Having finished my review of the 2014 season for the BRSCC and ARCA websites and also completed the first draft of next year’s regs for the BRSCC/MSA, I happily returned to writing another “News & Gossip”!
This will be the sixth edition. I can’t quite match Matt’s 35 Friday Fixes but from the reactions I have had, the five already published seem to have been enjoyed. I can also take the opportunity to wish everyone a very happy and successful New Year.
It was a relief to have next year’s calendar confirmed although we all know that the vagaries of motorsport can sometimes throw up unwelcome changes over which neither we nor the BRSCC have any control. However, recent history tells us that once we have arrived at this point, and following some hardball negotiations to move forward from an original unsatisfactory draft, the dates and venues will remain unaltered. So well done to Clive Hodgkin and Drew Furlong for getting it sorted!
A particular pleasure is the return to our calendar of Croft (September 12/13). Situated in North Yorkshire, not far from Darlington, it may seem a long way to go but in reality the journey is much quicker these days if you are coming from the south as so many of the roundabouts that used to slow traffic have been removed and it is all dual carriageway in any case. So good is the challenge offered by the 2.1 mile circuit that it is one of the most anticipated BTCC meetings of the year. Corners such as the Clearvaux/Hawthorn chicane (at the end of the pit straight), Tower, the fast Jim Clark Esses and Sunny In & Out are all to be savoured.
It seems amazing that it is a decade since the championship made its last visit in 2005 although a small Avon Racing party did run at a Darlington & District Motor Club Meeting a couple of years later. Sadly, the 2005 Croft double header attracted a very small entry, just 14 cars after a 30 car entry in 2002 but the timing was not good as it was only a week before the usually popular championship round at Donington. Despite interruptions from red flags, it brought overall wins for Tim Lewis (Alfasud Sprint) and Keith Waite (75 3 litre), Lee Penn dominating Class F with his 33 16v. At Donington, to prove the championship was in extremely good health, 33 drivers took part in qualifying. Next year, we have a three week gap after Brands Hatch and a five week break before Donington, so we are hopeful that a strong entry will come along to enjoy what will be the season’s “away” weekend.
New Class Structure
I am sure we shall be talking a great deal about the new class structure that is being adopted by the Championship in 2015. The old six classes were always a little difficult to explain to those who were not deeply immersed in Alfa racing but it also became clear that a re-think was required. The entry levels in B and C had dropped alarmingly, while those for Class D had already dried up completely. Combining A1 and A2 into one modified class reflects reality and should allow us to maintain numbers in what has always been a core element of the Championship. Having said that, the new “Power Trophy” based on a power to weight formula of 220 bhp per 1000kg for petrol engined cars and 210 bhp per 1000kg for diesels may well provide a new home for one or two cars that have been running in A1/A2, as well as those that have been seen more recently in B, C & D. The final power to weight figures have still be settled and will depend on some rolling road tests and weight checks to be done early in the New Year. We obviously hope that the freedoms permitted in the new class will attract both new and existing competitors. And we could see ample variety with 8v 33s facing 75 3 litres, GTVs, 147s, a 164 and 156 GTAs just to give an example.
Class E will continue as before although under a new name – the Twin Spark Cup. The record 18 car entry for the Silverstone meeting in October was a notable milestone for the class and the next aim must be to have at least 15 at each race meeting with perhaps as many as 20 on occasions.
What are we missing?
There was talk at one point that Alfa and Mazda would enter into a joint venture, using the fourth generation Mazda MX5 as the basis for a new, rear wheel drive, Alfa Spider. Regrettably perhaps, this is not now part of Alfa’s master plan although there is still the possibility that such a car with emerge as a new Fiat Abarth Barchetta.
Recent details of the Mazda specification and its backbone chassis design have shown that a version using an Alfa engine and bodywork, produced in sufficient quantities, might have been a commercial success (although there are those who remember the Arna and shudder!). It could also have provided a good source of new cars for the Championship but I suppose that as we allow the Fiat Punto Abarth to run with us, we could do the same with an Abarth Barchetta.
Are Alfa on their way back to racing?
When Alfa Romeo announced their expansion plans earlier in the year, a point was made about contribution that racing had made to keeping the image of the brand strong. Inevitably this led to speculation that there was something afoot for the future. In addition to the WTCC, there are now other championships at lower budget levels that might prove attractive. One of these is the FIA approved TCR (which started life as TC3). This is aimed at manufacturer backed private teams and entrants and has already received some strong support from manufacturers aided no doubt by its presence on the programme at several Grand Prix next year. Alfa, of course, have a history of using independent teams to run their factory efforts. If we go back to 1982, we find Imberti Racing and Luigi Racing running factory supported GTV6s in the European Touring Car Championship.
More recently there were the efforts of N Techology with the 156. However, there is one 2015 project that has already come to light. It would appear that longtime Alfa racer Gianni Guidici is planning to run two 1.7 Turbo Giuliettas in the German VLN Championship which is based on a number of races at the Nurburgring, including the 24 Hours. Apart from Guidici himself and his 19 year old son Claudio, one of the other regular drivers will be Nicola Larini, celebrating the 20th anniversary of his his ITCC win at the ‘Ring with an Alfa Corse 155. Nicola has been keeping his hand in of late by racing in the well established VW Scirocco Cup.
Ricciardo goes “home” to Sicily
At the beginning of December, Daniel Ricciardo travelled to Sicily where his father Joe was born and lived before moving to Australia. The plan was to visit the Targa Florio museum – Museo Floriopolis – and to drive the Alfa Romeo 33tt3 that his mentor at Red Bull, Helmut Marko, used to finish 2nd in the 1972 running of the event with Nanni Galli after a hard fight with the Ferrari 312 driven by Arturo Merzario and Sandro Munari.
Looking rather uncomfortable in a borrowed helmet, Ricciardo clearly enjoyed the experience although one wonders what the present crop of Grand Prix drivers would have made of taking part if the Targa was still being run today. The answer is probably that some would have thrown themselves into the event as many of their predecessors did and that others would have run a mile! Interestingly, despite all the inherent dangers of the 35 mile long circuit, the Targa’s safety record was remarkably good.
One Thing Leads to Another
There has been much discussion over the past few months, and particularly since the problems suffered by Marussia and Caterham, whether the FIA will invoke the clause in the Concorde Agreement that leads to three car teams. That reminded me that when I first went to watch Grand Prix racing in the 50s and 60s three and four car teams were common place. In 1956 when I made my first trip to Monza for the Italian GP, Ferrari turned up with no fewer than six cars of which five were destined to race – for Juan Manuel Fangio, Peter Collins, Luigi Musso, Eugenio Castellotti and Alfonso De Portago, with Wolfgang von Trips as reserve – what a stellar line-up! Different days, of course, as drivers could jump from one car to another during a race, as Fangio did to take over from Peter Collins and win the 1956 world championship. The other thing about that race was that it was run on the version of the Monza circuit that included the double banking. Cars passed the pits and main grandstands twice per lap with only a line of bollards separating the two parts of the circuit. Great for the spectators though!
The banked sections were incredibly bumpy and several cars suffered tyre failures and broken steering and suspension. Since those days, the track surface had been allowed to deteriorate badly and there were often rumours that it would all be pulled down to revert to parkland. It was interesting, therefore, to see a part of the BBC’s pre GP programme this year devoted to a walk on the section of the banked circuit near to the first chicane and to note that it had been re-surfaced. It seems that the major driving force was the annual Rally Monza – a single stage rally event which always attracts an interesting entry and this year saw Robert Kubica defeating local hero Valentino Rossi while just crowned World Champion Lewis Hamilton did a few display runs in an AMG Mercdes road car.
A Racing Driver’s Life is Hard!
If you race in a number of different categories, the likelihood is that some days will be better than others as Chris Snowdon was to find out in a six week period during September and October that involved the Goodwood Revival, two Alfa Championship meetings and the regular Sports 2000 participation in the Formula Ford Festival. At Goodwood he was down to share Roberto Giordanelli’s Lister-Chevrolet in the Sussex Trophy but unfortunately Roberto managed to crash the car, happily without damage to himself, just before Chris was due to take over. Chris should also have been seen at the wheel of a Vauxhall Cresta but co-driver Rupert Keegan managed to blow the engine at the start of qualifying with a fourth to first gearshift.
So, a week later it was off to Rockingham where two Alfa Championship races brought two excellent wins in John Sismey’s 16v 33. Luck with the 33 ran out at the start of the Saturday Alfa race on the Silverstone International circuit when contact with Darelle Wilson’s GT Diesel and Roger McMahon’s GTV saw the car very badly damaged. Chris himself was somewhat shaken by the turn of events but was able to look forward to a return to one of his specialities – Historic Sports 2000 at Brands Hatch. Here, he was back to his best, taking two splendid and hard fought wins in a Tiga SC80.
I referred earlier to the improvements that have taken place on the A1 going north. Other circuits we visit where life should be made easier are Snetterton and Brands Hatch. For many years, the A11 between Barton Mills and Thetford was a slow moving (or not moving at all!) bottleneck, particularly bad on a Friday night going to the circuit or a Sunday going home. Plans to make the road into a dual carriageway have taken years to come to fruition but now the new road is fully open and although Barton Mills may still produce holdups at rush hour, the general result should make the journey to Snetterton less of a hassle. Those going to Brands Hatch in August and using the Dartford Crossing and Tunnel should find that the removal of the toll booths, accompanied by new paying arrangements, makes life a lot easier. Mind you, I stress the word “should” as there will be roadworks there for some time and easing multiple lanes into four slow moving tunnel lanes may still have everyone shouting loud for a new tunnel or bridge!
Max Banks on “Cars Yeah”
Max recently did an interesting 30 minute telephone interview for the American internet class car site “Cars Yeah”, most of it devoted, as you would expect, to the development of “Alfaholics”. However, one question I would have liked the interviewer to ask was which of his races (with brother Andrew) sticks in his mind the most. Father Richard came back with the answer –
“ I think his best race would have been at the Silverstone Classic this year, hunting down and dicing with Jackie Oliver’s Lotus Cortina before getting past one lap from the end to get on the U2TC podium!”.
Chas De Lacy
I often get requests from past competitors asking if I can supply them with results sheets from seasons past. I recently had just such an e-mail from Chas. De Lacy who raced with us between 1986 and 1990 in a brown (I am sure it had a fancy Alfa colour name which Gary Orchard or Ian Brookfield will identify!) Alfasud Ti. Chas was a talented driver and looking at the very first result sheet I came to copy (Castle Combe – March 31st 1986) he finished 9th overall in a 26 car field with only future champion Ian Johnson’s similar car separating him from a class win.
His busiest season was 1989 when he competed in 12 of the 14 championship races, to finish 4th in a very strong class F behind Paul Edwards, Simon Fish and Charles Hill. Chas was also an enthusiastic painter of Grand Prix cars and I recall a particular picture he did of Nigel Mansell’s Williams Honda.
Mallory Park re-opens
Whatever our views on the “Friendly Circuit”, it was good to hear that Mallory Park will be back to a full programme in 2015, or at least 70% of what the new owners had hoped for. The loss of the a circuit that had been as active as Mallory was always going to put more pressure on available slots at other venues and it is interesting that the BRSCC, former lease holders BARC and 750 Motor Club are all down to run meetings. Whether we ever return to Mallory will be down to competitor sentiment I suppose. It was interesting talking to Ian Stapleton at Silverstone as he had raced at the single 2014 meeting, run by the Classic Sports Car Club, and thoroughly enjoyed himself, reckoning that he would have no qualms about going back.
Chris is another past championship competitor to get in touch recently. He now owns two cars of considerable interest – an ex Julian Birley/Kerry Gardiner 75 1.8 Turbo and the 1981 “Napolina” Saloon Car Championship class winning Alfasud Ti. Chris is busy rebuilding the Sud and would love to race it at the Goodwood Revival next year if an invitation was forthcoming. However, having been stored in far from favourable conditions, there is a lot of work involved to get it ready.
The 75 has already been raced in an AROC event by Chris but “several things fell off”, so that also requires some t.l.c. I was trying to persuade him to race it with us in 2015. Julian Birley only raced this particular 75 once, at Donington in September 2002, but reckoned it was nowhere near as quick as his V6 version and had a nasty habit of cutting out at the most unhelpful moments!
Oxford Universities Motorsport Foundation
OUMF is a highly regarded operation which was founded in 2005 as “an independent pan-university student initiative to promote practical engineering and associated skills through the exciting medium of motor-racing and so encourage a lifetime interest in all aspects of the sport”. Every year, Ding Boston who masterminds the Foundation sends me his newsletter. There was an occasion soon after it started that they raced the resurrected 1750 GTV with which Richard Gamble had won the championship in 1982 at a mini enduro we ran at Snetterton. The past year has seen a much more ambitious project – participation with an Alfa Giula Sprint in the Rally Barbados.
“We delivered the Alfa to Greetline shipping in Portsmouth Docks on May 2nd, deadline day, still unsure of where the balance of what (finance) the team needed was going to come from – so hairy stuff!.”
However, when they flew into Barbados on May 20th the team were greeted by friends who lent them a venerable Discovery as transport and they were given accommodation while gaining “the support of enthusiastic Ezra Prescod, Head of SOL Petroleum, and Francis Gonsalves who owns the excellent Just Grillin’ restaurants. Our fuel and food anxieties evaporated in the heat of their generosity.
Two days later, without warning, after storming the first run of the qualifying “King of the Hill”, the Alfa’s diff exploded into 100 bits! With no spare, no Alfas on the island and no funds, our goose looked cooked – so in desperation we put out a global SOS on the internet. We were almost dumbfounded beyond thanks when Quaife Engineering offered to assemble and send us a prototype within 24 hours! OUMF supporter Zip Zerihan collected and flew out with it and the student team, helped by Geoffrey Ulyett’s Machine Shop worked days and through the final night to make repairs and fit the Quaife diff. The car drove again at 6 a.m. – the Rally began at 7 a.m. Two days and 24 stages later, against all expectations, we finished 34th overall (out of 90) and 2nd in class. (such was the flawless performance of the Quaife diff on this punishing test that we were delighted to announce the 2015 launch of their amazing Alfa 105 ATB on the OUMF stand at the NEC Classic Motor Show).
And Finally – Alfa Romeo re-launch D Day – June 15 2015
A date to put in your Diary as it will see the official launch of Alfa Romeo’s plans for a new model range and the start of expansion towards a production target of 400,000 cars a year. Exactly where the launch (or launches) will take place has yet to be revealed – or the first model in the new line-up. However, we expect this to be a rear wheel drive saloon, somewhere in size larger than the present Giulietta. The name “Giulia” was originally being bandied around but we understand that this may not now be used and that there will be the first of a “modern” group of names instead. Watch this space!