By far the biggest news to hit the world of Alfa Romeo since the last “Friday Fix” has been the sudden death of Sergio Marchionne at the early age of 66. Realising that ill health had already made it impossible for him to carry on as Fiat Chrysler Group CEO, Marchionne had already decided to step down from all his FCA roles although he was still determined to stay as CEO at his beloved Ferrari until the end of 2020. Born in Chieti in 1952, his family had suffered under the Nazis and the Yugoslav Partisans in WW2 and would move to Toronto where they had relatives when Marchionne was 13. After gaining several University degrees and becoming fluent in Italian, French and English, as well as carrying joint Italian and Canadian citizenship, to begin with his career as a senior accountant took a fairly straightforward path. However, he had been noted by the Agnelli family and was appointed as an independent member of the Fiat board before becoming Chairman the Fiat Group in 2004. Five years later, Marchionne was instrumental in what was regarded as an unlikely merger between Fiat and Chrysler that had filed for bankruptcy. His strong management style resulted in a Group that was able to change its product strategy and has since gone from strength to strength, taking Alfa Romeo along with it. Discussing how he changed the culture at Chrysler, Marchionne said in 2013 that he believed the business had become dysfunctional “the real problem sits at the top. So we changed all of the senior leadership within a couple of days”. Talking immediately after his death, John Elkann, heir to Gianni Agnelli said Marchionne “taught us to think differently and to have the courage to change, often in unconventional ways”. Marchionne was distinctive in his dress style, never wearing a tie and looking untidily tidy. Some said that his way of dealing with people was uncannily reminiscent of Enzo Ferrari.
We mentioned his Marchionne’s latest plans for Alfa in Friday Fix 71 and he had also announced that he was stepping down from the FCA role at the beginning of next year. However, he had also become CEO of Ferrari and he regarded this as his “pensione” never being afraid to openly criticise the Scuderia if he felt it was necessary.. His many plans included strengthening the liaison with Sauber for F1. Mike Manley, former head of the Jeep Division, is now Fiat/Chrysler CEO while Louis Carey Camilleri (formerly of Phlip Morris/Marlboro has taken over at Ferrari.
Alfa Romeo Sauber-Ferrari – where does the future lie?
The death of Sergio Marchionne has raised several question marks over the future of the Sauber Alfa Romeo liaison. This was very much a Marchionne project and at this stage it is very difficult to judge whether the new faces at FCA and Ferrari will wish to continue it beyond the current contract and into the post 2020 era of Liberty Media. Interestingly, one or two unbiased people I have talked to think that the level of exposure given to Alfa Romeo has nothing but good for the image of the brand, particularly given the performances of Charles Leclerc. But mention of Leclerc raises the issue of whether or not he will be replaced Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari in 2019. Under Marchionne, this seemed almost certain but now it may not be as there are those at Maranello, including Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene and new Ferrari CEO Camilleri who may wish to keep Sebastian Vettel happy by retaining Raikkonen. To add weight to their argument, Kimi has finished on the podium in the last 5 races and in 8 of the 12 Grand Prix in the first part of the season. The counter argument perhaps is that he hasn’t won races that he should have done. If Leclerc does go to Ferrari, it could be that Antonio Giovanazzi will take his place at Sauber. He has the speed (shown in the post Hungarian GP tests with Ferrari and Sauber) but his F1 outings in 2017 were inconclusive.
At Hockenheim Leclerc got into Q3 but had a poor race, finishing 15th, while Marcus Ericsson brought home 2 points with an excellent 9th place finish. Hungary saw Ericsson get into Q2 but only had the two Williams behind him at the finish while Leclerc suffered a collision on lap 1 and retired. So the team entered the summer break in 9th place with 18 points to its credit (Leclerc 13 and Ericsson 5). The season resumes at Spa over the weekend August 24th/26th.
HRDC Classic Alfa Challenge.
We covered the exciting news that Julius Thurgood is planning a Classic Alfa Challenge race at Donington on October 14th in the last “Friday Fix”. However, it did send me scurrying into the archives to recall past occasions when the Championship has been involved in running such races. The first was in 1992 when we persuaded the BRSCC to host a race at Snetterton in May. Initially, as is so often the case, the prospects of a good entry were strong and Chris Robinson, who had agreed to look after the organisation reckoned that he had around 40 drivers interested. In the end, we only managed to secure a 9 car entry and even that included the Alfetta GTV of Joel Wykeham which caused some unhappiness because although it was an early spec car it was adjudged too new and was, to make it worse, running on slicks! Writing in the AROC magazine, I reported that “not unexpectedly it was Joel who walked off with the race, but the main interest was behind him as Jonathan Smith’s Giulia Super (sounding magnificent down the back straight!) kept the GTA of Paul Alexander at bay throughout the 10 laps. Behind them came the 2000GTV of Steve Rogers and Antony Ross’s roundtail 1750 Spider, while others taking part were Chris Robinson’s Giulia Super. Mark Powell (2000 GTV), Nick Savage’s Giulietta Sprint and the 2600 Spider of Adrian Hall”. A truly eclectic mix!
We had to wait until September before the BRSCC could fit us into another meeting but this time it was at Donington. However, Derbyshire had chosen it for one of its foggy mornings and at one point it looked as though the whole meeting would have to be cancelled. Happily, as the morning wore on, visibility improved enough to allow three familiarisation laps for each race (and this included a couple of Alfa Championship events). The grids would be set by the respective co-ordinators (me, in our case) “It was just like the old handicap race days with people popping into the hospitality unit kindly provided by Alfa GB and pleading their cases for more lenient treatment – ie, we want to be further up the grid than that! I think the result was fairly satisfactory in the end”.
This time we had 17 entries (no Alfettas on this occasion) and at the start it was Jonathan Smith who put his Giulia Super into the lead but John Symes didn’t waste much time in taking over at the front, his 2000 GTV never being headed for the rest of the 10 laps. “Behind there was the splendid sight of cars gushing out of the chicane at the end of lap 1 as they strove to sort themselves out, with David Miles (2000 GTV) leaving Steve Rogers (2000 GTV), Chris Taylor (1750 Berlina), Gregor Fisken and Mark Powell (2000 GTV). Richard Ward was driving his Giulietta Ti (EXL to his friends and now owned by Gavin Watson) as aggressively as ever and battling with Mark Powell while further back, Jon Dooley sadly retired his Giulietta Sprint with a smokey engine) leaving engaging battles between Carol Spagg (Giulietta) and Andrew Thorogood and right at the back Adrian Hall (2600 Spider) and Nick Savage’s Giulietta. John Symes eventually took the flag 8.34” clear of Jonathan Smith while Chris Taylor retained his 3rd place although Steve Rogers was challenging hard at the end with Gregor Fisken (Sprint GT), Mark Powell, Richard Ward. Chris Robinson, Bill Croxon (Giulietta Spider) and Carol Spagg following them home”.
1993 brought more Classic Alfa racing and we shall take a look at that in due course. It will be interesting to see if any of the drivers or cars mentioned above appear in October. We think that John Symes plans to enter for one, while EXL should be there in the hands o Gavin Watson. Paul Alexander is still racing his GTA, so is a possible entry.
As a postscript, Julius Thurgood (yes, the same) was on the grid sheet for the 1992 Donington race but not in the results, so presumably didn’t start. I’ll have to ask him about that!
Rob Austin rues his run of bad luck for the BTCC Giulietta
“I’ve never known bad luck like this” was Rob Austin’s comment after a topsy turvy weekend at a very wet BTCC Snetterton. He would start the first race a reasonable 7th and fought hard to finish 6th – his first top 10 since the opening meeting at Brands Hatch. Optimism was high for race 2 but a collision forced him into the pits and retirement with suspension damage. He would then have to start near the back for the double points race 3 after a loose turbo pipe had restricted the Alfa to a single flying lap in the short special qualifying session and a 25th place start. A holed radiator restricted the car to a disappointing 12th place finish. “I am absolutely convinced we are cursed. We had a great car once again……I think P6 would have been achievable. I have never experienced a run of bad fortune like this in my 28 years of racing, but we clearly have a fast solid car and we won’t give up. Our fortune will change”. The next BTCC meeting is at Rockingham, this coming weekend (11th/12th August).
TCR UK Giuliettas make a little progress
It was an up and down day for the DPE Alfa Giulietttas at Oulton Park and at least Derek Palmer managed his best finish of the year with a 4th place in race 1 holding off the VW of Championship leader Dan Lloyd’s VW. In race 2, Palmer was running in a podium position when his brakes failed at Druids, the car hitting the barriers to end the day on a low. The car driven by Robert Gilmour was involved in a big accident in race 1 at Island Bend, the driver picking up points on his licence and being unable to start race 2.
NIKI LAUDA: After the initial shock of Niki Lauda’s disappearance from the Mercedes GP pit garage in Germany and Hungary came the grave news that he had had to have a lung transplant and was in a serious condition in hospital in Vienna. Happily, though, it seems that the 6 hour operation was a success and that Niki is improving day-by-day, his doctors seeing no reason why he should return to good health in due course. Naturally, we all wish him well. Some people, or course, may enquire – “well what has this to do with Alfa Romeo?”. They have probably forgotten that Alfa Romeo engines (flat 12 and V12) powered the Brabhams that Lauda drove in 1978 and 1979 (including the BT46 fan car with which he won the 1978 Swedish GP). In all Lauda made 17 starts in the BT46 and 15 in the BT48, but only won twice. He had value to Alfa in marketing terms and I came across a picture of him with a poster of the 116 series Giulietta launched in 1977.
WERE THERE OTHER 164 RACERS? The answer to this question is “Yes”. We were happy to see “Big Yella” going so well at Silverstone a couple of weekends ago. Also there, but without his orange 164 race car, was Ron Davidson. He was murmuring about selling it but we would love to see him racing again as he drives it so well. Then, of course, there was the 24v car raced by Martin Parsons which is still around being used as a track day car – want a waste! Back in 1993 Mike Buckler prepared a Diesel which he raced on several occasions, GP commentator Ben Edwards also taking the wheel at Castle Combe. Any more? Long standing Championship supporters will remember another 164 driven with great verve by Jane Cheffings in 1994 and 1995, scoring Class wins at Lydden Hill and Donington on the way. Sadly, she wrote if off at Oulton Park, virtually ending her racing career.
SIMON FISH IN HISTORIC F1: For several seasons now Simon Fish has been racing an Ensign N180 in Historic F1 events, including this year’s Classic Silverstone where he took excellent 4th and 8th places in the two Masters F1 races. Back in 1989 & 1990. Simon was a very strong contender in the old Class F with an Alfasud Ti, sponsored by his family company Greenway Eggs. In 1989 he finished 2nd in Class at the end of the season behind Paul Edwards, but reversed that the following year, leaving Paul and Martin Parsons in his wake.
UPDATE FROM TED PEARSON
“Just a brief note to say that all went well at Cadwell. It was only a bedding in session really so no times were kept but there’s quite a bit of potential in the car with a little more sorting. We were recommended to use carbon brake pads which were horrible – yes they stopped the car but the noises they made were awful and it sounded like the discs would wear out before the pads, so we’ve decided to revert to more normal type pads for the next run. Other than that we had just a slight leak from the rear of the gearbox which Tom will sort out. All in all a great day in a lovely old Alfa! Really looking forward to Donington”.