jaguar enclosure, it’s all very pretty, but can Mr and Mrs Baggins please move their Fiesta out of the road, because there are 21 racing cars queued up behind as you debate your ice cream choice. Mind you, we fell out with the ice cream man too, if you drive your van through our paddock you should stop to sell us ice cream. It’s got to be somewhere in final instructions, surely?


The Webster and Kermit arrive early, we’re actually booked onto a track, rather than test day. Noise restrictions are more significant, but he and the newly-finished Helen both have custom exhausts, and both cars fly through. New noise test regs, tipped to spread to all circuits, here demand 4500rpm at half a metre, regardless of your engine type, capacity or rpm limit. Mental, but it’s alleged to be coming soon to a noise test near you.



















































Briefing over, my choice of shorts critiqued rather publicly, and time for the track. A sleepy start to the day, allowing the general public to get their crashes out of the way early, reminds us of the corners, and a couple of sighter laps confirmed we still had eyes. Testing can now commence in earnest.


When it does,Webster breaks a rear hub, in a straight line! Never seen that before, but it is the classic shearing of the hub where driveshaft spline terminates. His hopeful face suggests he is intending to avoid the woes of 2008 by breaking the car early. For those too young to recall, Roger lost his first XJS here in the rain of 2008 when Ian Drage lost control for reasons that were never too clear, and bounced out of the barriers to collect the first incarnation of the mean green machine with his wreckage.

















































As repairs get underway, a late-arriving Comer appears to have gone the same grey as a filing cabinet, he looks like he’s suffering from dengue fever and bird flu. He also finds that his car won’t pass noise test, it’s far too loud. Ironic, given it is a road-going exhaust system. Getting it through took effort, the test at the 4500rpm that they demand was bang on whatever harmonic caused his exhaust to make a noise that sounded like an angry wasp trapped in a bean tin next to a megaphone. But fix it we did, a pair of reducer inserts and a roll of wadding did the trick. James Ramm, on the other hand, sporting new and shiny cherry-bomb style side pipes, couldn’t make it work despite adding fourteen feet of additional bolt-on silencers, his car would sit silent for the day and see him trying out Pizzala’s instead. Practice of any kind always vital.



















































With everyone back in action, the sessions were pretty much Jaguar-only affairs, leading to some entertaining semi-battles. None lasted long, car disparity prevented a fair fight, but as always, put two cats on track and they will find each other for a race. As the day wears on we reach a number of conclusions. First, the rebuilt Helen appears to function correctly. By rather deliberately pitching an F class machine with a few upgrades against F class machinery without, we were able to get a feel for how much we’ve gained. Quite a bit.


Second, that fella Barclay has a very fast car under him. It is properly swift in a straight line, faster than when it was in Papa Doyle’s hands. I used to out-drag Doyle but today even with bananas, this wasn’t quite as cut and dry, that car is nicely quick.





















































Third, Comer is on it. I was out against him, as well as Drage, and Ramm in Pizzala’s machine, and of the three, Comer appeared to be quickest. Ramm was also able to make Pizzala’s machine go faster than we’ve seen it travel before, which given his experience is perhaps no surprise, but he was making it go quite nicely. And that gave us some pause for thought, because we know full well what happens when you put a driver out in a slow car one day and then release him in a quick car the next, the day spent hunting for every precious tenth in the slow machinery translates into serious velocity in the quick car when the same logic is applied. We would turn out to be oh so very, very right.


Fourth, Webster hasn’t got over his 2008-induced PTSD.


Fifth, who put all these bumps in? 2008 was bumpy, but this is far worse than my memory of the track. They can properly unsettle the unwary. The bump at Folly, just as many would be going for a gearchange, looks capable of throwing you clean off the road.



















































So does testing end, but not before the Bear is released onto the track for the first time in about 6 months, to try out the reworked Kutuka car and remind himself of the corners. He too has some 2008 memories to overcome, and merely to circulate a few times without spinning off will do him. Plus, more time on a 888 tyre. We’re no longer R1R abusers, we need to learn the other tyre, the chance to educate ourselves in new things is never overlooked, and for twenty quid to get the extra driver out it’s worth it all damned day long.


As the day ends and the barbie fires up, we stash Helen out of the way on the trailer, paddock space is tight and she’s done for the weekend. Inadvertently this will mean that she then sits up on a plinth for two days, a shiny reminder that we’re still racing, but elsewhere. The number of people who appeared to think that we’d hung up our collective helmets was surprising, many had been told we’d been caught cheating and asked to leave, which we found as funny as we did insulting, so news of our tentative steps into the Classic Touring Car series raised eyebrows.





















































Terry would offer his opinion that having that car here and not racing it was a criminal act, and we would later be introduced to visiting JEC guests as traitors, but his tongue was installed in cheek, and our skin is thick in any event. A few people could do with similar equipment.


There was a certain nostalgia to my car being here with the other Jags, but she doesn’t now fit the rules, on purpose, and there is another practical problem too. The blue car is now shod in 888s that I bought for significantly less than I was paying for R1Rs. If I can obtain 5 new 888s for less than the price of 4 R1Rs, and I can, then why use R1Rs? Cost per track mile on this rubber is simply less, and at higher speed. It leaves me somewhat uncomfortable with the “intermediate” tyre the Jags use. We’re keen on getting value for our money. The divergence in the road we’re taking is ever sharper.




















































Saturday dawns, and so to qualifying, and this wonderful, chaotic, crazy circuit and its crackpot ways. It’s not “no race engines before x in the morning,” it’s “no engines.” They have parked the Jags as far away from scrutineering as possible, they are the first cars out on track, and they are the biggest cars here. Nobody is allowed to drive to scrutineering, whether road-going or full race car. How this fits with civilian cars arriving at the track I don’t know. Do circuit staff and marshalls have to drive up to the gates and then push their cars to the car park?


20 Jaguars are slowly pushed by a series of increasingly-sweaty assistants all the way to scrutineering. Assisting Philip we were amused to note that he hadn’t spotted two Harrisons leaning on the back and had considered himself to be some form of superman for the ease with which his car mounted the hill to the scrutineering bay…


Last time we were here, 2008, the scrutineers came to us. This circuit does so many things right, but boy did they get this wrong this year. And then, weirdest of all, once scrutineered, you could start up and drive the car back to the paddock. What in the name of all that is holy? Is noise one-way only down here?



















































Next thing to go wrong was the warning given to drivers heading out to qualify. From a sleepy queue of cars to abject panic, as the start-engines whistle goes without warning and with half the drivers out of their cars. Those who are ready try to queue jump, but the marshall’s not having that, they must wait for the man in the way to get ready, and for some that’s a five-minute job.


Our hero Comer has a dodgy battery, and for rather dozy reasons gets himself to the pitlane, turns it off, and forgets to turn the ignition back on as he goes for the third engine start in quick succession, murdering his few remaining volts. By the time two Harrisons have clocked his static car and lumbered to push start him, the grid has all overtaken him and gone.


In some ways, maybe that helped. The second minor panic in as many minutes has startled our pet Comer into a state of vague wakefulness, and rather than having to warm up he’s going out ready to play. Next time he goes out to qualify we might just shoe him in the balls before he goes out, because his first flying lap goes straight in as fastest in class. And every lap thereafter keeps him there.



















































We are fortunate to find a timing monitor. Drivers behave differently. Some are fast and get no better, or only to a minor degree. Others build lap after lap. Baby Doyle is fast late in the session, as is Howard, but Doyle is proportionately faster later. Howard gets to halfway through the session and bangs his time in, a really quick one which he never betters, whereas Doyle seems to chase it a bit more each lap all the way through the session. Ramm is pretty quick immediately, but fails to improve for a few laps, then comes back into play. So it appears from the pitwall at any rate. Dorlin and Hill play themselves in differently, whilst yet again Bye seems to be the qualifying non-specialist.


This is the moment that, having been there and done that, you might see what’s going on out there better than someone who hasn’t, and we do enjoy that understanding. The way it unfolds in each class, the time gaps, and the knowledge as to who is faster or slower than expected, is an insight we like. It suits our obsessive natures.


No surprises then for us when the timesheets come out. Close in the saloons, not really close at all in the XJS. Top few rows of saloon are very tight. Pearce shades Dorlin by a whisker, but they are all up there. Howard in the V12 saloon heads the XJS coupe grid, a peculiarity of class structure, Doyle got close-ish but there’s over a second in it. Ramm is on his time to almost the hundredth, but in a different class, and the next E car is 4 seconds adrift.




















































In fact next XJS is just over a second down, Comer is 4th XJS, 6/10 up on a slightly grumpy-looking Drage. To be fair, he did look grumpy. Having chased them both round on the trackday yesterday though we knew this was coming, and precisely why, their respective car and driver behaviour was studied and assessed from our chase car, we like to watch. Webster, having qualified at a completely different circuit to everyone else, is beaten round the head with the remnants of last night’s bbq and sent to think about his appalling laptime.


Unusually, nothing dramatic has broken in qualifying, and Comer’s battery has recharged in qualifying, so for a change we’re at a loose end. Slapping large stickers on the truck seemed adequate to pass the time, because the flipside to nothing needing attention is that we have attention that has nothing to do. We’re refuelled and ready to go, counting the time til the race.


We knew the race was likely to be interesting, and to be fair, Bear predicted the crash long before it happened. Howard launched well, straight into the lead, but baby Doyle was in the hunt straight away. We had managed to get our driver off onto the grid, and get to Quarry just in time for the start, because this was where we expected the fireworks. Lap after lap Howard would hove into view through Folly, having clearly gained time through Camp corner, but with the 6 litre XJS gaining on him fast down the straight.



















































Why that might be we don’t care, but when they appear, Doyle is moving faster and closing Howard down. The question was when, rather than if, Doyle would pass, it was going to be about nerve on the brakes, and Howard was better on the stoppers. Heavier car, smaller brakes, smaller tyres, but it looks so much more composed on the suspension, he could brake from the outside line and get back ahead enough to cut Patrick off, something I would have thought impossible until I’d seen it happen. Doyle appeared to be picking his moment, which is clever, and to be encouraged. Many aren’t.


And he did eventually pass, and it was a good one. Howard settled in to follow, and you got the impression that the cat was toying with the mouse now, playing a game of patience. And that’s when they both disappeared. The commentator called it, Doyle fell off, and Howard collected the spin, both cars disappear into retirement.


That promotes Ramm, who is having a great race with Rich Dorlin. Frankly we didn’t think the XJ6 could live with an E class XJS here, but then we all know that Rich takes his brain out and leaves it in a pickle jar in his caravan before he goes racing, physics doesn’t apply to you if you don’t let it.


















































Ramm is going well, no question, Dorlin is having to really go for it to hang in there, and you get the sense that he’s asking more than he can hope to get. It was, however, still sad to see the car eventually break down. As the commentator wisely noted, it was turning into a race no-one seemed to want to win.


Darth Pearce vs Senior Doyle was fun, though how the latter can hope to make his tyres last was in question, big lockups every lap into Quarry, literally leaving himself his own rubber to brake on next time round, he could be his own support race. Signs of greater speed from Gail too, her rough season to date had led us to question what had gone wrong, but despite no testing, and apparently never having been here before, ever, she was right in the mix here.


What of our heroes Comer and Webster? Comer got blocked at the start and lost his class lead immediately, then had to battle like mad to get clear of the cars he was stuck in with, by which time Drage had sauntered off to a lonely and uneventful class win that frankly looked a bit boring.


Webster, well, his goal was to come in with no damage. On that basis, he won. Other than that, we’re awarding him nul points. He’s faster than this. The car is faster than this. He in that car is faster than this. Three out of ten, see me after class. But, perhaps a few demons now lay slain, we’ll let him off today if he goes well tomorrow with an overnight dose of courage.



















































Coppock, after a lousy morning with a car that refused to start for qualifying, had no problem accepting the class win this afternoon, the wry smile of a man who understands that to finish first, first you have to get the breakdowns out of the way early. Sadly he would break it properly in another race and be gone by morning.


Sad to see the damage and breakages, but much to be seen. Small grid, big track, should have meant nothing going on, but there was. Even Wade, slowly coaxing Sewell’s car round in last place in Dean’s absence, careful not to bend it, managed to spin the XJ6 big time at Camp, and then only just make the flag without any petrol left in the tank. Of course breaking the clutch in race 2 was another story. Butterfield’s Daimler is leaving a carpet of smoke, and there are mechanical woes apparent in a number of cars. Good race to watch, despite the chaos.


Back to camp, and in come the wounded. Both Howard and Doyle’s cars are a mess. Broken front subframe and bent chassis leg for Howard, game over. We did try, but without a subframe he was out of luck, nothing we could do. Plus the poor boy looked a bit nervous about two guys he doesn’t really know wanting to attack his car. Doyle, on the other hand, with rear end damage and the car’s back end leaning like a rhombus, we could help with. Bear does big hammers and duct tape better than most. Next time I saw the car it was wearing a bit of a frown and a rear bumper made mostly out of cunning, but that car would be back in action for Sunday.





















































We miss the trophies as we’re attempting to assist others, but I always like to learn who they’ve given driver of the day to, because I’ve never been able to attach any logic to this. Speak to anyone in the paddock, and consensus is that driver of the day should be renamed as something else, because so very rarely does it go to someone who was actually the best driver on display that day. It’s a small point, but if you ever watch the faces at that point of the presentation, the ripple of polite applause masks a lot of confused papers, and not a few smirks. It is only from the outside looking in that you see these little cracks in the façade.


The paddock settles down, there is time for rest, and relaxing, and beer, and war stories. We like this part.




Race 2…


It’s worth saying now, in case we forget, but Darth Pearce in that Mark II is awesome to watch. We know he’s good, but there was one lap we watched him go through Folly in pursuit of Gail’s XJ40, and it was amazing. The whole car absolutely hurtles through that corner, hits that vicious bump and skates across the track in one long scuttling drift without lifting, no hesitation, just takes off, floats across the road and keeps on going at improbably velocity, a plume of dust and what looks like hay fluttering in his wake. It is like something out of a film.


To put it in context, at that point on the circuit I was pulling about 120mph in my car on Friday, and he’s going even faster than that, with a live axle. For me it was the image of the whole meeting, and my hat is doffed, I was properly impressed. It doesn’t stick in the same way the other cars do, it’s hop skip and dance the whole lap, we of the IRS brigade simply fail to understand the distinct difference in machinery, but that lap, that corner, it was so very clear, Darth Pearce is a lunatic. A talented lunatic.


















































Anyway, yes, there was also a race. It too was quite good to watch. Ramm led, lights to flag. No surprise there, he was third fastest car yesterday, and the other two are either at the back of the grid, or gone home. Dorlin, who also ought to start last, discovered he’d lost the clutch as he tried to leave the paddock, game over before he started. Bit of a lousy weekend for him then.


And that did, rather predictably, leave Ramm in a class of his own, but he did it with some style. It wasn’t a cruise, but it wasn’t a lairy and maniacal assault, it was fast, and composed. It does seem that get him in front and into a rhythm and he is very swift indeed. He led this comfortably, and progressively, every lap was faster than everybody else until he got such a lead that he could do the crossword and order his Celine Dion tickets on the handsfree phone. Nicely done.


Behind him, a saloon scrap to enjoy. Papa Doyle, Gail, and Darth, having a good go of it. Darth was fastest, but out-started by Gail, she got in front for the first time in many races, and she got her elbows out to stay there. Did it well too, widest XJ40 ever seen. She and Pearce would be glued together til his penultimate lap spin at Camp, caused by a half shaft parting company with itself. She enjoyed her first saloon win of the season, and a welcome return to form.

















































What of Doyle? Sadly, he saw the meatball. One of Comer’s astonishing starts – and they really can be amazing – took him up to 5th place outright by Quarry. That’s a lot of places gained in half a mile. What happened next depends on whether you pre-judge incidents. We’ve all seen turn 1 nudges. The grid hustling each other into the first corner does occasionally lead to paint being traded as spaces disappear. Comer’s front bumper tags Doyle’s rear tyre at Quarry. Everyone continues without delay, but Doyle’s rear bumper is now hanging off. Cue the black and orange “meatball” flag that forces him into the pits and puts him a lap down as they tear the bumper off for him. Game over.


Comer was then locked into a 20 minute duel, with several cars. He has out-started Drage, and stolen the class lead. Lap after lap he holds him off. On several occasions they are side by side, but Comer is better on the middle pedal and retains his position. Every now and then, another car intervenes. Dave Bye takes a few laps to get past the pair, but does so and clears off.


Baby Doyle from the back of the grid powers past first Drage, then Comer, streaking by into the second chicane. Sadly he would then leave a trail of steam and nasty noises, and park it as the head gasket let go on the left bank of that V12. Which would mean that no V12 car actually finished the race, class G was won by no-one.


After Doyle, Palmer. He passes both, then gets passed back. We can’t quite tell what happened to him, but he has contact out there from somebody, we just don’t know who stoved in his driver’s wing. Comer would later pass him back, in a long and late move on the brakes, but that was a clean kill which helpfully put the X300 as a buffer between him and Drage for several laps. Palmer would get him back, until eventually it turned back into the class F duel for the class win.
















































At some point, contact. Comer would present to the paddock needing a driver’s door, with a smudge of green paint and rubber from rear bumper to door, and a slender smear of red in the mix. Someone out there knocked him off heading into the second chicane. The commentator said Drage, but we couldn’t see it from our vantage point, quite what happened no-one seems to know.


Interesting duel for us. Comer better on the brakes, and faster through Camp corner. He does seem to build time out the back section of the track, the one with the bends in it, which having seen both of them there on Friday is what I’d expect. Comer’s car is faster in the corners, no real doubt there for us. And that pleases us, because that’s the point of the car. No guts under the bonnet, but lots of grip.


Penultimate lap, and Comer holds the class lead, despite what we diagnosed as cooked tyres, until they encounter Wade to lap him at Quarry. Comer is off the road, Drage comes through to take what must be a rather relieved class win. This puts Comer on the tail of the Webster/Barclay duel, which has raged all race long. Webster is ahead, but on the very last lap Barclay makes it stick into the second chicane, Webster taking to the escape road, and Comer nips through in the process. 2 places lost one corner from home. Webster is getting detention for this.




















































Good race. Shame our man is coming back in with some damage, and shame he lost the win at the end there, but it looked to us like a decent drive, we were happy with that display.


Not everyone agrees. We stay out of the brewing fist-fight and pack away. All we needed to load are the two cars, the rest of the kit is stashed away already, we’re on the road, in fact we’re home about the time the last Jags take to the road for the sports v saloons. Good weekend, we approve of that. Shame there were so few cars, but 21 isn’t dreadful.


Roll on the start of our own season next weekend. Time to get back amongst it, though we are on a 32-car grid at the improbably-short Mallory Park circuit, meaning our touring car grid is 3 times busier than the races we just watched. Can you have too many cars?












From the Pitlane


Sharementary, my dear Whatsit

It looks like Dave Bye's car, but it's not. Nor is it ours.


We'll do almost anything for money.


The ceremonial loading requires a very specific garb.


Later there are robes, and dancing.



Bear fuels the beast.


Because we don't allow anyone in fireproofs to touch a fuel can.



A sleepy start to the weekend.


Those who don't test miss a good slice of the event.



Shiny, swift, and specifically not a JEC car.


Kutuka's return to the paddock is not a return to the series.



We like to take these candid shots.


Darth Pearce scrutineers his insane MkII.



No matter how shiny the cars, how much prep time you put in, you still have to park in a muddy puddle.



I need to know why there's a big white tick on it.

Is the car sponsored by Lynx, or Sure?





Bear is always on the lookout for ideas.


Leave a bonnet open, and he's drawn to it like honey.





JEC guests getting the Terry treatment.


Half a shandy and a cheese butty, for a small surcharge.





West Riding build £30000 seats that are very uncomfortable, but also double as racing cars.







Not every car with an open door gets a girl.


We must check what aftershave James Ramm is using.







A good quali from Comer puts him into contention.


Ramm is also apparently much taller than Drage.







Oh bugger.


This was a much bigger crash than it first appeared. But she would start race 2.







Smashed subframe, bent chassis leg.


But, it was in action one week later. We were there.







With some time to kill, why not pimp your ride?


The new Kutuka team logo may be familiar....







Philip Comer shows his skills with a sausage.


There was also a barbeque.






Rich Dorlin fuels his monster.


Sadly, a failed clutch rounded off a poor weekend for West Riding.






Race 2 start.


One lap later, the yellow XJ40 would be in p2.


Now that's a good opening lap.






Back home, and to the more entertaining business of sorting the cars for our own racing season.