After an absence of two years, everyone seemed happy to get back to Donington which has always been one of the Alfa Championship’s most popular circuits.
Sadly, though we were still without spectators and with access to most of trackside viewing, including the infield, grandstands and area beyond Red Gate track inaccessible. Happily though, the racing was excellent with the Twin Sparks again providing ever changing fortunes – behind the domination of Andrew Bourke that is! However, for me the race 1 nose to tail battle between two eras of Alfa Models – George Osborne’s 75 and Tom Hill’s GT 3.2 was the standout feature of the weekend. And now we are off to the Ferrari Festival at Croft. After Andy Robinson’s “call to arms” we have a brilliant 22 car field that includes the exciting prospect of seeing the debut of the long awaited Roger Evans 8C (Maserati derived) engined Giulietta in the Invitation class. Watch out Barry McMahon! We also report on an excellent first Classic Alfa Challenge race of the year at Thruxton.
WHO RACED WITH 111?
Reaching another Friday Fix milestone (of sorts!) number 111, set me thinking about drivers who may have raced in the Championship with this number. Three digit race numbers were very common at one point until the RAC MSA (predecessor to the current Motorsport UK) decided around 1991 that they would discourage them in order to help the timekeepers. Remember, this was in the days before transponders which have transformed the whole timekeeping business and allowed the main providers – TSL – to give us so much information. Going back to who used 111 as their race number – the earlist was Pietro Caccaviello in 1985 while Charles Hill nearly carried it to Class F victory in 1989. Sally Bishop had it in 1990 on the Class F Sud Ti that she ran with Paul Edwards.
LAP RECORD UPDATE
As you will have noted, we have recently updated the Championship lap records, taking in any changes in 2020 and in the first two meetings on 2021. Something that stands out it is the march of the Power Trophy as more cars are prepared specially for this class, knocking large chunks off the previous records at Snetterton and Donington. By comparison, any improvements in the long running Twin Spark class are small. At Donington, Tom Hill lowered the Power Trophy lap record by 2.63”, setting a new mark at 1’19.75”. At Silverstone, it was good to see the overall Alfa Championship lap record held for several year by Roger Evans lowered to 1’02.382 by Gareth Haywood.
CLASSIC ALFA CHALLENGE RETURNS AT THRUXTON
Julius Thurgood has worked tirelessly to keep the Classic Alfa Challenge alive and was eventually rewarded by being able to open the season at the Racing Legends meeting at Thruxton last weekend. Although the final grid was not as large as he might have hoped, it still represented a good cross section of cars that were in production from the 50s until the 1980s. There were loyal supporters such as Chris Snowdon with Richard Melvin’s Alfetta GTV, Alex Jupe’s similar Marlboro liveried car and James Wright with his ever improving 75. As usual, it was interesting to see other past (and present) Alfa Championship drivers taking part. In addition to Chris we had Jonny Horsfield (Alfetta GTV), Gavin Watson with his 1600 engined Giulietta Ti, Richard Ibrahim’s Alfasud Sprint and Geoff Turall, who drove a 156 with us at Donington, in another Alfetta. Particularly impressive to look at was Jeff Byloos’s Group 2 Alfetta although sadly it did not perform as well as it looked.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t be at Thruxton so, like so many, I was reliant on the excellent live timing and commentary. As the qualifying times came up on the stream, I was expecting to see Chris Snowdon topping the times but it was not to be as James Colburn with his 2 litre Sprint GT headed the list by some 2” from James Wright with Chris back in third ahead of Jonny Horsfield and Alex Jupe. The 30 minute race would see Colburn dash away to the extent of having a 2.1” lead over Chris by the end of lap 1, a gap that he would extend to some 11” by the end of lap 6. Meanwhile, behind him, a superb battle was taking place between Chris Snowdon and James Wright which was to last the whole race. James managed to get alongside on several occasions and then on lap 11 got ahead only to be bottled up behind a backmarker before the Complex, letting Chris dive into the resulting gap and re-take the place. As he admitted afterwards, he outbraked himself into the corner, emerged happily intact and still ahead. As the race continued it was clear that James Coburn was slowing and this was later revealed as a clutch problem but he was able to gauge his pace to perfection taking the win by just 1.99”. James Wright never gave up and crossed the line 1.04” behind Chris after a thoroughly entertaining race. When asked why he had been unable to keep up with the winner in the early stages, Chris said that his engine was now “tired” while that in the Sprint was “new”. Alex Jupe was able to keep up for two thirds of the race but drifted away towards the finish (in 4th place) although well clear of Jonny Horsfield. Full results can be found on TSL (click on to the BARC part of the site).
It was interesting to watch the speed and revs shown on Chris Snowdon’s excellent in-car video (look at Chris’s website) and the speeds attained at various parts of the circuit. Quickest was at the end of the run up Woodham Hill to the braking point for the chicane = 116/117 mph – which Chris said was 2mph quicker than the last time the car was there.
The next Classic Alfa round is at Lydden Hill on Sunday July 4th when HRDC is running the whole meeting. After that, the Alfa Championship and Classic Alfas will all be at Brands Hatch on Sunday August 15th for what should be an Alfa Romeo racing bonanza – be there!!
Thruxton pictures have been provided by Michael Ward (Auto Italia) and Micky Bolton – many thanks!
POINTS FOR ALFA AT MONACO & BAKU
It came something of a relief to the Alfa Romeo team to score a point at both Monaco (Giovanazzi) and Baku (Raikkonen) and the C41 has now come to recognised as the quickest “Class C” runners, ahead both Haas and Williams and challenging Alpine and Aston Martin, although not at Baku where Sebastian Vettel was outstanding in the Aston with a brilliant strategy. Whether it will prove to be street circuits that allow Alfa to make best use of the car as against more normal tracks such as Paul Ricard and Silverstone remains to be seen. Maybe this coming weekend’s French Grand Prix will provide an answer. Meanwhile, team principal Fred Vasseur is building up his sponsorship portfolio on the back of the Alfa Romeo connection which he is confident will be extended. If not, there is always the possibility of an Alpine connection as the French team would like to have a second team using their engines. As a company, Sauber is also expanding its non F1 commercial profile, which leaves it in a strong position to survive.
WOMEN DRIVERS IN THE ALFA CHAMPIONSHIP – Part 3
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about the women competitors covered in parts one and two. This time we shall be looking at three of the most successful – Minette Rice-Edwards, Mel Healey (now Freeman) and Sarah Heels, plus Rebecca Draper and two drivers, Pru Barwell and Margaret (Mags) Hilton who only raced with us once.
Minette Rice-Edwards (1997 to 2001)
Horses are Minette’s first love but in 1997 she joined the Alfa Championship with an Alfetta GTV run by Rob Emberton. Over the next couple of years she competed in a limited programme of races in what was then Class E before deciding in 1999 to race a 75 3 litre which Rob also prepared for her. Her experience with the Alfetta stood her in good stead to take on the extra power offered by the V6 engine and she enjoyed some excellent races including a class 2nd at Snetterton and thirds at Mallory and Knockhill. This was enough to give her second place in the Class D championship behind Rob West’s GTV 3.0. However, in the final race at Cadwell she suffered one of the most frightening accidents that we have had in the championship when, after contact with Julian Birley’s similar car, she went up the bank on the fast entry to Coppice at the end of the pit straight, rolled and ended upside down in the middle of the road with fuel pouring out. Minette was left hanging in her seat belts but happily there was no fire and quick action by the marshals released her. After a quick visit to the Medical Centre, Minette insisted on walking down to the grid before the re-start to show everyone that she was alright. A brave action. One outcome of this was that surgeon Steven Griffin, who was also competing that day, undertook a review of safety in club racing which was later published in the AROC magazine.
Undeterred by her accident, Minette decided to carry on in 2000 and accepted an offer from Julian to build her a replacement 75. With this she enjoyed another excellent season, finishing 3rd in D with another second place at Knockhill. It is worth remembering that the class was won that year by Julian Birley (75 3 litre) from Sam Laird’s similar car.. Minette followed this up in 2001 by scoring points in 13 of the 14 races with best results of third at Donington, Brands Hatch and Anglesey. Sam won the class this time from Ron Davidson (GTV 3 litre) with Minette a fine third, ending her career in the final race at Donington.
We were sad that Minette never enjoyed a class win but at the end of the year it was back to horses and earning a living!
Pru Barwell (2000)
We only saw Pru once, when she shared her boyfriend’s 116 Giulietta at Mallory Park on Easter Monday 2000. After finishing 28th out of 29th starters, perhaps she decided that motor racing was not for her.
Mel Healey – now Freeman (2002 to 2018 with interruptions)
The Healey family have been amongst the strongest supporters of the Alfa Championship over the years, much of the time linked to Spur Garage as Alfa and then Seat dealers. It all started in 2002 when Mel used Ian Brookfield’s Alfasud Ti to make her debut, contesting the Alfasud Cup in which she finished runner-up to Jeff Kite’s Alfasud Sprint. The following year, however, she went off to race a SEAT only to return in 2004 with a Class F 33 16v, joining her father Chris, to take a best result of 5th at Mallory Park. This had whetted her appetite for more outings in the hotly contested Class F in 2005, taking best 4th places at Cadwell and Snetterton, ending 6th in class at the end of the year. Other commitments and a spell with a Renualt Clio took Mel away from Alfas until 2008 when she returned to end 5th in class F after two fine second places at the end of the year at Snetterton and Donington where she was only beaten by that year’s class champion Paul Plant.
With the experience gained in 2008 behind her, 2009 was the year that Mel blossomed. Again she was up against Paul in the early part of the season but after he had moved to Class E, Mel topped the results except when Neil Smith appeared in the NJS 33 normally driven by Emma Karwacki. This would give Mel a dominant points total ahead of Paul and Gethin Llewellyn (33 16v).
Mel was attracted by now very well supported Class E for 2010 and took over the 156 Twin Spark that father Chris had been racing. At the same time, Chris bought a 3 litre GTV to run in Class C, fancying a bit more power and maybe a chance to attack the overall championship. Mel enjoyed an excellent season but the opposition was tough and she could only notch up wins at Snetterton, Cadwell and Anglesey but because wins for her main rivals, Paul Plant, Ray Foley, Chris Finch and Andy Inman were spread around it was never a clearcut situation. In the meantime, Chris was having a similar problem, particularly when Graham Seager arrived on the scene with his ex Roger Evans GTV while Sarah Heels amassed points as the season progressed. Nonetheless, it looked as as though Chris was going to take the overall title. It all unravelled at the penultimate round at Silverstone when, on a wet track, Chris slid onto the grass and hit a hidden and standing-up manhole cover (!), basically wrecking the car in the process. Although he was able to borrow another car, to run for championship points in E, it never ran well and Mel was able to fight for the title with Andy Inman, although Chris Finch actually won in E that day. In the end Mel was to become our first woman champion with 214 points to Andy Inman’s 207 and her father’s 202. It was a frantic end to the season!
Mel started 2011, proudly carrying number 1, but it would turn out to be only half a season as there was a wedding to Brad to be organised and paid for. After a win in round 1 at Silverstone she raced on until rounds 6 and 7 at Pembrey but the competition from Emma Karwacki (147) , James Thomas (146) and the newly arrived 156 of Dave Messenger was strong, so there were no further wins.
It was not until 2014 that we would again see Mel occasionally on track but with two daughters added to the family, it would be 2018 until she and Chris would undertake a family swansong with their black and yellow 156. Between them they notched up 106 points in the Twin Spark class, Mel taking two 5th places on the way. She will always be remembered as our first woman champion and it is always a pleasure when she visits the paddock to see us all.
Rebecca Draper (2003/2004)
Alfasud Sprints have not been too common in the Championship but the arrival of a red and very smart Bianco Auto Developments prepared example driven by Rebecca Draper in 2003 and 2004 sticks in the mind. In a highly competitive Class F, it was always going to be hard for Rebecca to get anywhere near the points scoring top ten but she wisely decided to concentrate on the Alfasud Cup. However, this was to bring her some good attention as she was in excellent company, finishing 2nd to Tim Hayes and ahead of Ian Brookfield in 2003 and 4th in 2004 with Martin Jones, Richard Drake and Tim ahead of her. Her spell in the championship was relatively brief but always appreciated as one of the strong group of women racers around that time.
Sarah Heels (2004 to 2012)
Flying was Sarah Heels’ passion for many years and I used to enjoy listening to her tales of taking to the skies around the country, including dropping (not literally!) into Cambridge airport. However, we had also got to know her well as Graham’s sister and constant helper after he started racing in 1989, Then as partner of Martin Jones, later to become her husband and also a successful racer in the championship. I had always had the feeling that Sarah might like to race herself at some point and this eventually came about at the end of the 2004 season when she took an ex Chris Finch 33 8v into 10th place in Class F at Brands Hatch. 6th and 7th at Anglesey were her best results in 2005 but she had her eyes on different prize for 2006 – the new Class G for more restricted specification versions of the 156, 145, 147 with which we were already familiar. It was agreed that Bianco would build a car for Sarah and that it would be displayed at the Autosport Show to promote the championship’s new initiative. In the end, only five eligible cars appeared in 2006 but it was the springboard for what eventually became a better Class E and then the Twin Spark Cup. With Andy Inman (156), Sarah started and finished every race in 2006, winning the class in the process.
For 2007 it all became Class E with a bigger and stronger entry, including brother Graham with his 147. Nonetheless, once again Sarah started and finished all of the 13 races to finish 7th. She improved this to 6th in 2008 while Graham won the class from Andy Inman, Sarah ended in the same place a year later with another 100% finishing record and a best result of 4th at Snetterton. However, she had decided that perhaps it was time for a change of car and class, so decided for 2010 that a 147 GTA 3.2 would give her some new opportunities. Indeed it did and although the likes of Shaun Hazlewood, Chris Healey and Graham Seager were always that little bit too quick, she scored some fine results and had it not been for the quirks of the dropped scores regulation, she would have won the class in the championship. Sarah would put that right in 2011 although the opposition had rather melted away only Andy Robinson (155) and Ron Davidson (GTV) making spasmodic appearances.
It looked as though Class C would be better supported in 2012 but the season started with a disaster for Sarah as she became embroiled in a first corner multi car accident at Silverstone which ended with a heavily damaged 147 GTA. She then did a few races in the Twin Spark 147 she had bought from brother Graham, netting a best of 6th in class at Snetterton, but that was the end of her racing career as life on the south coast beckoned and then later a move to Norfolk, husband Martin “retiring” at the same time. I haven’t checked but I am pretty sure that Sarah would hold the Championship record for the ratio of finishes to starts.
“PURE” ETCR KICKS OFF THIS WEEKEND
The Romeo Ferraris team have completed their line-up for the “Pure” ETCR that starts at Vallelunga (near Rome) this weekend. Of the additional drivers, one is British – the experienced Ollie Webb- while the other is the youngest member of the team GTE-Am racer and 2019 Le Mans podium finisher Rodrigo Baptista.
“Autosport” this week carries an article giving us more information about the Championship but despite this, and the original press communications, I am still not entirely clear how it will all work. What I can report is that the PR blub says that a “live draw will split the field into battle groups with drivers from the same manufacturer deliberately kept apart in Battle 1. Cars start side-by-side with the first drawn driver having the first choice on where they line up”. And so on, to a Grand Final. There are various gimmicks such as “push to pass” and a “fightback mode” on the way. The rear wheel drive cars themselves are pretty fearsome with the equivalent of 680 bhp on tap giving 0-100kph in 3,2”. On the downside they are quite heavy because of the battery pack weight but series tester Jordi Gene says that the rate of acceleration and deceleration” can make some drivers feel quite dizzy!” The Alfa Giulia is facing opposition from Cupra and Hynudai. It will be fascinating to see how it all goes. If you have access to Eurosport 2 you can watch.
It will be good to see Bryan Shrubb again at Croft, a circuit on which he has often shone in the past. Bryan started racing with us back in 1993 with an Alfasud Ti and this will be his 22nd season now, of course, with his constantly evolving 33.
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