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The Joy of the Underdog

Castle Combe Hot Hatch Championship Round 1 & 2

Over 17 years ago I left school and got a place at Wiltshire college on their new BTEC Motorsport Engineering Course which I scraped through with the help of tutors, little did I know that I would work with the college on various things in later years and now we have hired their freshly built K20 Honda Civic EF for the inaugural season of Castle Combe Hot Hatches being a championship.

It was a mad rush for Ethan and students to finish the car up ready for the first meeting due to late arrival of some parts and they all deserve a shout out for their efforts. Not only that but we blew a bottom end in testing on the Wednesday and had no 6th gear either. So I fired up to OneDay Motorsport who deal with all our gearbox rebuilds, they chucked a 6th gear synchro in and happened to have a spare stock K20, that was on the Friday and the guys worked so hard to get the car out for racing on Monday.

Mixed conditions met us as we arrived in the morning and it was fortunate that we had a 10-minute warm up to ensure the freshly fitted engine worked as it should and the gearbox engaged all gears, all was well after this and the students spanner checked the car prior to qualifying. A 30-car grid resulted in a very busy dry qualifying and everyone was desperate to find space. Still warming to the new car, I managed my fastest laps on lap two with a 1:16.4 with an almost identical time on lap 3. One of the great thins about CCHH is you find yourself battling with similar pace drivers and cars that may not be in your class, as a result everyone fights for overall position honours as much as they do class honours. Due to two similar laps we were to start 8th for race 1 and 2.

As Race 1 appeared on the horizon so did the showers, well on the pit straight anyway. There were reports of the track being dry elsewhere, I couldn’t make my mind up on tyre choice and we swapped 3 times before we even lined up to go out on the grid. In a nutshell we ended up on semi slicks starting from the pitlane, we don’t get the greenlight until every car has passed the pit exit and then it was a race against time to catch the pack. Making a rookie error after 3 years out of racing I took quarry to quick on cold Dunlops, ran out of lock as the car lift off oversteered and end up on the outfield comfortably missing the barriers. As the light rain started to come down, I got my head down and focused on keeping that fine balance of pace and keeping the car on the straight and narrow. Another big slide through camp corner and we were well on our way to arriving at the back of the pack. Gradually we climbed from 28th to 11th trying to keep it safe moving through the field, whilst 4 other cars dropped from the race with mechanical issues. By the time we got that far, a couple of laps remained and 10th was well up the road. Due to drop outs we did finish 3rd in class, but ultimately it was hard to learn more about the car in such random conditions.

Race 2 was nice and dry so I had the chance to really get to know the car. My starts are generally pretty good as was the case this time round. Off the line Deacon got stuck a little behind Ryall and I didn’t quite have room to pass on the right with my extra pace without going on the grass so I backed off a bit. It was then side by side with Alden and Johnston up Avon rise and into quarry where again, on cold tyres the back end stepped out but I managed to gather it up. This created a gap between myself and deacon, so it was pedal to the metal to chase him down. As the tyres started to kick in, Stack, Cooper and Deacon battled between themselves ahead and we caught up within a couple of laps. Cooper dropped out of the fight exiting quarry with reported brake issues and then we managed to pass the yellow 106 of Shaun shortly after as we came up on a back marker in the esses. With the race shortened I wasn’t sure of the time we had left or where I was in terms of position, the next focus was Stack in his Clio. I took me a while to figure where I was faster and I chose to show my nose quite a few times. Sometimes its easier to force a mistake than make a pass. The overtake did eventually come but it took the whole of quarry, farm straight and the esses to get it done. Another lap went by and I could see Craig slowing in the distance, he crossed the line and pulled over on the grass as the chequered flag went out, just in front of us. It wasn’t until I retuned to the paddock that I realised we had achieved what I wanted 3 years ago when we last raced, an overall podium on one of UK club racings biggest and most competitive grids. We managed a 1:14.6 but I hope there is more to come in the next few rounds.

Yes there were some cars not racing in this meeting that will have strong specs and equally strong drivers come the next few rounds, but I am very excited to develop this underdog EF Civic with Wiltshire College for the rest of the season. Having fitted a bog stock engine last minute into a pretty well sorted chassis and with a ten-minute shakedown, next to no other time in the car, we achieved something quite impressive together. It goes without saying we could not do this without all our sponsors, if you want to join them and be a part of our journey this season, we still have room on the car and you will get great coverage, get in touch.

Images by Swift Flyby Photography, Rob Fowler & Jake Ozzy Photography

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