Nostalgia to the fore at Brands Championship opener

I was talking to Championship newcomer Richard Thurbin at Brands when a voice beside me said “I know you!” Rarely, I did not immediately make a connection but the voice quickly reminded me that it was John Shields whose team, JS Motorsport, ran a successful trio of 156s with us in 2000. Among the drivers were Danny Wright, Ted Reddick, Bert Lemmes and on one occasion Ed McDonough. Danny enjoyed a really good year with 8 class wins, but lost the class title to Nick Suiter’s GTV6 by just 2 points. John is now preparing the Lancia Delta that Richard drove so well at Brands and assures me that “there is more to come” from the car. Judging by its electric starts and race pace at Brands, it should be a strong contender for overall wins as the season progresses.

The long wait for our race on Sunday meant that there was plenty of time for chatting to many old friends who found their way to our part of the paddock. As mentioned in a previous “Friday Fix”, our ex eligibility scrutineer, Colin Barnett, was chief scrutineer for the meeting and was happy to find little to complain about with the Alfa Championship entries. It was good to see recently “retired” Nick Anderson who told us that he has already joined the Marshals Register and has had his first training session. His 33 has been sold and the new owner recently undertook a trouble-free session with is at Castle Combe but whether we shall see it back racing with us remains unclear. Many people clustered around the Mito Register camp, including Ted Pearson (always plenty of reminiscing there!) who was telling us that he plans to contest a full season of Historic Formula Ford 1600 with his Merlyn (see a later item in this FF). Sadly, this might put in question his participation in Julius Thurgood’s Classic Alfa Challenge although I think we persuaded him that he should put in an entry for the first race at Silverstone on April 14th. Another welcome visitor was Simon Scott who raced an Alfasud Sprint very competitively between 1994 and 1998, with a brief comeback in 2005. Jamie Porter was telling us of another Mito that he is building for racing but the specification will probably mean that it will go in the invitation class. Sadly, the Waite family, plus Paul and Richard Legge, were only there on Saturday but at least Keith was able to start his 32nd Alfa Championship season with the recently acquired 33. Out of a possible 38 that is quite a record! Steve Fox came along to see us from his nearby marshals post in one of the few Alfasud Sprints still registered for the road in the UK. He still has his race car but there is little prospect that it will return to competition in the near future.

In Race Admin, it was good to see Judith Hibbens in her now regular role as Secretary of the Meeting at BRSCC Brands events. A new season often brings new faces in the commentary box and I was happy to join Josh Barrett, who I had not met before, alongside regulars Scott Woodwiss and Andy McEwan. They made me very welcome although on Saturday after the 4 hour long Fun Cup, they were probably happy to have a break! One last thing before leaving Brands, the happiest face on Saturday must have been that of Dave Peddie when he returned from scrutineering, ticket in hand, always the first part of satisfaction with a newly built car. And it was also a delight to see his wife Maggie as well, happy to be back after Dave’s stint with JAS Motorsport in Milan, dispensing lovely food and hot drink as she did back when Dave was racing himself and reminding me of a Karaoke we once organised a few years back at Cadwell.

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Alfa F1 update

As we put FF82 to bed three weeks ago, the Grand Prix season had just burst into life with the first day of practice in Australia. For Alfa Romeo it was the return of the marque as an entrant rather than a sponsor (as with Sauber last year) for the first time since 1985. The C38’s revised colour scheme was much admired and easy to distinguish with its large Biscione logo on the engine covers. With mid field times ultra tight, it was Kimi Raikkonen who just managed to claw his way through to Q3 in qualifying and then to a final 9th on the grid, sandwiched between the McLaren of Lando Norris and the Racing Point of Sergio Perez. Antonio Giovanazzi had excelled himself in Q1 with 4th quickest time but although his time in Q2 was only 0.483” slower, it was enough to drop him to 14th and well away from Q3. In the race, Kimi ran a comfortable  9th in the first stint but he needed to stop early because of a rise in temperatures which turned out to have been caused by one of his tear-off visors. Thereafter he ran steadily to finish 8th, scoring Alfa’s first points in its new guise. Giovanazzi made a good start but then made contact with Norris who hadn’t. The resultant damage was not race ending but it meant a long run to the finish with only 15th position as the reward.

From the delights of Melbourne, the teams moved to the sand and wind of Bahrain for round 2 of the Championship. In the three practice sessions, the Alfas did not seem quite as balanced as they had in Australia and also missed most of P2 due to a cooling problem. This was particularly hard on Antonio Giovanazzi who needed the mileage and it was perhaps no surprise that he failed to get the Alfa into Q2. Raikkonen only just made the “cut” but was able to improve enough to be the last driver into Q3, ending qualifying 9th, sandwich between Romain Grosjean’s Haas and the much improved McLaren of Lando Norris.

The race showed why Fred Vasseur’s team were so happy to have Raikkonen as their lead driver as he drove a near perfect 57 laps, judgement only perhaps tempered by the fact that he didn’t get past Norris before the flag when the possibility was there. Nonetheless, 7th place meant more useful points for himself and the team. Giovanazzi had a hard task to reach the points from 16th on the grid but he drove a solid race and was catching Perez hand over first towards the end and, had it not been for the late safety car, would probably have emerged a satisfying 10th rather than a point-less 11th.

Of course, the major talking point at Bahrain was the emergence of last year’s Sauber-Alfa star, Charles Leclerc, as the force to be reckoned with in his new role at Ferrari. Had it not been for an engine problem with 47 laps completed he would undoubtedly have taken his first victory but at least he was able to  get the struggling Ferrari home third for his first F1 podium behind a surprise Mercedes 1-2.

Ruring the Tuesday and Wednesday after the Grand Prix, the teams were in action again for a couple of days testing, giving the chance for several new and third drivers to experience Formula 1 machinery. The media had gone into overdrive over Mick Schumacher’s opportunity to drive not only the latest Ferrari on Tuesday but then the Alfa C38 on Wednesday. By all accounts he had a very measured approach but this was good enough to take 2nd quickest time with the car from Maranello before being 6th quickest the day after in the Alfa, within a second of George Russell, having a run in a Mercedes, who set the best time of the day. 

The next round is in China on April 14th. If you want to show your support for Alfa this year, there is wide range of shopping possible via “Alfa Romeo F1 Racing” including mugs, T shirts, stickers and an A line dress (for the brave!)                                                                                                  

WTCR Barcelona Testing and TV coverage

The recent WTCR Test on the Circuit di Catalunya saw the Team Mulsanne Alfa Giulietta Veloces perform very creditably, ending fourth and fifth quickest with Ma Qing Hua outpacing team mate Kevin Ceccon. The quicker Giulietta was only 0.492” off the fastest time set by Gordon Shedden’s Audi. Other good news is that the first round of this year’s Championship at Marrakech can be seen live on the BBC Sport Website, the first time for several years that the BBC has featured touring cars. Long may it continue, particularly as we have no Alfas in the BTCC or – as seems likely – in TCR UK.

“Car and Car Conversions” – Five Car Test

“Car and Car Conversions” was a well regarded magazine from the mid 60s until it close down in 2003. In their February 1989 edition, they ran an article by Paul Chudecki for whom I had organised a track test at Mallory for five then current Alfa Championship cars – the Modified machinery of Tim Stewart (GTV6) and John Liddle (33 8v), Jonathan Frankel’s Production Modified Alfasud Ti and the Production class cars of Clive Hodgkin (Alfetta GTV 2.0) and 1988 Champion Terry Stacey (Alfasud Ti). I thought it might be interesting to reproduce the part of the article dealing with John Liddle’s 33.

“In contrast to the GTV6 (sorry Tim!), John Liddle’s bright orange 33 is very smart and shiny. Indeed it is designed to look like a  parts box for sponsor Alfa dealer Cubleys of Ainsdale where John is parts director. This 33 races in Class B for fully modified cars up to 1600cc and was built from a wrecked car in 1986. Having begun racing in 1982 with a standard Alfasud 1.3 Ti, 34 year old John won the fully modified class with a 1500 Sud in 1985 but decided he now wanted something different. A value of £20,000 reflects he did just that. Fitted with the Sud’s engine, the 33 has won for John the class in 1986 and again in 1988.

Engine capacity is 1585cc as opposed to the standard 1490cc, the increase coming from a Gordon Allen long throw crankshaft. Pistons remain standard, though with machined valve pockets for bigger inlet and exhaust valves while conrods are a one-off by Lahoma (John Sismey) who also made the high-lift cams. All reciprocating parts are balanced and lightened while a fabricated flywheel carries an AP Racing clutch. Induction is via 48DRLA Weber carburettors, mated to the ported head and standard manifold.

2019-04-05_110539John Liddle with 33 at Castle CombeLiddle at Brands HatchMallory 1988 line-up

Naturally, with this specification, straight cut close ratio gears are employed with a tightly locked limited slip diff through which 145  bhp manages to reach the front wheels to propel a weight of 750kg, those wheels being steering by quick rack with adjustable. rose jointed, arms. Front suspension uses standard arms and pick-up points and is fully rose-jointed, the struts with front Konis featuring solid metal mounts and heavy duty 600 lb springs. The rear of the car, however, is different to standard, the original beam axle being substituted by one specially made with adjustable camber and even track, complemented by Watts linkage in place of the Panhard rod, and 350lb springs. Compomotive three piece split rim wheels are fitted all round (7” x 13” rear, 8”x 13” front) with Avon slick or wet rubber. Standard front calipers with vented discs are fitted with Mintex 171 pads.

The entire front bodywork of the 33 is fibreglass, and removable. Bar the windscreen, all windows are Perspex. The interior is fully gutted with the most notable modification being the ridiculously extended steering column to accommodate John’s 6ft 4in frame, sitting well back. In fact, with the seat fully forward (for me) I found myself in a somewhat odd position, with legs just about able to operate the pedals, while my arms were bent close to the 13” Momo wheel. The full Aley rollcage originates from John’s Sud. A Smiths rev-counter is redlined at 8600 rpm.

On track, the wheels shod with wet rubber, the immediate impression is of very heavy steering thanks to the limited slip diff that tries to send the Alfa straight on at corners although the traction is excellent. The Boxer engine revs beautifully and the car feels quick. It is easy to go over 8,000 rpm (maximum power is at 7,800) but it is necessary to keep it singing above 6500. Torque is impressive but there is nothing below 4,000 rpm. The gearchange is also good and the clutch not heavy and with the engine singing, the 33 can be really hustled along. On the Stebbe Straight (after Gerards) maximum revs are used in third and fourth before a dab on the brakes – which have a long pedal – slow the car effectively. At Shaws Hairpin first gear is necessary otherwise the engine goes off cam. Into fourth on the start finish straight before third for Gerads, the 33 very steady though bumpy on exit.

An excellent machine, terrific fun and very well sorted.”

After his retirement from racing at the end of 1991, John Liddle sold the 33 to Keith Turner for he and his son Guy to race but they were able to use it only occasionally and it finally made its way into the Heynes family collection, Alex Heynes racing it in 2000.

HSCC Donington Championship Openers

There were one or two Alfas taking part in the Historic Road Sports race at Donington last weekend, most notable of which was the Alfasud Sprint of Tim Hayes who will be remembered for his efforts with a Sud Ti making his last appearance with us in 2008. He finished 14th overall and 4th in class with a best lap in 1’29.426”. As expected, racing in Historic Formula Ford 1600 was Ted Pearson with his Merlyn Mk 11/17, qualifying a fine 8th out of the 29 entries and finishing in the same position in the race after a close battle to the flag. Also there was another ex Alfa racer, Antony Ross with his Lola who ended 13th.

Formula W drivers chosen.

After a lengthy selection process, the 18 drivers who should line up for the first Formula W race at Hockenheim in May with their Tatuus-Alfa Romeo (basically regional F3) cars will include women from a very wide range of previous experience, including the old Renault 3.5 championship. There are five British drivers – Jamie Chadwick, Alice Powell, Jessica Hawkins, Sarah Moore and Esmee Hawkey – and for those who complain about the rights and wrongs of a single sex series, there are some on the list who have not been able to race for a while due to lack of money and for whom this is a golden opportunity. Sadly there is only one Italian on the list, 25 year old Vicky Piria who has wide experience in her home country mostly with GT and Touring cars although she did race in GP3 in 2012.

Classic Alfa Challenge

The first of this year’s HRDC Classic Alfa Challenge races takes place at Silverstone (National) on Sunday, April 14th. At present we don’t have either a timetable or an entry list but will put them on the website as soon as we do. Alfas apart, the meeting has plenty of other fascinating content on the Sunday (it is actually a two day meeting) including a 20 minute Historic Grand Prix car race, Formula 3 500s, the 31st Hawthorn Trophy race for 1950s Sports Racing Cars and two more HRDC races for a huge variety of historic saloon cars.

Don’t forget that the AROC’s Spring Alfa Day returns to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, also on Sunday April 14th and that National Alfa Day will be slightly earlier than usual – Sunday, June 30th – at a new venue, Bicester Heritage.

See you all at Snetterton over the Easter weekend – but we do need a more entries!

Michael Lindsay