So many times over the past few years we have come to the final meeting of the year with the outcome of the Championship title yet to be decided.
2015 is no different as longtime Alfa racer Graham Seager and last year’s champion James Bishop arrive with just 9 points separating them and with a maximum of 44 points available in each class. In many ways, Graham’s task is perhaps easier. He has been a regular winner throughout the season but although the competition has been strong from the likes of Roger Evans, Bryan Shrubb and Chris Snowdon, the numbers in the Modified class do not compare with those in the Twin Spark Cup. This again dominates the entry for Donington next weekend with several drivers capable of robbing James Bishop of valuable championship points. Should Graham run into reliability problems, then it could be a different story! So firstly he needs first to finish the races, secondly to make sure that he scores enough points to exceed whatever James Bishop can achieve. Graham would be a worthy Champion having taken more race wins (six) than anybody else in 2015 and he will have the choice of going for a clearcut seventh and eighth or to just “think championship”. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Bryan Shrubb has been a double winner this year, on both occasions being in the right place at the right time, but he has also driven well to take other podiums on the way.
Andy Robinson will be hoping for a better weekend than he suffered at Croft and he and Roger Evans were due to test the blue 156 on Tuesday (see ps at end of preview) to see if they could sort out the GTA brakes and new pedal assembly to make the car easier to drive. It will be sad not to have Roger himself on the grid, though. A couple of dark horses could be the Q4/Integrale engined turbo cars of Vincent Dubois (156) and James Nicholls (147). Vincent has not raced since Snetterton in June but has spent the time since sorting out the suspension problem he suffered then after the first stage of his “development” programme proved counter productive. And we know the car is quick. James Nicholls re-appeared at Croft with a newly built engine in his 147 and raced impressively, but again he will be learning a new circuit. Also turbocharged is the Giulietta engined 156 of Barry McMahon. Barry qualified it at Cadwell but was unable to race because of an alternator problem. Sadly, Chris Snowdon is now without the John Sismey 33 but has been able to fall back on his 75 V6 24 valve which, although we haven’t seen it since Chris’s daughter Bryony raced the car in 2011, has had some steady development and should be much quicker. The same applies to the similar car of George Osborne but his only previous outing was at Silverstone in 2013 and his is a steep learning curve. This 75 also now has a 3.2 V6 24 valve engine.
James Bishop won five of the seven early rounds in the Twin Spark Cup at Silverstone International, Rockingham and Snetterton. Since then, however, “lady luck” has deserted him a little and a retirement at Cadwell in race 1, third places in the second race at Cadwell and at Brands Hatch and Croft were not quite what he was hoping for. Recent races have also seen some of his old rivals such as James Ford, Paul Plant, Tom Hill, Steve Potts and Dave Messenger reasserting themselves. Paul and JF, in particular, have made their mark strongly. Paul took a fine win at Oulton in May, battled his way to victory in race 2 at Cadwell and then scored a dominant double at Croft. Taking only two victories so far belies James Ford’s speed and commitment but he did have the consolation of fastest laps in both races at Croft. Brands Hatch was the scene of a long awaited class win for Tom Hill and he did it in fine style, taking pole, the win and fastest lap but after starting the season well, the rest of his year has been somewhat patchy. However, you can expect Tom to be well in the mix at the front at Donington. Dave Messenger is another driver to have scored good points at the beginning of the year but then suffered several problems, not least of which was a seized engine in qualifying at Cadwell. Nonetheless, Dave is a strong competitor and if he qualifies well he could also be challenging at the front. A driver who I expected to make more progress this year is Steve Potts with his pretty face-lift 156 but newly found patience was rewarded in race 1 at Croft with an excellent third place, followed by fifth in an exceptionally hard fought race 2. Andy Hancock is another driver who deserves better. Broken wheels have brought two retirements, but we were happy to see him finish third at Oulton Park, a circuit on which he seems to perform particularly well, and this was followed by another podium at Cadwell.
Several newcomers have made their presence felt including Simon Cresswell and Richard Stevens. After scoring two second places, at Brands and Croft, Simon is not with us this weekend but Richard will continue trying to improve on his best result so far, a 4th place at Cadwell. He was another to suffer misfortune at Croft but should have a new engine in his 145 for Donington. James Browning joined the Championship at Rockingham in May with a very smart 147 and by the time we reached Brands in August was beginning to show good speed, finishing fourth there. One of our most loyal new faces in the Championship has been Jeremy Chilton who has competed in every round so far and although he would admit that he has a little way to go to race in the midfield group, his performances and relative lap times in his smart black and green 156 improve on every outing. A familiar part of the Bianco camp, Joshua Lambert has built up his own 147 and on his only outing to date, at Brands Hatch, he showed that we can expect some competitive drives in the future. All through the Twin Spark field there will undoubtedly be some entertaining battles and watch out for Jon Billingsley, returning with a newly built 147, while Matt Daly will be having his only races of the year in the well known ex Martin Jones 145 and Matt can always be counted on to make his presence felt. Andy Inman will be bringing his fifteenth season to a close and although he has had to face the influx of “young guns” you can always rely on him to race hard in his unmissable purple and yellow Avon Racing 156. Stacey Dennis has taken a little time to settle into her 147, apart from the dramatic second place in the Womens Racing Driver Club handicap race at Silverstone last November. Recent clutch problems were sorted in time for Croft and Stacey was able to score points there in both races. After running the Bianco renta’ tentatively at Croft, Mick Donaghue is back for another try in the same car, no doubt with past champion Phil Donaghy lending a helping hand. Paul Webster will be looking to move up the grid in his Avon Racing prepared 156 as he prepares for a full season in 2016. Despite the opposition, we could still see James Bishop take back to back championships and whatever happens he will have fought hard right the way through and have deserved it.
The Power Trophy has yet to pick up the support we had hoped for but we have four cars entered for Donington – class leader Ray Foley has replaced his badly damaged 156 GTA with the 147 GTA that Roger Evans has been racing this year although now with mechanical components previously fitted to the 156. Ray would have to have a poor weekend and Keith Waite a brilliant one for the class championship to go Keith’s way but the latter’s 75 is no slouch and Keith knows Donington well. As does Ron Davidson, of course, with his 3 litre 164 which replaces the GTV that he had been racing since 2000, winning the class at Brands in August. Final Power Trophy entry is David Lambourn, having his first outing since racing his 33 16v at Donington in 2013.
It could be that much of what happens will depend on the first couple of corners with the fast starting Twin Spark cars rushing through the three row gap ahead of them, particularly if the temperatures are cold as we expect and the slick shod cars ahead are struggling with tyre temperatures creating all kinds of opportunities.
The final race of the year has regularly seen the awarding of the Kevin Griffiths Trophy but there is a change of 2015 in that it will go, not to the overall race winner. but to the winner of the Twin Spark Cup. This is in recognition of the contribution which this group of drivers has made to the Championship this year. We are hoping that Simon Griffiths will be present to make the presentation.
Last year we raced on the Donington GP circuit which includes the long run to the Melbourne Hairpin but this time we are back to the more popular 1.98 mile National circuit which packs in plenty of challenges plus the opportunity to race side by side (!) in places. If you are spectating, walk round to the fast Craner Curves and the dive down to the Old Hairpin, scene of many frantic overtaking manoeuvres over the years. We are hoping that although it will probably be cold that it will stay dry. If it is wet, though, shelter under the roof of the grandstand next to Race Control and watch the excitement on the exit of the chicane. If you can’t be there, log into live Youtube coverage, details of which appeared in last weeks’s “Friday Fix” and follow the championship battle to the chequered flag.
PS: News from Donington Tuesday qualifying. Roger Evans took out Andy Robinson’s to make sure that the brakes were working as they should and that the Croft electrical problem had been solved. All went well until a rose-joint failed on the approach to the chicane and with no spare available at the circuit (it is a slightly special item) the car had to be returned to “base”. Also there were Jeremy Chilton – circulating with no problems and Barry McMahon who suffered a driveshaft failure on his 156 Turbo.