Looking in the winners section in both “Autosport” and “Motoring News” this week we saw the familiar name of Chris Snowdon taking another Alfa victory, this time in the Classic Alfa Challenge.
Nothing changed there then? Well, actually quite a lot as this was the launch of a new initiative by Julius Thurgood and the Historic Drivers Club, with support from Richard Norris at Classic Alfa and Dunlop. Julius had also managed to make it part of the BRSCC run TCR UK Finals programme at Donington which offered it extra prestige. I think that Julius never quite knew what level of support there would be from earlier Alfa owners, those with cars that were pre 1980 and in current racing trim. In the end he surprised us all by announcing an entry of some 29 cars although with a couple of late defections and an additional entry or two, it was 28 that finally made it into the assembly area for qualifying. Sadly, though, the enemy of any sporting event – rain – was to make its presence felt throughout the time were at the now Jonathan Palmer owned circuit, although the addition of tarmac replacing the old rough gravel at the Red Gate end of the Paddock at least made things a bit more tolerable.
The entry was divided into four classes – Corse, Monza, Nord and Sud – taking cars from the 50s, 60s and 70s with those judged to be the quickest in the field in the top class. Here we found Chris Snowdon having his first outing in Richard Melvin’s immaculate Alfetta GTV, originally built by Peter Hilliard to run in the 1981 TT with Leo Bertorelli. Richard Frankel was entered in a GTAm which eventually turned out to be a GTA while other GTAs were in the hands of Simon Tate and Vernon Mackenzie. Hailing from Linate, not far from Autodelta’s old base at Settimo Milanese, came Ambrogio Perfetti in a 1968 1300 GTA Junior although his idea of race numbers (494) were somewhat difficult to read. Last, but far from least, in this class came John Symes with a very smart GTAm lookalike, fitted with a non 8 plug engine that nobody seemed to know much about. John had the distinction of being the only driver present who had started the 1992 Classic Alfa Race at Donington. Not only that, he also won it! Harry White and Alex from Bianco were on hand to look after the car and John was hoping for a good run.
The Monza class was split between a number of Giulia Sprints, Supers and a 2000 Berlina plus a delectable 1900C SS, a 2600 Sprint and a Giulietta Ti of which more later. The Giulia Sprints were in the hands of Tony Murray, Anthony Bailey and David Alexander. Sadly, Max Haycocks had had to withdraw his as it had proved down on power on the rolling road. Louis Frankel and Steve Potts led the Giulia Super ranks which were completed by Frank Slevin and James Gibbons. For many people, the most interesting entry was the 1900 CSS of Matthew Holme, a 1955 car, which in standard form had a 115 bhp version of the 1997 cc 4 cylinder engine. Jonathan Miles was entered in the ex Nick Savage, dark blue, 2600 Sprint and finally came Gavin Watson’s much raced Giulietta Ti, with singing 1600 engine these days. This car we have known for many years and it ran in the 1992 race in the hands of its then owner, Richard Ward, finishing 7th amount the 15 starters.
The Nord class comprised cars over 1600cc and this was the home of the Production spec Alfetta GTVs. Stephen Chase had entered his well known Napolina liveried car but “new” examples were to be seen for Micky Bolton and Alex Jupe. Both were very much last minute but that didn’t stop them looking very well prepared as a look under Alex’s bonnet confirmed. His car was also in historic Marlboro colours which caused a little questioning in the scrutineering bay but was allowed to race after Alex confirmed that Marlboro had appeared in period on the cars raced in the French Touring Car Championship. Alex was asked to provide photographic proof for the car’s next appearance. Race organiser Julius Thurgood (who had qualified but not started in that 1992 race) had entered a 116 series Giulietta, the 2000 Berlina was in the hands of Miguel Do Valle while Antony Ross was running his 1750 Spider. Antony has repainted this car in Alfa Blue Celeste, an original Alfa colour for the model. Expected to be very quick was the 2 litre Sprint GT of Richard Merrell as was the 75 Twin Spark of James Wright, not quite a 1970s car though.
And finally, we had the Alfasud class with four interesting entries. Chris Whelan was due to make his first race appearance with the genuine ex Dealer Team 1300 Sud Ti but in scrutineering had problems with the kill switch that would stop the engine but not turn off the lights. Ted Pearson had entered his 1300 Trofeo Ti which we have written about before, likewise Richard Drake and his Napolina black Ti with 1600 engine. The fourth Sud was Richard Ibrahim’s 1.7 Sprint. Richard has owner a lot of cars in his lifetime but told me that this was only one he ever re-bought!
Rain was still falling as the cars made their way to the assembly area, located after the hairpin on Melbourne Loop. Everyone got away apart from Chris Whelan’s Sud which appeared reluctant to start, the electrics still playing up. The order on track didn’t take long to establish itself although everyone was struggling for grip and visibility on the streaming wet track. Chris Snowdon set a time (1’46.477”) that would be good enough for pole on his third, out of an eventual four laps. Progress was halted with 7 minutes of the 15 minure session gone by red flags following a big slide across the grass and into the barriers at Mcleans by Simon Tate’s GTA, causing a lot of front end damage and requiring removal by a flat-bed truck. Before that Ambrogio Perfetti and Ted Pearson had been closely matched but didn’t go out again, remaining in that order, both lapping in the 1’48s, while David Alexander did well to push Richard Merrell and James Wright behind him, all three having been sub 1’50”. There was then a two second gap before we found Richard Drake. Alex Jupe and Antony Ross, the latter showing that track-time – admittedly in Historic Formula Ford in which he runs a couple of Lolas – is worth a lot. Gavin Watson was 12th fastest in his Giulietta just ahead of the more modern version driven by Julius Thurgood. Grabbing a lot of attention was Matthew Holme’s 1900C SS which appeared quite at home on the wet track and would end up a fine 15th quickest. A full list of times can be found on the TSL website (under the TCR UK heading).
The race was due to start at 3.15, so there was plenty of time to wander around, umbrella in hand, to chat about the cars and qualifying, the most common complaint being that people just couldn’t see where they were going! “What happened to demisters” I asked? Ted Pearson who was entertaining the Waite family in his covered trailer was worried about the start. “If you see me coming into the pits at the end of the green flag lap I shall be starting from the pit exit as I don’t fancy being slow away from the grid with 20 odd cars behind me!” Sensible I thought as he had never done a race start with this particular Sud even in the dry. It was good to see Andy Page (who lives nearby) making a visit and soon finding himself in demand helping Alex Jupe sort out his wiper arms, advising me about 147 ABS pumps and later in action making sure Chris Snowdon’s wheelnuts were tight. Andy Robinson and Paul and Jack Webster were there taking an interest in proceedings as were Roger and Kevin Evans (looking after Stave Potts’ Super) and Joy Fairy, finding their motorhome a welcome place to get away from the rain. Also on hand, as co-sponsor, was Dunlop’s Micky Butler – always busy but still happy to chat.
The wet weather continued!! Hospitality offered by Ruth and Micky Bolton on behalf of HRDC was well used though. Accidents in other races and missing ambulances meant that the afternoon timetable started to slip badly and news eventually came from the BRSCC that all races, including those for the TCR UK Championship would be shortened. In the case of the Classic Alfas this would be a cut from 30 to 15 minutes, and a start time of 4.15. 23 cars would eventually line up on the grid, missing being James Wright’s 75, David Erwin Giulia Super, Richard Frankel (GTA), Chris Whelan (Sud Ti) and, understandably, Simon Tate (GTA). Chris had managed three laps in another session but decided that he would not risk racing the car with so little experience with it to rely on. “Drizzle” was the note under Weather/Track on the final results sheet but it looked pretty wet to me although the lap times would show some small improvement over qualifying. Ted Pearson decided after getting away satisfactorily on the green flag lap that he would take his proper position on the second row of the grid.
From pole position Chris Snowdon made an excellent start and headed towards Red Gate with a clear advantage over David Alexander, Ambrogio Perfetti in the middle and, on the inside, Ted Pearson. However, Chris seemed understandably cautious at the entry to the corner, Perfetti locked up under braking and went between Alexander’s Sprint and the Alfetta. “I heard him coming” said Chris afterwards “ amazed he did didn’t hit me!” but miraculously he didn’t. Ted Pearson was able to take advantage of all this and found himself alongside the Alfetta as the two cars went through Hollywood before Chris establish a small lead by the Old Hairpin. Meanwhile, David Alexander, who had been very optimistic about his chances after qualifying, had slotted into 3rd ahead of Richard Merrell, Richard Drake, Alex Jupe and John Symes with a small gap back to the battling Antony Ross and Stephen Chase. Throughout the first lap the battle between Chris Snowdon and Ted Pearson was pretty intense, each car have parts of the circuit where it was quicker, but as they crossed the line the gap was a mere 0.091”. Richard Drake managed to get himself down the inside of Richard Merrell going into the Esses and started to chase David Alexander who he passed at the end of lap 2, again at the Esses where the Sud appeared well balanced on the brakes, only to lose out again on the approach to Red Gate. Richard wasn’t giving up though and finally made it stick going through Schwantz Curve. Meanwhile, the delayed Perfetti had leapt up 11th place, just ahead of Stephen Chase by the end of the lap 2 but from this point on it was going to be more difficult to make progress.
On lap times, Chris Snowdon and Ted Pearson were very evenly matched at the front, crossing the line at the end of lap 3 (out of an eventual 9) with a mere 0.303” dividing them but at the end of the next lap it went wrong for Ted as he ran wide at the Esses, losing nearly 4” to Chris as he recovered, although third place Richard Drake was too far back to take advantage. David Alexander was clearly struggling for grip in 4th place and on lap 5 Richard Merrell made it past at Red Gate tasking Ambrogio Perfetti with him during the lap into 5th place. Alex Jupe and Antony Ross were both having excellent races, passing John Symes who was another to have a “moment” at the Esses but managing to stay ahead of Gavin Watson who had been up to 9th on the opening laps and Stephen Chase.
The final four laps of the race were intriguing as Ted Pearson fought hard to get back on terms with Chris Snowdon. There was plenty of traffic for them to negotiate and by the end of lap 8 it looked to have worked in Ted’s favour as the gap was back to 1.2” helped by setting the fastest lap of the race with a 1’40.999”. Richard Drake had maintained his third place but Perfetti was making inroads bringing his GTA Junior closer to the black Sud, although perhaps not close enough to bridge the 4” gap on the final lap. Then, at the Old Hairpin Richard spun, losing his advantage but quickly recovering. With Chris Snowdon keeping up a strong pace, he was able to eke out a 1.96” lead by the time he and Ted reached the chequered flag after an enthralling contest between two completely different cars. Ambrogio Perfetti was very happy to have worked his way back to 3rd but Richard Drake was ruing his spin after what had been a perfect race up to that point. Richard Merrell was a close fifth after a race in which he was seen (on his in-car video) to be working extremely hard, just keeping ahead of the excellent Alex Jupe’s red and white Alfetta GTV, Antony Ross’s blue Spider, Gavin Watson’s Giulietta Ti which fended off Stephen Chases’s Alfetta, completing the top 10. Twenty two of the twenty three starters finished, Frank Slevin’s Giulia Super being the only retirement while the oldest car in the race, the 1900C SS came home 16th and very far from disgraced. As with qualifying, the full results can be found on the TSL website under TCR UK where you can a PDF with all the details including sector times).
On returning to the paddock Chris Snowdon found a delighted daughter Bryony and equally happy car owner, Richard Melvin. In the excitement, I promised Bryony I would try to make a list of all the Alfa races that Chris has won over the past twenty five years! Ted Pearson reckoned that he could have made even more of a fight of it if he hadn’t lost time at the Esses mid race but was nonetheless pleased with the way the car had performed. There were plenty of stories to be told and listened to afterwards of slithery moments and “if-only” I had better tyres or visibility. One of the happiest people was Ambrogio Perfetti who was thanking his lucky stars to have emerged unscathed from his lap 1 Red Gate error and then worked his way back to a podium finish.
I am sure that Julius Thurgood will take much encouragement from the way the race worked out with some close racing between some fabulous Alfas from a glorious period in their production history and will press on with securing dates for 2019 in what will not be an easy situation after the loss of Rockingham. And please, let it be dry next time!
PS: In the later 30 minute Touring Great race, Steve Potts/Pip Hammond (Giulia Super) and Gavin Watson / Chris Snowdon (Giulietta Ti) won their respective classes finishing 12th and 13th overall in a 36 car field. And well done the BRSCC team for getting through it all with time in hand before the 6.30 curfew.