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Finale! Drama at Donington as Andrew Bourke was crowned 2017 BRSCC Alfa Romeo Championship winner, Paul Webster and Graham Seager confirmed their championship class victories and Andy Hancock was a worthy winner of the Kevin Griffiths Trophy.

It is always an organiser’s dream to arrive at the final meeting of the year with the overall championship title still to be settled. 2017 was to be no exception, even if the circumstances leading up to it were slightly unexpected. Before Mallory Park in September, it looked as though Andrew Bourke was cruising along with the championship firmly in his grasp. However, as we all know, nothing is ever certain in motor racing – arriving at Mallory with a 26 point advantage over Tom Hill, Andrew left with this reduced to just 11 after an accident in the first race which ruled him out for the rest of the day. Happily, the dropped scores rule came to his rescue, two zeros meaning that he actually reclaimed points that had previously been deducted. All to play for at Donington then! Only one major problem, Andrew had no car but being part of the Bianco team provided a lifeline when Paul Plant offered his familiar 156 for the weekend.

Donington has always been one of the most popular venues for the BRSCC Alfa Romeo Championship although a week or so before the event, as I was putting together the programme notes, the entry looked worryingly thin. Happily, over a ten day period this all changed and we arrived at the circuit celebrating our best entry of the year, with an upsurge in both the Modified and Power Trophy classes, and the return of the McFie brothers in the invitation class with their Fiat Puntos.  Towards the end of last year, a long term lease for Donington was agreed between the Wheatcroft family and Jonathan Palmer’s Motor Sport Vision. However, because of MSV’s “ownership” of Brands Hatch, Snetterton, Cadwell Park and Oulton, the Competition Commission had to approve the deal. This was finally approved during the summer but MSV were obviously confident of the outcome as they had already spent £400,000 on resurfacing the main part of the paddock. Sadly, this did not extend to the area near Red Gate where we were located once again but we were assured that “phase 2” includes a much need improvement there. It was good to see some-time Alfa racer and Donington “boss” Chris Tate with seemingly more time to circulate in the paddock greeting old friends. With Andy Robinson due to race, Keith Ford had been drafted in to take over the role of our on-the-day co-ordinator.

Twin Spark Cup drivers have dominated the points table this year, basically because they are always there! And the top four going to Donington were all part of the Bianco Auto Developments team. As already mentioned, Andrew Bourke would be at the wheel of Paul Plant’s 156, with Tom Hill, Simon Cresswell and Mike Tydeman in their normal cars. A welcome return was being made by Andy Hancock in his Grove & Dean sponsored car while newcomer Riccardo Losselli had entered in Bianco’s familiar green 147. Riccardo’s competition career to date had been in his Alfa 4C (!) which he had been sprinting both here and in Italy, and at one point even considered having prepared as a race car. Having missed Mallory Park, James Browning was back with his Vario and BP Rolls sponsored 147 – already a winner at Silverstone and Brands Hatch. Jeremy Chilton was again running with the assistance of Bianco. This would be his last race in the championship, having decided to hang up his helmet although he intended to keep in touch with us during 2018 and also to continue marshalling. The two non Bianco cars in the Twin Spark Cup were Dave Messenger – double winner at Mallory – in his Darnells 156 and Andy Inman in his 156, prepared by Peak Alfa.

Four cars had been entered in the Power Trophy, so it was a disappointment when Roger Evans couldn’t quite finish preparation of his 156 GTA to his satisfaction and the car was withdrawn. However, with four other cars to look after, maybe this was something of a relief! However, it was good to see Ray Foley back again with his 147 GTA, joining class points leader Paul Webster – telling us of the success of the team he led in the MG Car Club Snetterton 4 Hour Relay a couple of weeks before. Paul was again running the ex Clive Hodgkin 156 3.2. After not be able to race at Mallory, Ron Davidson again joined the Bianco line-up in his orange 164, hoping that the problems that bedevilled him at Brands Hatch had gone away.

For the first time this year, the Modified class was looking as though it might give us some close racing at the front of the field. Of particular interest were the two 156s of Barry McMahon and Andy Robinson, both making their first appearance of the year. We last saw Barry’s Giulietta Turbo engined car at Rockingham last September when it won the first race there and set a new Alfa lap record. Since then it has been running in Britcar but Barry was indicating that he might return to the Alfa Championship full time in 2018. Andy Robinson’s car had now been fitted a 3.2 supercharged engine, similar to that fitted to Graham Seager’s GTV and on the rolling road had been producing prodigious power. Graham, after having to pull out of the second Mallory race with a “wobbly” supercharger pulley, which had now been replaced was looking to have a trouble free weekend with a championship class victory at the end of it. Other 156s entered were those of Vincent Dubois (Turbo 2 litre) who was hoping that he had dealt with his Mallory problems (broken driveshaft and under-bonnet fire) and the now recovered Roger McMahon (3.2 V6) back in the car with which he had won the opening race of the season at Oulton and Alastair Kellett had taken a first at Mallory. In the invitation class Chris and Simon McFie in their Fiat Punto Abarths were joined by the HGT of Vince Proto.

Testing on Thursday and Friday saw several drivers out on the track, Andrew Bourke being keen to try his “new” car while Andy Hancock needed seat time to make sure he was on the pace for qualifying. Andrew’s sessions were interrupted by red flags while Tom Hill seemed to get clear runs and Andy showed that he was going to be a factor when it came to the weekend. Saturday morning was fairly relaxed as we were not due to qualify until late morning, scrutineering and a drivers briefing taking up the time. It was bright and dry by the time the 21 cars started the session at 11.55. It quickly became apparent that Barry McMahon was going to be the one to chase, his 156’s third lap already being down in the 1’16s. Everyone else seemed to be quite cautious,  understandably Andy Robinson who had not only the characteristics of the new engine to get used to but also a set of Yokohama tyres. Out of luck once again was Vincent Dubois with a repeat of smoke emanating from under the bonnet from an overheated heat shield after just 3 laps. In the Power Trophy it was Ron Davidson who was setting the pace with a sub lap record best lap ahead of Paul Webster and Ray Foley, both just ahead of the McFie brothers Fiat Punto Abarths. The early Twin Spark pace was in the 1’27s, with Tom Hill dipping into the 26s as the half way stage approached, heading Andy Hancock by just 0.22”, then Dave Messenger, Mike Tydeman and Andrew Bourke.

We were just starting to anticipate a frantic last 10 minutes of Twin Spark  action when the red flag and lights were shown to bring the session to a stop. Andy Robinson had crashed his 156, going straight on at Red Gate, seemingly brakeless, hitting the barrier and the car ending up on its roof. It was righted by the marshals as we looked on, extremely anxious about Andy’s welfare. The BRSCC’s incident log tells us that it took 15 minutes to carefully extract Andy and for the medical team to assess his condition. Once out of the car, he was seen on his feet briefly and then taken to the circuit’s medical centre before it was decided that he should be taken to hospital for further checks.

The Clerk of the Course decided that because of the time lost, the chequered flag would be shown and the session not re-started. This left Barry McMahon on overall pole with a best time of 1’16.187”, while Graham Seager would line-up alongside him on the front row with Roger McMahon and Ron Davidson (Power Trophy) on row 2. With the grid exceeding four Modified, Power Trophy and Modified cars, we would be back to a three row gap before the Twin Sparks started on the flag with a 10” delay. Here Tom Hill would be on pole with his 1’26.971”, with a delighted Andy Hancock alongside him, a mere 0.219” separating them. Row 2 would comprise Dave Messenger and Mike Tydeman with Andrew Bourke and Simon Cresswell just behind. The driver who probably lost out most was James Browning who usually makes his bid for the pole in the last few minutes of qualifying, but he would have to be content with 7th quickest in the class and a fourth row start, Andy Inman, Riccardo Losselli, Jeremy Chilton and Vince Proto lining up behind. The sight of Andy Robinson’s severly damaged 156 being brought back to the scrutineering bay was extremely dispriting and we waited for news of Andy from the hospital. Sadly, Peak Alfa suffered another blow when it was found that Ray Foley’s 147 GTA  still had the same problem as before with loss of water and overheating, Ray withdrawing before further damage could result. This left us with a 19 car field for race 1.

It was around four o’clock that the cars emerged onto the track to go straight into their time saving green flag lap before lining up on the grid. As the red lights went out Barry McMahon and Graham Seager were both slow away, allowing Roger McMahon to make a bid for the lead but brother Barry was soon into his stride, going to the front at Red Gate although Roger managed to stay ahead of Graham. Vincent Dubois once again suffered a broken driveshaft almost immediately which left Paul Webster in fourth place ahead of Simon and Chris McFie, and Ron Davidson.

As the Twin Sparks got underway from their flag start  it was clear that Andy Hancock was determined that this was going to be his day, although not if Tom Hill had anything to do with it. At the end of the first lap Andy led Tom across the line by just 0.23” with Andrew Bourke, Dave Messenger and Simon Cresswell hustling along behind. At the front, Barry McMahon had really put his head down, interested to see just what lap times he could achieve and by the end of lap 2 was already 7” clear of Roger with Graham Seager 4” further back. Ron Davidson had passed both Fiats in the 164, Chris McFie now ahead of Simon, and was gaining on Paul Webster. Barry McMahon’s third lap was stunningly quick, setting a new Alfa Championship lap record with a 1’14.773” bettering Neil Smith’s previous best with the WTCC 156. This had taken him 12” clear of Roger but Graham Seager had taken a full second out of the gap as they entered lap 4.

The complexion at the front of the Twin Spark Cup now changed as it was obvious that Tom Hill had a problem (later revealed to be a loss of fourth gear) and quickly started to drop back. Andrew Bourke happily inherited second place, 2” behind Andy Hancock but with Dave Messenger and Simon Cresswell chasing hard and by no means out of contention. By the end of lap 5, seven minutes into the race, Barry McMahon had concluded that he had made his point and eased off but Graham Seager was now getting himself up to speed, closing the gap to Roger McMahon so that they passed the timing line just 0.6” apart. Roger wasn’t about to give up his second place easily though, and it took Graham until lap 8 to get by. Ron Davidson had been working hard to reel in Paul Webster and at one point the 164 was within 1.1” of Paul’s 156 but that was close as he was going to get, a clutch problem dropping him back.  Meanwhile, the McFie’s were entertaining us with their brotherly scrap before the Twin Sparks came into sight. By the end of lap 9, Andy Hancock was pretty sure the race was his to lose although Andrew Bourke hadn’t given up the chase but had Simon Creswell close behind. Dave Messenger was still lapping quickly, fourth in class, ahead of Mike Tydeman. James Browning, Andy Inman, Riccardo Losselli, Tom Hill (hoping to get to the finish to score points), and Jeremy Chilton.

The rest of the race saw Barry McMahon easing back but Graham Seager was flying along – setting his best ever lap time on lap 11 with a 1’16.805” so that what had at one time been a 21” gap on lap 10 was sliced to just 9.301” at the flag with 13” now separating him from Roger McMahon in 3rd place. Ron Davidson’s problem with the meant that he had dropped well back from Paul Webster but both he and Paul were happy with their quickest laps – a 1’22.887” for Paul and 1’23.566” for Ron – both battering Keith Waite’s lap record for the class set in 2015. The McFies finished 6th and 7th overall, crossing the line together, with Chris in front. And then, just when we thought everything was settled in the Twin Spark Cup there was drama as Andrew Bourke and Simon Cresswell encountered Vince Proto’s Fiat at the Old Hairpin on the final lap. Andrew thought that there was room to go by but the 156 and Punto made contact, Andrew suffering a puncture as Vince went across the infield.


Simon had held back and went through into second place while Andrew carried on in an effort to reach the finish and score valuable points in the tense championship situation. Dave Messenger came past to finish 3rd 5” later with James Browning elevated to 4th ahead of the crawling Andrew Bourke, who did well to complete the lap with a shredded front tyre. Andy Inman, Riccardo Losselli, Tom Hill and Jeremy Chilton completed the finishers after Mike Tydeman had retired half way through the race. Andy Hancock was ecstatic about the win he had been waiting so long to achieve while at the other end both Tom Hill and Andrew Bourke were frustrated but still battling it out for the title. Disappointed was James Browning but he told us afterwards that he had suffered a stuck open throttle at the bottom of the Cranger Curves and almost, as he said, “p****d” himself as he managed to disengage the pedal from under the pedal stop – and it happened again twice before the finish!

Race 1 Results

Winners
Modified Barry McMahon
Power Trophy Paul Webster
Twin Spark Cup Andy Hancock
Invitation Chris Mcfie

View full results

The calculators were out after the race assessing where the championship battle stood after the dramas that saw neither Andrew Bourke or Tom Hill remotely where they had expected to be. Andrew would go into the final race on 230 points with Tom Hill on 215. The pivotal figure was therefore 236. If Tom won and took fastest lap, Andrew would need to finish as 7th Twin Spark or higher. There were other permutations which included the number of wins during the year or Andrew not finishing but the odds were certainly loaded in Andrew’s favour. Simon Cresswell had a chance of overtaking Tom for second in the Championship as he now had 208 points.

The winner of the Twin Spark Cup in race 2 would also receive the Kevin Griffiths Trophy, adding his name to the many well known recipients over the years since 2002, including Roger Evans and Tim Lewis (both three times) and more recently Matt Daly and Dave Messenger. The cars of Tom Hill and Mike Tydeman had both been in the Bianco marquee overnight, Tom’s having a new gearbox and Mike’s a clutch. Ron Davidson’s 164 had had a new clutch pipe fitted and Andrew Bourke’s power steering had been fixed. Non starters would be Ray Foley, Vincent Dubois and Simon McFie, the latter with a noisy engine bottom end. There had also been re-assuring news about Andy Robinson, a broken collarbone being the major injury.

There was a very determined look on Andy Hancock’s face as he strapped himself into the Grove & Dean 156. He was on pole, he could win again! However, he was going to have to resist the advances of the hard chargers alongside and behind him, hoping that everyone had remembered the words of Andy Green in the drivers briefing that the race would not be won by creating chaos at Red Gate, or anywhere else for that matter, on the first lap! As the front group got away there was again some hesitation by the front row but it didn’t take Barry McMahon a moment or two to stamp his authority on the race again followed by brother Roger and Graham Seager.

Chris McFie made an excellent start and quickly established himself ahead of Paul Webster and Ron Davidson. As the flag fell for the Twin Sparks, Andy Hancock made an excellent getaway and was first into Red Gate as Dave Messenger, Simon Cresswell and James Browning jostled behind. Tom Hill passed Andrew Bourke and then James as the latter ran wide, so down to the Old Hairpin it was Andy Hancock leading, followed by Dave Messenger, Simon Cresswell, Tom Hill, James Browning and Andrew Bourke.

As they all rushed through Schwantz Curve and up to McLeans, lead commentator Alastair Douglas and I held our breaths as we could see that it was all going to go spectacularly wrong.

Sure enough, Tom Hill made a move on the inside on the grass into the corner, hitting Dave Messenger hard and then taking Simon Cresswell off with him far into the gravel. Dave was also in the gravel but not so far and was able to drive back onto the track, his in-car microphone picking up the sound of loose gravel for most of the rest of the race.

James Browning and “think championship” Andrew Bourke were far enough back not to be involved.  The deployment of the safety car was inevitable as the two beached cars were retrieved by the circuit snatch tractor one at a time and it was not until lap 5 that racing could resume with 9 minutes left to run. However, it all meant that Andrew Bourke would now be declared the 2017 Champion.

As the safety car pulled into the pit road and the cars crossed the timing line, Barry McMahon held the race lead ahead of Roger McMahon, Graham Seager, Chris McFie, Paul Webster and Ron Davidson. Andy Hancock led the Twin Sparks but James Browning had emerged in second place, seeing the chance of a challenge for the lead, with Andrew Bourke third. Jeremy Chilton was surprised to find himself fourth ahead of Mike Tydeman, Andy Inman and Riccardo Loccasselli who had had Dave Messenger just behind him in the safety car queue.

Barry McMahon settled down to lapping in the steady 1’17s which was enough to allow him to pull away untroubled from brother Roger with Graham Seager third. This was how it stayed overall  to the end (after 12 laps) with Barry winning by 18.25”. Graham got closer to Roger but was still 2.44” adrift at the flag. Paul Webster passed Chris McFie for fourth place on lap, leaving Ron Davidson to battle it out with the Fiat, just failing to pass on the final lap. It became clear that Andy Hancock was going to have to work even harder, though, for his Twin Spark win as he now had a revitalised James Browning pushing him along. The gap between them never exceed 1” but James just couldn’t find an opportunity to pass and a delighted Andy took the flag to win his second race of the weekend by a mere 0.330”. Andrew Bourke finished 3rd with Mike Tydeman closing in on him while Dave Messenger worked his way up to fourth ahead of Jeremy Chilton, Riccardo Losselli – who had much enjoyed his first two races with us – and Vince Proto.

Race 2 Results

Winners
Modified Barry McMahon
Power Trophy Paul Webster
Twin Spark Cup Andy Hancock
Invitation Chris Mcfie

View full results

After looking at the in-car footage after the race, Tom Hill was excluded from the results, not that he had finished anyway, and given 4 points on his licence for having caused the lap 1 incident. Sadly, this and the previous day’s accident to Andy Robinson, rather dampened the atmosphere at the prize giving but there was still much applause for the winners, our new champion, and Andy Hancock who was the worthy recipient of the Kevin Griffiths Trophy. The Grove & Dean Driver of the Weekend award went to Jeremy Chilton, not just for Donington, but to the contribution he had made to the championship for the past three years for always being there and for his 100% start-finish record.

The trophies were presented by Hannah Green and Anushka (from the Fiat team), and to Barry McMahon by Diana Lindsay as he had to leave before the prize giving took place.

Points

View the final standings from 2017

Points

We were very happy to see Christine and James Hodgkin during the weekend also Graham and Angela Fletcher who were all delighted to see Clive’s last race car, the 3.2 156 going so well in the hands of Paul Webster.  Also there were Keith, Lynn & Tom Waite helping out Vincent Dubois and visiting us Dominic Ostrowski,  James Bayley from Dunlop/Goodyear who used to race a Fiat in the Auto Italia Championship, our trophy provider Micky Bolton and Mark Hope who is planning a comeback in 2018. There was also reassuring news about Andy Robinson before we left the circuit.

Our thanks go to the ever busy  Midland section of the BRSCC – in particular Sue Cooke and Lucy Ashman in the secretary of the meeting’s office. My own thanks also to Alistair Douglas for allowing me so much air time in the commentary box! And as a final note, we should be very grateful to Keith Ford for doing such a good job as on-the-day coordinator during what was not an easy weekend.  We do so hope it has not put him off taking on the role again!

Michael Lindsay

PS: We were very sad to hear at the end of the week of the death of BRSCC President and face of the club at Oulton Park, Tom Dooley, at the age of 90. Race meetings at the Cheshire circuit somehow won’t be quite the same without his always ready welcome and enthusiasm.  He has  been a great supporter of the Alfa Championship and influential in BRSCC affairs for far longer than that. We shall miss him.



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