November 21st (!!) 1982 marked the first visit of the Alfa Romeo Championship to Brands Hatch.
This was the fifth and final round which produced a 19 car entry for a 10 lap race, run on a handicap basis as were all the races in the championship’s first couple of years. As the handicapper, I learned a big lesson that day. Don’t believe that everyone is going to go as fast as they can in qualifying (or practice as it was then known). In my report for the AROC magazine I wrote “Misfiring and generally off the pace was Pietro Cacciaviello’s GTV, but this was to prove an illusion (and the handicapper’s undoing!) as all was sorted out in time for the race itself”. Inevitably, of course, Pietro won, leading home Paul O’Hanlon’s scruffy GTA by over 30” but there was a notable name in third place – Harry White senior, father of Bianco’s popular and resourceful Harry – driving an Alfetta GTS. Over the years, we have sometimes had two visits to Brands in a season, at other times – as in 2014 – none. But there are always those, particularly if based in the South, who will want to race there but with the reduction in the number of BRSCC race meetings at the circuit it was only possible to fix a single header this time – albeit of the twice the length of that first 1982 race.
Unfortunately the Brands timetable was not particularly encouraging – earlyish practice and late afternoon race – but we still managed to gather what started as a 16 car entry, the large proportion of which was in the Twin Spark Cup. Sadly we lost Russell Anderson and Gethin Llewellyn before race day, which left just 14 to go out and qualify on Sunday morning. The lower paddock area was going to be extremely full with Mazdas, Porsches, Jedis and OSS amongst the other series racing and so the BRSCC had decided to allocate pit garages for us which would at least keep us all together. With the championship evenly balanced at the top, it was no surprise to see Graham Seager (lying 1 point behind James Bishop after dropped scores had been taken into consideration) as one of the two Modified cars entered in his familiar supercharged GTV, the other being “team mate” Roger Evans with his 147 GTA, still with the 3.2 litre engine he used at Cadwell. With Ray Foley away at Assen for rounds of the Alfa Challenge, Keith Waite (75 3 litre) and Ron Davidson (164) would be at Brands to represent the Power Trophy, Ron hoping for a better outing than he had had at Snetterton in July.
The 10 Twin Spark Cup cars were all familiar to us apart from the newly built and extremely smart dark blue 147 of Joshua Lambert who had often been seen in the Bianco camp in the past but had done most of the work on the car himself. It had been decided that Tom Hill would revert to the Bianco renta’ 156 while the team tried to get to the bottom of his own black and gold car’s lack of performance. James Bishop, Steve Potts, Simon Cresswell and Jeremy Chilton were in their usual 156s, as was Dave Messenger who was still using the Ford family’s spare engine that had been fitted to the car at Cadwell. We hadn’t seen the Spur 156 since Oulton when Chris Healey took it to 4th in class. However, his daughter Mel (our 2010 Champion) was due to have her first outing of the year. Finally we had the 147 of James Browning and the Cheshire Alfa 145 to be driven by Richard Stevens.
It was very good to see Judith Hibbins as Secretary of the Meeting, assisted by Liz Goodrich, while another old friend, ex championship eligibility scrutineer Colin Barnett, was in charge of scrutineering. Amongst his colleagues was John Monk who followed Colin in the role for over a decade.
The weather forecast last Sunday was not particularly promising although it looked as though we would have a dry qualifying before the rain set in during the afternoon. The battle for pole was always going to be fought out by Roger Evans and Graham Seager with times coming down all the time as both drivers warmed their tyres and got into their stride. It looked as though Graham just had the edge but Roger lost his chance to challenge him when, after slowing on the pit straight half way through the session misjudged his braking for Paddock and slid sideways into the gravel sending up a big dust cloud but happily not hitting anything. Up to that point his fastest lap had been a 55.113” whereas Graham was already down in the 54s and would set his pole time of 53.850” with four minutes still to run. At this stage, of course, we didn’t know if Roger’s problem was mechanical or if he had hit the barrier and we would have to wait to see if the 147 would be fit to start the race. Ron Davidson was the first of the two Power Trophy cars to break the minute barrier on his 6th lap and from that point on he was remarkably consistent with twelve of his next fourteen laps all in the 59s, his best being 59.250”. However, although not as consistent, Keith Waite would end up quicker with a 58.992”. Comparisons with the Twin Spark cars was always going to be interesting and Tom Hill did indeed manage to go quicker than both Keith and Ron with his class pole time of 58.843”.
We always like to watch how different drivers in the same class approach qualifying and when they put in their best laps, and with most drivers achieving 20 or so, there was plenty of choice although much would depend at finding “traffic” at the wrong moment. Tom Hill set pole on his 8th lap although he did get close to it again right at the end of the session. Steve Potts also got himself into a reasonable rhythm mid session and with 59.302” would end with a satisfying 2nd in class ahead of James Bishop who set his best of 59.330” on his final lap. Quick early on was Simon Cresswell with 59.428” but he was disappointed not to be down in the 58s, Thursday testing having pointed to that as a possibility. He would line up 4th. James Browning’s 147 was an impressive 5th, building on the form he had shown at Cadwell, finishing just ahead of Dave Messenger.
Dave suffered the indignity of a call to the Clerk of the Course for “track limits” infringements, having had no fewer than 4 laps disallowed (with photographs to prove it!) but his best of 59.503” was at least quicker than all the laps disallowed! Mel Freeman was quickly back into the groove, finishing the session ahead of Joshua Lambert, a disappointed Richard Stevens and Jeremy Chilton. Amazingly, apart from Jeremy and pole sitter Tom Hill, the eight remaining Twin Spark cars were in the 59s, covered by just 0.697” which gave hopes of some good battles in the race.
When Roger Evans’ 147 was brought back to the paddock it was covered in brown dust and with gravel in places that you don’t really want gravel to be except, happily, in the engine. Roger and Joy Fairy were soon in action with dustpan and brush, followed by cleaning materials to render the car pristine again. It also started, as Roger was pleased to point out to us! Most other tasks around the garages seemed fairly routine, so there was plenty of time to watch other races despite interruptions by some of the expected heavy rain, accompanied by Safety Cars and Red Flags. It was good to see Ian Brookfield and Joanne Eastwood at their first ARCA meeting since Silverstone and during the afternoon they were presented with a large marrow from Chris Healey’s garden to test Ian’s culinary skills! Andy Hancock, who had originally planned to be elsewhere, couldn’t resist calling in to see how things were going and it was also good to see Jon Billingsley who was suggesting that he might re-appear at Croft. Also a welcome visitor was John Griffiths who still has his 156 (a suitable Power Trophy car) but is in need of an engine and gearbox (plus race licence!) before he can race it again.
Amazingly, the rain gave way to blue skies long before our race was due which would allow the track to dry off and all 14 cars left the assembly area to line up with the now usual three row gap between Modified & Power Trophy and the cars running in the Twin Spark Cup. On arrival at the grid after the Green Flag lap, Graham Seager appeared to be slightly in front of his white box and before the red lights were extinguished there seemed to be all kinds of creeping down the field in over-eager anticipation. Irrespective of that, Roger Evans made a good start with Graham slightly more hesitant, the 147 leading the way up to Druids. Keith Waite and Ron Davidson also got away well, Keith backing out as the gap closed between the two leaders. He then found himself going into Paddock with Ron on the outside, the 75’s right hand wheels running over the inside kerbing as he felt himself squeezed, causing a loss in momentum. Dave Messenger was again quick off the mark and passed Tom Hill, Steve Potts and James Bishop into Paddock before battling it out with Keith Waite at Druids. Richard Stevens in his 145 was another to make a quick start, getting himself ahead of James Bishop and staying there for the whole of the first lap.
Roger Evans ended the lap with a 0.47” advantage over Graham Seager with Ron Davidson hanging on gamely to 3rd place although coming under pressure from Dave Messenger, Tom Hill and Steve Potts. Keith Waite was now lying 7th in front of Simon Cresswell, Richard Stevens and James Bishop but this would all change on lap 2 as Tom Hill passed Dave Messenger on the exit of Druids and managed to put Ron Davidson between himself and the Darnells 156. Keith Waite found himself edged wide by James Bishop at Clearways getting two wheels in the gravel and also being passed by James Browning, Joshua Lambert and Richard Stevens, crossing the line a fraction ahead of Mel Healey. Sadly going to Paddock, Keith and Mel were to make contact as the 75 snapped sideways as Keith went to change down to third under braking , the front of Keith’s car hitting Mel’s rear door and sending her off over the gravel and into the barrier. We were relieved to see Mel emerge from the 156 unscathed while Keith, who also visited the gravel, continued albeit with some major damage to the car’s offside bodywork. With the need to remove Mel’s car, the Clerk of the Course deployed the Safety Car. Roger Evans had kept his lead over Graham and would now head the field for the three laps that it took to remove the 156 to the grass on the inside of Paddock. Tom Hill was running third but Ron Davidson had been demoted by Dave Messenger, Steve Potts and Simon Cresswell but not by James Bishop.
The Safety Car pulled off at the end of lap 5 and we were all set for a resumption of the battle at the front. Trying as hard as he could, Roger Evans just couldn’t pull away from the black GTV running under half a second behind him and it looked inevitable that Graham would pounce at some point. The run up to Druids brought that moment on lap 10 (half distance) but Roger was not about to give up, the positions just being reversed with the 147 now under half a second behind the GTV. All through lap 7, Dave Messenger was hanging on behind Tom Hill while watching in his mirrors for the approaching Steve Potts. James Bishop had passed Ron Davidson and now had a clear road to the tail of Simon Cresswell, leaving Ron under pressure from Richard Stevens and James Browning. At Clearways, towards the end of lap 8, Steve Potts thought he saw a gap on the inside of Dave Messenger but it wasn’t really there and the collision between the two cars saw Dave suffered a broken tyre valve which allowed the tyre to deflate as it reached Graham Hill. He managed to get the car back to the pits where dad Brian and team stalwart Ashley decided the change the wheel as Steve Potts came in to retire. Dave lost four laps but rejoined to be classified as a finisher and to gain 6 championship points in the process. When did we last have a mid race tyre change? Well done all round for persevering! “Such a shame” said Dave afterwards.
For the next 6 laps (11 to 16) the gap between Graham and Roger was never more than 0.578” and most of the time considerably less so that there was still a possibility that Roger could take advantage of traffic or any error by Graham. James Bishop closed up on Simon Cresswell but it was a case of a car’s length or so but no nearer as time started to ebb away. For his part, Simon was keeping remarkably calm, his final ten laps varying between 59.428” and 59.922” such was his consistency. Ron Davidson, James Browning, Keith Waite and Richard Stevens were involved in a fluctuating battle a few seconds back, Keith Waite trying to wrest the Power Trophy lead away from an on-form Ron.
There was more excitement to come as Graham Seager and Roger Evans came up to lap James Bishop and Simon Cresswell on the final lap. Graham, who used to have problems with locking rear brakes has now found this transferred to the front and concerned with fending off Roger locked up into Druids. Fortunately he was able to control the car as he passed Simon Cresswell, running wide, but this allowed Roger Evans to get alongside him briefly as they rounded the corner. Graham was not about to surrender the lead though and powered ahead in determined fashion towards Graham Hill Bend. He would cross the line 0.654” clear to take his fifth race win of the year with Roger a smiling 2nd as they mounted the podium to be interviewed by Michael Lindsay and Brian Jones. Almost unnoticed, Tom Hill had been even more consistent than Simon Cresswell with a fastest lap in 58.683” as he maintained his Twin Spark lead and third place overall as the only other unlapped finisher, belatedly joining Graham and Roger on the podium.
Simon Cresswell took his best result of the year to finish 4th overall and 2nd in class with James Bishop 1.076” behind him at the flag. Ron Davidson got himself back ahead of James Browning to finish 6th and to win the Power Trophy, Keith Waite not being able to pass the white 147. Richard Stevens, Joshua Lambert, Jeremy Chilton and the delayed Dave Messenger completing the list of finishers.
|Power Trophy||Ron Davidson|
|Twin Spark Cup||Tom Hill|
It was a very happy Tom Hill (as were his ever-supportive parents) who celebrated his first Twin Spark Cup win, with a race podium to add to his success. Graham Seager was pleased to have moved himself into a 2 point lead over James Bishop in the Championship while Roger Evans was happy to have made it an entertaining race at the front. The trophies were presented afterwards by Stacey Dennis with the Grove & Dean Driver of the Day award going deservedly to Simon Cresswell.
The full points table can be found here. Mel Healey and Keith Waite, and Dave Messenger and Steve Potts were seen by the Clerk of the Course after the race but in both cases “a racing incident” covered their respective accidents.
There was some grumbling afterwards under the heading of “driving standards” and there was damage, some of it avoidable and some not, on many of the cars. We know that, amongst Twin Spark Cup drivers in particular, the racing is often very close and hard fought but perhaps everyone should review their own actions and admit that there are times when not enough respect is shown to fellow competitors or thought given to the condition of a car after an off track excursion or on-track contact. As we have said so often, this is not a “contact” sport where “rubbing” or not leaving racing room for another competitor is acceptable.
In two weeks time we return to action for a double header at Croft, in North Yorkshire, for the first time since 2005. The entry is already looking promising and we hope to be able to publish the timetable shortly. I look forward to seeing you there!
PS: During the day we concerned to hear that Ray Foley had suffered a hard crash at Assen in his 156 GTA. Happily we can report that Ray is OK bar a few bruises but that the car has severe damage and will probably have to be re-shelled. We send him our best wishes for a speedy return to the track.