How to drive Castle Combe
Track days provide any driving enthusiast with an affordable way of getting onto a circuit. However, taking to the track for the first time can be a daunting experience. To help you get the most out of your Porsche 911, Total 911 will be running a new feature taking you turn-by-turn around some of the UK’s most popular tracks.
Castle Combe, Wiltshire, UK
With Porsche Club GB running a day at Castle Combe on 5th September, the Wiltshire speedbowl is the venue for the first of our new circuit guides. The ex-World War Two airfield is one of the fastest circuits in the country. Comprising seven corners, the bumpy tarmac provides Porsche 911 drivers with a true challenge, where your rear-engined beast will be pushed to the edge of adhesion.
The first corner you meet is the fast right-hander of Folly. It’s vital to let the car do the work here. Turn in smoothly, taking a classical line. Aim to apex in the middle of the corner, with two wheels over the white line on the inside of the bend, before letting the car run back to the outside of the circuit. Don’t try to take it flat out straight from the pits. Instead, build your confidence each lap by lifting a little less on the approach to the turn.
The climb over Avon Rise is probably the most daunting section on the circuit. Having exited Folly on the left of the circuit, gradually move your car back across the road as you head up the hill.
As you approach the top, you should have the right-hand side of your Porsche against the white line (if not over it). You will notice that the road sweeps left, but you can’t see over the rise. Don’t worry. With your car now on the right, brake before the summit to scrub off some speed. Make sure you are off the brakes as you head over the top. At the same time, gently pull the car to the left, setting you up for Quarry bend.
Whilst the rear-engine will help to keep your Porsche 911 on the ground, the back wheels will still go light over the top of Avon Rise. At this point, don’t do anything aggressive with the controls. Once you feel the car settle, hit the brakes hard and shift down either two or three cogs (depending on your gearing).
Quarry keeps turning right for longer than you initially think. Therefore, it’s essential to avoid building understeer. To keep the nose tucked, turn into the corner but don’t get on the throttle immediately. After the front end has bitten, feed the power on smoothly yet firmly, whilst letting the car run to the outside of the track again.
Brake in a straight line on the approach to the first (and faster) of the two chicanes, shifting down one gear as you do so. The more confident you get, the later you can start to brake for the first element of the chicane. Eventually, you want to end up braking as you are turning in. However, this will promote more oversteer, so beware the rear end of your Porsche stepping out of line.
The initial right-hander requires you to avoid unsettling the dynamics of your car. After that, the left-hand element is tighter, requiring a slight lift before you turn in. Pick up the throttle hard to pull the car out the bend, but beware running too wide, as the run-off is incredibly bumpy.
Another reason not to exit too wide is that you need to pull the car back across to the left of the track in order to set up for Old Paddock. Short shifting before the corner will provide you with more torque once you get into the turn.
After a slight lift, turn in, pointing your car at the centre of the bend, ensuring that you apex in the middle of the corner. There’s a slight dip at this point that lets you know you’ve got your line right. Once you have got back on the throttle, make sure you don’t lift mid-corner. Otherwise you’ll be making a hasty exit backwards.
Tower is the most unforgiving corner on the circuit. Begin by taking it in third gear, progressing to fourth gear only as your confidence increases (and if your Porsche can take it).
Apexing early is the key to this tricky turn. Tower is notorious for its adverse camber. Turn in on too wide a line and it’s like having a rug pulled out from beneath your feet. Aim to apex just after the start of the inside kerb (although your natural instinct will suggest this is too soon).
Once you’ve turned, don’t get onto full throttle immediately; use about 50%. This will help keep the car settled through the mid-corner bumps. Once you’ve spotted your exit point, feed the power on and start looking ahead, as the run to the next chicane takes no time at all.
The second right-left flick has an uphill braking zone, allowing you to brake later than you think is possible. This chicane is tighter than the first one though, so it’s definitely one to take in second gear.
As the car changes direction in the middle of the two turns, the road falls away from you. This often causes the car to understeer through the left-hand element. You can put two wheels on the exit kerb, if you feel you are running out of road. However, like most of the run off at Castle Combe, the grassy infield is incredibly unforgiving to low-running cars.
This is the corner that takes the most confidence to get right. Start braking as you approach the pit lane entry point (you’ll see it to your left). On your first few attempts, you might need to shift down on two gears. After you’ve got your head around the intricacies of this turn though, it should be possible to just bang it down one cog.
Once again, you’ll want to use a classical racing line through Camp corner. Start turning in as you reach the back row of the grid (the white box markings will be painted on the road). Clip the apex in the middle of the bend, making sure that your throttle application is firm and positive, keeping the car settled. To maximise your speed onto the startline straight, let the car run to the outside of the circuit, just as you already done at Folly.
The key to being fast at Castle Combe in a Porsche 911 is to be smooth. Rather than hustle it, let the car do the work. Build up your speed gradually, don’t attempt to set your fastest lap on your opening tour of the circuit. Most of all, enjoy the experience of pushing your car, and yourself, to the limit.