The BRSCC Alfa Romeo Championship gets underway at the start of its 36th season with a double header meeting on the Oulton Park International circuit this coming Saturday, 25th March.

The 2016 season ended with a resounding championship title win for 20 year old Tom Hill with his Bianco Auto Developments prepared 156. However, the runner-up spot went down to the wire with Simon Cresswell and Dave Messenger fighting it out to the very last round at Rockingham, ending in that order. With Andy Inman’s 156 finishing 4th, it could be called a Twin Spark whitewash! Ron Davidson (164 3 litre) and Andy Robinson (156 3.8 V6) took the Power Trophy and Modified classes respectively.

These days, March seems too early to start the racing season, although in years gone by this was far from the case with championship rounds taking place on the first weekend of the month at Brands Hatch and Silverstone on several occasions. There was always a question mark over the weather though and long standing Alfa competitors can recall sweeping snow off their cars at Brands when they turned up on race day morning. A prominent driver in the early days, Peter Hilliard, always said that he would not go racing until “he could feel the sun on his back!”. I wonder if many of today’s drivers feel the same way.

All of which says that the entry for the opening round of the 2017 Championship is perhaps a little smaller than we might have hoped. In the middle of the week, It was up to the same number as for our summer visit last year. However, the BRSCC have just informed us that Neil Smith, who was due to run his S2000 156 has now withdrawn. Pity as he had generated some good publicity in Wednesday’s “Motorsport News”. This means that the race should now be fought out for overall honours between the 156 GTA of Roger McMahon and supercharged GTV of Graham Seager. Roger last ran his 156 at Spa in October in a couple of Scuderia Alfa Classic races and was a top 10 runner in a mammoth 59 car field which augurs well for this coming weekend. Graham Seager was, of course, the 2015 UK Alfa Champion and took a win at Oulton when we visited last June.  We were hoping that Louise West would be present with her supercharged 33 16v after some recent tests sessions but it looks as though we shall have to wait for the car’s first appearance.

Another front runner on Saturday should be Ray Foley whose 147 GTA has had some reworking of its engine management system over the winter and Ray is hoping that this will deal with previous reliability issues. A podium as a minimum will be his aim.  In the invitation class we are pleased to welcome Chris and Simon McFie with their Fiat Puntos. In the past Puntos driven by the McMahon brothers and Alastair Kellett have surprised many of the Alfa regulars and, particularly if it rains, this could prove an extra element of interest.

The Twin Spark entry has all the 2016 top four and Tom Hill will be trying for a back-to-back championship title win this year but there will be others trying to stop that happening! Dave Messenger, in particular, will be wanting to take at least one win away from Tom to stop him having a repeat of the 100% day which got him off to such a flying start at Snetterton last April. Simon Cresswell will also up at the sharp end and we shall be waiting to see how the returning Andrew Bourke gets on with his ex Steve Potts 156 as we know the car is quick and Andrew was making great progress as a driver until his much publicised accident at Brands last August. He will have the benefit of being looked after full time this year by Bianco. Richard Ford now also has a 156, the ex Bianco renta’,  that could promote him into the top six. The ever loyal Andy Inman is back for another season, the car prepared by Peak Alfa as it was in the second half of last year and he will be joined in the 156 camp by Mike Tydeman and Jeremy Chilton, both of whom extended their experience at Spa and will be hoping to capitalise on their return to a home circuit. Local driver Richard Stevens has a rebuilt engine in his 145 and all his fingers and toes will be crossed for a couple of competitive and reliable races. Finally, Paul Webster is back with his Twin Spark 156 although he now also has the ex Clive Hodgkin 156 GTA and many race that later in the year although at present he regards getting some good results in the Twin Spark Cup as more of a challenge.

Once again we shall be in the pit garages at the weekend, so if you are there as a spectator do come and have a chat. Michael Lindsay and Andy Robinson are sharing the on-the-day co-ordinator role which will probably be the case until Andy’s new supercharged engine is ready for his 156 and he can resume racing.

Yokohama & Black’n’Rounds remain the Championship tyre supplier and associate sponsors and will be joined by Corbeau, well known manufacturers of racing seats, Grove & Dean Motorsport Insurance and CL, suppliers of high quality competition brake pads.

Michael Lindsay