When the BRSCC asked us earlier in the year if we would like to accept an invitation from MSVR to take part in an Italian Car Day at Brands Hatch, we didn’t know quite what to expect.

And in fact when the event metamorphosed in “Festival Italia” we still didn’t really know what was going to happening, apart from having a lot of track time – a practice session, qualifying and two twenty minute races – all on one day. As we got nearer the date, we learned that there would be Ferrari racing as well, classic car club displays, including AROC, plus plenty of Italian themed food and music. From our point of view, the promised double header was going to be much more attractive than the single headers of some previous years and competitors started to show their support quite quickly. Nonetheless it was something of a surprise to find that we, and a poorly supported allcomers race, were the only competitors in the large lower paddock, while everything else was going on in the pit garages and the area behind the Hospitality Suites, running on the grass towards Clearways. We were pleased to welcome back Judith Hibbins as our on-the-day co-ordinator for this meeting and it is possible that we shall also see her at Rockingham in September.

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A strong Modified entry is always a bonus and it was good to see drivers and cars that we haven’t seen all season. In this case the entry of Chris Snowdon and George Osborne in their pristine 75s, 3.0 and 3.2 respectively, was very welcome. Chris’s car had a new gearbox and was running on Yokohama slicks. How, we wondered, would they fare against the two 156s of Andy Robinson and Vincent Dubois. Andy’s 3.8 litre has been very successful this season with four wins from six starts but this would be only the second time that Vincent had appeared. The turbo car had undergone much work to the suspension in the period since Silverstone and Vincent was eager to see if it all worked as he hoped – modification 54b as Keith Waite put it! Ron Davidson (164) was back with in the Power Trophy, as was Ray Foley, both having missed Castle Combe. Ray’s 147 GTA now had a “borrowed” engine management system which it was hoped would give him back the reliability that he has lacked for most of the year. The third Power Trophy entry was Keith Waite’s 75, which probably knows its own way round Brands by now!

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As you all know, Tom Hill came to Brands Hatch with a definite chance of being able to wrap up the Championship title for 2016 with only Simon Cresswell able to keep the points gap small enough to stop him. But, of course, there were plenty of other people hoping to be in a position to take points away from both. Notable amongst these was Dave Messenger who has put in some very strong performances since he and his team managed to fix the mechanical problems that dogged them at Silverstone and Zolder. At Oulton he took two thirds, then bettered that (and nearly had a win) with two seconds at Castle Combe, so came with two wins as the logical progression!

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Not that things always work all that logically in motorsport but that was his aim anyway! Andy Hancock had missed Castle Combe but was looking forward to racing at Brands, as was James Browning who had chased very hard in the previous two races, scoring a third in race 2. Making his second appearance of the season was Gethin Llewellyn with his Horley Motor Services 156 and we have yet to see Gethin back to what we think of as his best. Jon Billingsley was a late entry but not in the white 147 that he won with at Zolder (this is apparently in the middle of being sold) but in one of Paul Plant’s green cars. Mike Tydeman and Andy Inman were probably going to be evenly matched in their 156s and could be chased hard by the 145 of Mark Hope and the every improving Jeremy Chilton’s 156. Jeremy had the usual aim of getting below a 1 minute lap time, not having managed it last year, so we would watch his progress during the day with the allcomers races to do as well. When he appeared for the first time at Brands last year with his 147, Joshua Lambert impressed, but he still needs to find that little bit of extra speed which is surely capable of with more track time. Hence he was also an allcomers entrant. Not having raced since he used the Bianco renta’ 156 to good effect at Silverstone, Andrew Fulcher had entered his beautifully prepared 147 for its debut.

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Twenty one of the twenty two drivers entered made their way into the pit road to await the start of the 20 minute practice session at 10 o’clock. The only car missing was the 147 of Andrew Fulcher that had already suffered a failure of its alternator which was being changed. One or two people reckoned they weren’t going to run all the way through, including Chris Snowdon who thought 4 laps would be enough while others were clearly determined to get in as many laps as possible. We ended with Andy Robinson quickest with a 56.554”, closely matched by Vincent Dubois ahead of the Snowdon/Osborne 75s – all the V6 cars (including Keith Waite’s 75 and Ron Davidson’s 164 sounded superb). Pleasing himself with quickest Twin Spark time at this stage was Andy Hancock with a competitive 58.792, a fraction quicker than Dave Messenger and Tom Hill. The next eight TSC cars were almost within a second of each other. Keith Waite led the three Power Trophy runners but Ray Foley was just happy to have something which looked as though it would work all day.

By the time qualifying got underway at 11.25 there were already a lot of people gathered in the display areas and grass banks alongside the circuit, including on the old traditional spectator point on South Bank. It took the slickshod modified cars a few laps to get going and it was George Osborne and Ray Foley who set the initial pace. By lap 5, though, Andy Robinson had wound up the blue 156 and set a 55.945” which Chris Snowdon just shaded a lap later. Amongst the Twin Sparks, Dave Messenger was quickly out of the blocks and having lapped in 58.657” was hoping that this might be good enough for pole, pulling into the pits after 5 laps. Tom Hill was pounding around, meanwhile, but with a few little niggles was finding it difficult to get under 59”, eventually managing 58.945” which left him behind Simon Cresswell (58.809”) and James Browning with a 58.873” set earlier in the session.

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However, with almost half of qualifying left to run, Paddock Hill was obscured by a huge cloud of dust and it was clear that there had been an accident involving two, if not three cars. When the dust subsided, Andrew Bourke’s GTV, which had completed 19 laps up to that point and was third quickest of the Twin Sparks, was sitting in a seriously damaged state in the gravel trap. It had executed multiple rolls, landing on the top of the barrier before hitting the debris fencing and bouncing back again towards the track. Happily after a short while he could be seen outside the car, walking away with one of the circuit doctors, amazingly none the worse for wear which, when looking at the videos and still photographs of the incident tells us that this was taking good luck to an extreme as his head appeared to be sticking through the driver’s door window for most of the gyrations. Piecing it all together later, it would appear that Andrew had suffered some kind of brake failure although he may also have been distracted by a clutch problem. He arrived at Paddock far too quickly, clipped the innocent Jon Billingsley on the way through which tipped him sideways. An immediate red flag was inevitable.

Immediately before the red flag, Andy Robinson and Chris Snowdon both set their best times with 54.583” and 55.932” to annex the front row but they had varied fortunes after the session resumed with just 4 minutes remaining as Andy managed to end up in the Paddock gravel, fortunately without damage, while Chris chopped 0.13” off his previous best on the final lap. George Osborne had already assured himself of the inside of row 2 with 56.244” with, alongside him a very impressive Ray Foley (56.864”). Vincent Dubois was resigned to being on row 3 but expected to race better than he had qualified. Of the Twin Sparks only Andy Inman managed to improve his time after the break. The class pole was still held by Dave Messenger as the cars returned to the paddock with Simon Cresswell showing good speed only 0.152” slower. Andrew Bourke might well have stayed an impressive third while James Browning was pleased to outrun Tom Hill. Andy Hancock though was disappointed to be down in 6th ahead of Jon Billingsley, Gethin Llewellyn, Andy Inman and Stacey Dennis. The top 12 cars in the class all lapped under the minute mark and within 1.2” of each other which boded well for some close racing during the afternoon.

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This was probably the largest crowd we have raced in front of for some time, and everyone was keen to put on a good show for them. As the lights went out, it was George Osborne who grabbed the initiative while Chris Snowdon and Andy Robinson were slower away, Chris suffering from a slipping clutch. By contrast, both Vincent Dubois and Ray Foley made excellent starts and it was Vincent who slotted into second place on the initial lap, chasing George hard and passing him into the lead on lap 2. A 2” gap had already opened up by the time Andy Robinson arrived with Chris Snowdon another second back with Power Trophy leader, Ray Foley, holding on well in front of Keith Waite and Ron Davidson. When the Twin Spark flag dropped, Dave Messenger was another to get away well, Simon Cresswell keeping Tom Hill at bay with Andy Hancock and James Browning next in line. It was clear that the 75s were not going to be able to hold onto the 156 Turbo but by the end of his second lap, Andy Robinson was starting to get into his stride in the 3.8 156 and starting to close on George Osborne. With three Power Trophy cars ahead of him, Dave Messenger was wondering if he could put one of them – Ron Davidson’s 164 – between himself and the pursuing Simon Cresswell although Simon was being pushed hard by Andy Hancock.

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Lap 4 saw Andy Robinson power past George Osborne and then, a lap later, take over the lead from Vincent Dubois although he wasn’t able to pull away, the gap staying under a second until lap 10 when it was clear that Vincent had a problem and fell back behind Chris Snowdon who had been running 4th, some four seconds behind. By lap 5, Dave Messenger had disposed of Ron Davidson, leaving Simon Cresswell and Tom Hill frustratingly stuck and with a revitalised challenge from Andy Hancock and James Browning. Gethin Llewellyn and Stacey Dennis had both been well in touch and the next group consisted of Mike Tydeman, Jon Billingsley, Joshua Lambert, and Mark Hope, the latter having his best run yet in the 145. Tom Hill and Simon Cresswell both seemed to lose patience on lap 7, Tom seeing a gap at Clearways, pushing Simon across into Ron Davidson, the orange 156 then spearing off onto the grass on the inside of the corner before re-joining, having dropped behind Gethin Llewellyn, Stacey Dennis, Mike Tydeman and Jon Billingsley in the class. Ron Davidson was also delayed which meant that Tom Hill had a clear road ahead to Dave Messenger leading the Twin Spark Cup, if not entirely serenely, as his 156 was showing odd steering characteristics.

Vincent Dubois’ race looked like coming to an end as he slowed towards the end lap 10 with an engine management problem, leaving Andy Robinson to breath a sigh of relief as he now had a 3” advantage over the flying George Osborne with Chris Snowdon a further 2” back suffering from power steering and alternator problems. Ray Foley was now 4th, still leading the Power Trophy from Keith Waite who had kept comfortably himself ahead of Twin Sparks while Ron Davidson had had a visit briefly to the Druids gravel. Dave Messenger was doing exactly what he needed to win the Twin Spark Cup but Tom Hill still had to keep his eyes on the mirrors for Andy Hancock and James Browning. There was a small success that showed up on the timing screens on lap 14 when Jeremy Chilton broke the minute barrier for the first time!

Andy Robinson wasn’t pulling away from George Osborne and, if anything the reverse was happening through the traffic for a lap or two. Then, with only three laps to go, the gap came right down and it seemed that Andy had a problem which turned out to be a misfire or fuel surge. At the end of lap 20 it was 0.472” and George was beginning to scent a possible win. However, Andy managed to speed up over the last couple of laps to cross the line just 0.553” to the good. Chris Snowdon managed to start lapping very quickly at the end – including the fastest lap of the race in 54.842” – cutting the gap to George to 1.5” at the flag, all three (plus Vincent) having given us some excellent Modified entertainment and a happy podium for commentator Chris Dawes to interview.

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Ray Foley and Keith Waite led home the Power Trophy, 4th and 5th overall, but Dave Messenger was under pressure right to the end, leading Tom Hill home by just 0.587” to obvious joy from inside the cockpit. Only 2.3” back from Tom was Andy Hancock, pursued across the line by James Browning. Gethin Llewellyn was a strong 5th in class, but next home, Simon Cresswell, was disappointed to have thrown away a possible second place. Mike Tydeman, Jon Billingsley, Joshua Lambert and Stacey Dennis completed the top 10 but Stacey had a gearbox problem and this would have to be fixed before race 2. A great little battle between Mark Hope, Jeremy Chilton and Andrew Fulcher was resolved in that order. Apart from Vincent Dubois, the only other retirement was Andy Inman with a puncture on lap 1.

Race 1 Results

Winners
Modified Andy Robinson
Power Trophy Ray Foley
Twin Spark Cup Dave Messenger

View full results

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During the break between our two races, we watched past double champion Ted Pearson in action with his well known – and quick – Alfasud Ti in the allcomers race which also featured ex Alfa 2000 Spider racer Ian Jacobs in a Fiat 124 Spider and John Griffhs (147). There were lots of people who found their way down to visit us – including Phil Ward (Editor of “Auto Italia”), Emma Karwacki (2011 Champion), Nick Suiter (used to drive a GTV6), Chris and Jan Healey, Nick Anderson, Ken Carrington, AROC Magazine Editor Lis Whitehair, Paul Fasey and Chas de Lacey (both past Alfasud racers), Mark James (remember him at the wheel of a 33 battling with Mark Ticehurst?), Philip Clay (Alfashop) and John Day who used to run Lancias in the Auto Italia championship and has a workshop at Brands.

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There was quite a lot of work to do before the cars came out for race 2. Dave Messenger’s 156 needed two replacement driveshafts, Chris Snowdon had to sort out his power steering and alternator while Roger Evans was trying to get to the bottom of Andy Robinson’s misfire. As already mentioned, the Bianco camp also had to fit a new gearbox to Stacey Dennis’s 147. At 4.20 the cars assembled on the grid, with Andy Robinson on pole with George Osborne alongside him. Dave Messenger and Tom Hill led the Twin Spark ranks. As before, Chris Snowdon was slow away, George Osborne racing off into the lead pursued by Andy Robinson and a fast starting Keith Waite who managed to keep Chris at bay until the run to Graham Hill Bend. Dave Messenger and Tom Hill immediately took their expected positions at the head of the Twin Spark Cup with Andy Hancock, James Browning and Simon Cresswell next in line. Stacey Dennis had made one of her best starts and was harrying Simon. Another to have got away well was Mark Hope who arrived at Druids 8th in class. Vincent Dubois didn’t take the start after reckoning all was not well on the green flag lap.

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At the end of the first lap, George Osborne had established a 1” lead over Andy Robinson with Chris Snowdon temporarily trailing a further 2.2” back with the three Power Trophy cars running together. Still clear of the battling Dave Messenger and Tom Hill. Andy Hancock had held on to his third place with James Browning, Simon Cresswell and Stacey Dennis next in line. By the end of lap 2, Andy Robinson looked as though he was preparing to take the lead but couldn’t quite manage it at Druids as Chris Snowdon started to join in the fun. Lap 3 there, they were even closer but Andy still couldn’t find a way past and the following lap saw George Osborne take advantage of the squabble behind him to pull away slightly. Leading the Power Trophy cars, Ray Foley found himself some free air in fourth overall while Dave Messenger at the head of the Twin Sparks used Keith Waite as a buffer between himself and Tom Hill, leaving Andy Hancock to deal with Ron Davidson.

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Everything changed on lap 5 as Andy Robinson suddenly slowed just after Graham Hill Bend with steam coming from under the bonnet and pulled off. But there was liquid on the track which immediately caught out several drivers including Stacey Dennis, undoing all her good work, Mark Hope who went rushing across the grass and Andy Inman. Next time around it was Tom Hill who took to the grass at speed and Andy Hancock also had a major wobble, losing several places. When all that had shaken out, we still had George Osborne leading the race 1.5 clear of Chris Snowdon with Ray Foley 3rd and Dave Messenger and Tom Hill 4th and 5th, although there was now a 4.2” gap between the leading TSC cars that Tom was going to find it hard to close. James Browning had dropped behind Ron Davidson and now had Simon Cresswell and Andy Hancock queuing up behind him while Stacey Dennis was back racing with Mike Tydeman and Joshua Lambert.

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Chris Snowdon now had the bit between his teeth as they started to lap the slower TSC cars and it was a 75 formation as he and George Osborne crossed the line 0.8” apart at the end of lap 9. With 12 laps completed it was down to 0.4” as they weaved their way through a wall of slower cars onto the pit straight. A lap later, Chris got the chance he wanted as he came alongside George into Clearways as they were bottled up behind Andy Hancock and Simon Cresswell, going down the inside and taking the lead for the first time in the day. Not, let it be said that George was giving up as the two cars lapped close together but you had the feeling that once Chris was in front, that was where he would stay. Further back, Dave Messenger had establish a 10” advantage over Tom Hill by the end of lap 13. Tom, though, knew he had banged the bottom of his 156 hard went he went off on the grass and was keeping an eye open for any overheating or oil pressure problems. James Browning had been pushing him extremely hard but misjudged Tom and Clearways on lap 12, taking to the grass and gravel before rejoining behind Andy Hancock. Keith Waite was missing 3rd gear and couldn’t pull away from Simon Cresswell or catch Ron Davidson while Mike Tydeman and Stacey Dennis were engaged in their own private battle behind Gethin Llewellyn.

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Sadly the race came to a premature end when James Browning spun into the back of Andy Hancock at Druids, leaving Gethin Llewellyn with no room to avoid Andy, the result scattering debris and leaving the track partially impassable. With so little time to run, the red flags were swiftly shown and the race result declared at 17 laps, five short of the 22 achieved earlier in the day. A delighted Chris Snowdon was adjudged the winner by 0.4” from an equally happy George Osborne, particularly as he took fastest lap in race 2, with Ray Foley a smiling third, reassured that he could now start and finish races again. Dave Messenger came home an excellent 4th, the only other runner not to be lapped. Ron Davidson in 5th place had driven his best race so far in the 164 (and can’t wait for his 3.2 engine!) finishing ahead of Tom Hill, Keith Waite, Simon Cresswell (third in class) and Mike Tydeman who Stacey Dennis just couldn’t find a way past. Nonetheless her 5th place was an excellent result, coming home a couple of seconds ahead of Joshua Lambert. Not to be overlooked was the battle that went on between Andrew Fulcher, Andy Inman, Jeremy Chilton and the unlucky Mark Hope that ended in that order. James Browning was later excluded from the results.

Race 2 Results

Winners
Modified Chris Snowdon
Power Trophy Ray Foley
Twin Spark Cup Dave Messenger

View full results

Words can’t always relay all the action out there, so if you have a chance – and the time! – to look at all the various in-car videos, please do so as it will give you a good idea of how competitive and close it can all be, and how talented our drivers are. My thanks go to Dave Messenger, Chris Snowdon, Stacey Dennis, Andy Hancock and Keith Waite for their contributions not forgetting Matt Daly for his excellent “Highlights”. Paul Stone and Katy Read provided us with their usual great still shots while Keith Ford took those at the prize giving.

We were happy to have Bryony Snowdon, Chris’s daughter, to present the trophies, plus Andy Hancock for the “Grove & Dean” Driver of the Day award which went to George Osborne. Tom Hill didn’t manage to wrap up the championship but came away with an increased points gap over Simon Cresswell – 79 points with 88 still up for grabs at Donington next weekend and Rockingham in September.

Points

Updated Standings

Our thanks to MSVR’s David Willey and Joe East for all their help during the day. They tell us that they plan to repeat the event next year, so I think there is more than a good chance that we shall be invited again! As always we are extremely grateful to the marshals, including our ex racer Steve Fox who is now a Safety Vehicle chief, and the medical team. In particular those who were involved in dealing with Andrew Bourke so swiftly. We are pleased to report that Andrew was in good shape when we talked to him the following day even if somewhat amazed at the publicity the accident had generated. See you at Donington……………

Michael Lindsay