As the owner of five of the UK’s racing circuits, plus his Bedford facility and a proposed new track in France, anything that Jonathan Palmer has to say on the future of motorsport has to be read and understood.

Clearly, his view is that it could be a matter of years not months before racing on both at international and national levels will return to normal – whatever the new normal may be. In the short term, we will probably be looking at the “behind closed doors” option although I think that Club racing – despite the smaller numbers involved – may find that more difficult to operate than the well funded and highly organised Grand Prix/major sportscar scene. Nonetheless, I am sure that our friends at 750 Motor Club have been discussing how to resume operations and we shall have to wait and see what they, and the circuits, propose.

In the meantime, I have been undertaking the biggest picture sort for many a year, and I hope that I have made it easier and quicker to find what I need to illustrate articles that might appear on “Friday Fix” and also for photo collections under specific titles such as that for “Post Race Interviews” which appears this time. However, the main subject for FF96 is the visit the Championship made to Croix-en-Ternois in August/September 1996. This was our second foray abroad, the first having been the previous year when the BRSCC made slot available for us at Zandvoort. In the end we had four enjoyable visits to Croix 1996/1998/1999 and 2002 as much for the local atmosphere as for the racing and we hope to cover the other three visits in due course. Sadly, the limitations of the circuit and financial factors meant that this all came to an end, although there were rumours of circuit extentions (they bought the land) and possible later visits. It all came to nothing. We also take a look at the 164 Celebrity Challenge that Alfa ran at all the European Grand Prix in 1988.

Croix-en-Ternois

Alfa Championship Rounds 12 & 13
Saturday August 31st/September 1st 1996

The French Alfa Club had invited AROC members on several occasions to join them for practice days on a small French circuit located near Arras and Amiens, and about an hour from Calais. London section members visited the track and there were reports of only one straight of any consequence and four hairpins in its 1.9km length. Martin Parsons had a look at the track a month before we were due to go there and confirmed that this was so but it had been used by both the French F3 and Touring Car Championships. As it transpired, competitors’ apprehensions proved largely unfounded. Yes, it was extremely compact but there did appear to be opportunities for overtaking. Some very inexpensive testing was laid on for the Friday  for those who arrived in time.

It was quite a healthy entry that gathered for practice on the Saturday morning – 12 Class F cars and 18 in classes A,B,C,D and E. Out of interest, these are listed below and there may be some unfamiliar names who entered (or borrowed or shared cars, as in the case of Kevin Johnston who raced Ken Waite’s 33):

A/B/C/D/E

Class A:
Chris Snowdon (GTV6 3.0)
Charles Selby (2000 GTV)                                                                                     

Class B:
Tim Lewis (Alfasud Sprint)
Nick Humphrey (33 1.8 16v)

Class C:
Richard Mitchell (33)
Dave Walker (33 1.6)
Peter Falstroh (Alfasud Sprint)
Nigel Charman (33)
Dave Streather (Arna 1.6 Ti)

Class D:
Martin Parsons (164 3.0 V6)
Gavin Watson (75 3.0 V6)

Class E:
Jonathan Griffin (Giulia Super)
Kevin Taylor (75 Twin Spark)
Jethro Nelson (Alfetta GTV)
Paul Buckley (75 Twin Spark)
Rob Emberton (Alfetta GTV)
Dave Scott (Alfetta GTV)
Bob Ridgard (Alfetta GTV)

Class F
All 33s apart from Bob Godbold and Tim Dackombe

Mark Ticehurst
Ian Connell
Phil Snelling
Dave Ashford
Chris Lawton
Derek Jones
Dean Hamilton
Harvey Townson
Tim Dackombe (Alfasud Ti)
Graham Heels
Steve James * DNS after engine failure in Friday testing
Kevin Johnston
Bob Godbold (Alfasud Sprint)

When Class F practice started on Saturday morning, normal front runner Mark Ticehurst was quickly in trouble with a sick engine and was sadly unable to take any further part in the weekend’s programme. In contrast, Graham Heels and Phil Snelling were slogging it out at the top of the timesheets, Graham eventually taking pole by 0.42”. Dave Ashford and Harvey Townson would make up the second row with Chris Lawton and Dean Hamilton on row three. Ian Connell, who had been expected to be well in the hunt for pole, was suffering from a bad misfire, leaving Avon Racing with a puzzle to solve.

As can be seen from the entry list, the A to E field was a very varied one, emphasising the best of the Alfa Championship’s appeal. The 33 of Nick Humphrey and Alfasud Sprint of Tim Lewis were expected to use their nimble handling to good effect while Chris Snowdon’s GTV6 was an unknown quantity having had to replace its normal 3.3 litre engine with a less powerful 3 litre after a blow-up last time out. At the end of the session Nick had a clear 2.7” advantage over Tim, although the Sprint was suffering from a brakes problem while Chris was taking it easy with his replacement engine, his time almost being matched by Dave Walker’s Class C 33. On the third row, Martin Parsons was finding his Class D 164 ideally suited to the circuit, despite its size, half a second separating him from Gavin Watson’s 75 3 litre. In Class E Bob Ridgard was in his element with his Alfetta, and well clear of Paul Buckley (75 Twin Spark) and Rob Emberton (Alfetta GTV)

Racing was divided into two 12 lappers on Saturday and then two 20 lap races on Sunday, On Saturday,from pole position on a dry track, it looked as though Class F pole-sitter Graham Heels would claim another win but at the start of lap 2, at the end of the main straight he slid off the road and had to watch a three way battle build up for victory, no doubt highly displeased with himself! Ian Connell had made an excellent getaway, his misfire cured, and was soon chasing Phil Snelling and Dave Ashford but it was Phil who eventually crossed the line first to take his second win of the year with Harvey Townson and Dean Hamilton completing the top five. Nick Humphrey made no mistakes in the A to E race but Chris Snowdon managed to hold off Tim Lewis, the latter’s brakes still not working to his liking and sliding off at the top hairpin. Dave Walker, who was battling with Chris Snowdon for the overall championship, spun at the corner behind the pits on lap 1 and had to spend much of the race getting back ahead of Dave Streather’s Arna to bag full points. Martin Parsons and Gavin Watson were next home while Bob Ridgard continued his practice form to win E from Paul Buckley and Rob Emberton although all three were covered by just over a second.

Racing over, from all reports there was quite a variety of French style entertainment enjoyed on Saturday evening as people departed to restaurants in Arras and nearby towns and villages. Amongst them was the heavyweight BRSCC group that included Clerks of the Course John Nicol, Bob Armstrong and Bernard Cotterell, Scrutineers Mike Hibbins, Colin Barnett and John Monk and Secretary of the Meeting, Jim McGregor. I remember we were staying in a hotel next to a trout farm with an excellent menu.  As local regulations did not allow racing to resume until mid-day on Sunday  an early night was not going to spoil things and there were many tales of a evening well spent!

Classes A to E came first on Sunday and Tim Lewis made a dramatic start from the back of the grid so that by the fourth lap he was up to third from his 17th place starting position. However, that was a far as he got as Nick Humphrey and Chris Snowdon had established themselves in the first two place and then on lap 15 Tim’s brakes failed again and he had to retire. This left Dave Walker to come home third, winning Class C from Dave Streather with the Class D cars of Martin Parsons and Gavin Watson next in line. Bob Ridgard had it easier in E, once more ahead of Paul Buckley and Rob Emberton.

20 laps at Croix seemed quite a long way – some 23 minutes of racing but it would allow Graham Heels plenty of time to work his way towards the front. Efforts to get Mark Ticehurst into the race had gone unrewarded, and so it was 11 cars that lined up. The balcony on top of the pit garages gave an excellent view of practically the whole circuit and we were able to watch another pole-sitter, this time Phil Snelling, throw it away by running wide and having to let Dave Ashford, Ian Connell and Harvey Townson go by before he could pick up speed. Dave Ashford now looked comfortable at the front, but Ian Connell’s pressure paid off, Dave missed a gear and although the gap was less than a second at the flag, it was Ian’ race. Graham Heels drove strongly to a well merited third place ahead of Phil Snelling.

The busy programme also provided two “Auto Italia” races – the first a splendid win for Martin Parsons’ 164 on a damp track, during which he had held off Tim Lewis throughout but Tim managed a win in the second race on Sunday, making his weekend not a total disaster.

Most people seemed to go away having much enjoyed their French outing, some going straight to Spa for the “Greatest Alfa Race” while the majority returned home to get ready for round 14 of the Championship at Oulton Park two weeks later – how busy it all seemed but everyone appeared to take it in their stride. We would return to Croix in July 1998.

164 Celebrity Challenge

Ted Pearson and I have been exchanging regular e-mails recently and in one he reminded me of the 164 Celebrity Challenge organised by Bernie Ecclestone and Alfa Romeo back in 1988. Over the years many manufacturers have been involved in Celebrity races of one sort and another. I suppose the most up-market was BMW Procar, but then all those who took part were proper racers and the races themselves were a prominent part of any race programme. Not so, the Alfa Romeo effort with almost standard 164s.

This was to be part of most of the European Grand Prix weekends as an opportunity for “names” in other fields to have a go at motor racing. The British GP was at Silverstone that year and sixteen 164s duly arrived in the paddock accompanied by as diverse a group of drivers as you could imagine. They included Cabinet Minister Ken Clarke, Richard Branson, Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards, Christopher Dean (of ice skating fame), “Daily Mail” gossip correspondent Nigel Dempster, jockey John Francome, Roy Feltcher of “Dire Straits” and somebody called “Bungalow Bill” Wiggins. Do you know who that was I asked Ted. Something to do with Joan Collins he replied! Amazingly, Ken Clarke was one of the drivers who had had some racing experience in celebrity races at Brands Hatch while Francome has competed the previous year with an MG Metro.

And if all this was not enough, race day was wet!. After a major mix-up over flags and two warm up laps, followed by formation spins and the odd collision, 14 cars eventually completed the 5 laps of the GP circuit with – guess who? – “Bungalow Bill” winning by a couple of seconds from one Guy Fletcher, with a highly entertaining Eddie “The Eagle” 3rd followed by John Francome and Christopher Dean.

Post Race Interviews

There is a rich vein of photographic material covering post race interviews – not just from the point of view of drivers involved but also commentators. I have picked out a few for this FF which include our old friends Ian Titchmarsh, Brian Jones, Andy Fraser, David Addison and Andrew Wilkins.

Italian Inter Marque

There has been some chatter on social media recently about the Italian Inter-Marque Challenge and “Auto Italia” Championships. In addition to the Alfa Championship I was also co-ordinator of the Italian Inter-Marque for a while and I went looking for a little “black book” – well red actually – about those days and who took part. Much of the time the majority of competitors were in Alfa Romeos but there was plenty of variety amongst those driving other makes, whether they were Ferraris, Lancias, a De Tomaso or several Fiats. Somebody was asking about Terry Pettet who raced a Lancia Stratos to good effect and I found a picture of him after a win at Lydden Hill.

The red book covers 1987 and 1988 and other non Alfa names to spring from the pages include John Day, who raced a Lancia Beta rally car, Ross Hyett (currently one of Chris Snowdon’s Sports 2000 team), current Dunlop/Goodyear boss James Bailey(Fiat 1283P) and Mike Golding (Ferrari 308 and De Tomaso Pantera). A feature of the races were reversed grids and rolling starts – some people loved them, others – like Graham Presley”, decidedly not. But if you were Enzo Buscaglia (with his 75 24v) in 2000, if you were not at the front at the end of lap I you had failed!! At some point I will see how much history I can put together.

This Week’s Postscript

Could this be a familiar sight in race paddocks after lockdown as we still try to maintain social distancing?!

Michael Lindsay
([email protected])