Although the annual Festival Italia event is not solely a race meeting, the track action is its centre piece and the bonus for us racers is that people who may have come to the event out of general interest or on a group or family day out have some of their attention focused on racing they might not previously have known about. That in turn might result in getting them interested in a more active way. The fact is undeniably that we put on two fantastic races for the public to enjoy. In particular, the second race was close, competitive racing at its best – the Clerk of the Course specifically asking me to congratulate all our drivers on a brilliant display of close, competitive racing without any contact or incidents for him to adjudicate over. Say no more!
All 19 cars waited in the Assembly Area at around 10.00 for qualifying. It was overcast with a brisk breeze blowing, but no rain forecast so we were confident of good conditions to determine grid positions for the first race.
As usual Tom Hill was first in the queue to get on track at the start of the session closely followed on this occasion by Dave Messenger, urged on no doubt by the memory of a brace of Twin Spark Cup wins here two years ago. It seemed close between them initially but Dave’s 3rd fastest lap time of 59.052 time set on his second lap was comprehensively beaten by Tom’s 58.415, which had the Twin Spark pole in the bag on the same lap. So, who could get closest? The unexpected answer was: Cip Nistorica, with a blistering 58.693 on his 14th lap. Cip’s early laps were steady and consistent but in the middle of the session he got down into the 58s and was rewarded with a front row slot on the Twin Spark grid. Impressive!
For the first 7 laps of qualifying Andrew Fulcher’s lap times were well off the pace but he then did a 59.250 to show that he was warming up and after having his 11th lap disallowed for exceeding track limits his following lap time of 58.695 was good enough for 3rd place on the Twin Spark grid. His times then trailed off again for the remainder of the session, so was this a fluke? We would soon find out…
Simon Cresswell had, by his standards, been enjoying a moderate season to date, but his 58.756 on his 14th lap appeared to signal a return to form and he would line up 4th on the Twin Spark grid. He was closely followed by Dave Messenger 5th with a 58.786 on his 10th lap, Richard Ford 6th with a 58.818 on his 9th lap, and Riccardo Losselli 7th with a 58.915 on his 8th lap. Avni Ropica was making his debut in the Championship and was into the 59s quite early in the session; he pitted after 6 laps but rejoined and worked his way down to 59.329 on his 10th lap. He was a little disappointed with that but nevertheless it was a very respectable time in the circumstances. It has become clear that most drivers were setting their best times in the middle of the qualifying session – few were improving their times late on, but Kristian Leith was an exception; a series of impressively consistent laps in the 59s was topped off by a 59.417 on his penultimate lap to take 9th spot on his Twin Spark section of the grid.
Mike Tydeman suffered a fractured collar bone and some fractured ribs in a motorbike ‘spill’ at Oulton a few weeks ago and was hoping that he could settle into his seat and harness without too much discomfort; his 59.772 in his newly repainted blue 156 was therefore a brave and commendable effort and reflected the level of his commitment to racing. The Twin Spark field was rounded off by Mel Freeman, Nick Anderson and Stacey Dennis. Mel just broke the 1m barrier with a lap of 59.959 and was disappointed not to be in the 58s. Nick was having his first outing of the season in his lovely yellow Spider and posted a best time of 1:01.750 on his final lap. On seeing the times he good naturedly acknowledged that there was room for improvement! Finally, it was surprising to see Stacey Dennis at the bottom of the time sheets, but on her 4th lap she buried the car in the Paddock Hill Bend gravel – the first time she had ever beached the car (welcome to the club Stacey!) – so she never had the opportunity to improve her 3rd lap time of 1:05.334.
The overall closeness of the Twin Spark cars’ lap times was partly explained by the shortness of the lap on the Indy circuit; nonetheless it was clear that some very competitive racing was in prospect.
The Power Trophy runners meanwhile were experiencing a few trials and tribulations. In the Assembly area a bolt was discovered in one of Ray Foley’s tyres and he had to drive back to the Paddock where Gethin Llewellyn helped him to change the wheel, enabling him to join the qualifying session about 1/3 of the way through. The pressure had wound him up so much that he put the car on pole with a lap of 56.557, over a second clear of the rest. The McFie brothers had been experiencing some mechanical woes of one sort or another recently but qualifying went okay for the Abarths, Chris posting a 57.536 to go 2nd overall and Simon a 57.594 to go 3rd. There was cautious optimism for the race and they were looking forward to getting among the Alfas around them. Scott Austin, however, was experiencing tyre problems. An alarming high speed wobble forced him to pit after 14 laps to investigate: one of his slicks was blistered all over and clearly not fit for racing, and a shortage of spares caused him to improvise a solution with treaded tyres on the rear for the first race. He wasn’t sure how that was going to work out but his best lap of 58.144 saw him take 4th spot on the grid.
Chris Snowdon and Keith Waite were also having difficulties. Chris’s red GTV6 looked superb and a credit to Chris’s preparation, but he only managed 4 laps before slowing with evidence of a problem and returning to the paddock. Examination of the car revealed a cracked clutch housing, indicating that a major repair would be necessary, making him doubtful for the race; however, he set to work with a will to try and sort it out in time. Keith Waite meanwhile managed 9 laps in his 75 and achieved a best time of 58.715. However, an electronic failure – subsequently traced to a faulty £60 sensor – rendered him a non-starter for the race – a great shame.
Chris Snowdon spent the entire 90 minutes between qualifying and the summons to the assembly area underneath the GTV6 trying to effect the necessary repair; happily he succeeded and was able to take the start at the back of the Power Trophy grid. Chris McFie, however, experienced a recurrence of the misfortune that has plagued the Southgate team recently. He came into the pits with a problem at the end of the green flag lap, and a collapsed wheel bearing would render him a non-starter.
When the lights went out Ray Foley was slow away and dropped to the back of the Power Trophy group as they entered Paddock Hill Bend. However, he managed to get back past Scott Austin on the opening lap. As the 4 cars crossed the start/finish line Simon McFie was inches ahead of Chris Snowdon followed by Ray and Scott, but Chris had got through into the lead by the time they entered Paddock Hill Bend.
Strangely, the Twin Spark race was started on a green flag rather than the Union Jack – which the Clerk of the Course later acknowledged was a mistake – but Tom Hill got away well to take the lead, with Andrew Fulcher getting ahead of Cip Nistorica going into Paddock to go second, followed by Cip, Dave Messenger, Simon Cresswell and Richard Ford. Disappointingly for Cip, the latter 3 had also passed him by the end of the lap, with Cip being then followed by Kristian Leith, Mike Tydeman, Riccardo Losselli, Nick Anderson (a good opening lap), Mel Freeman, Avni Ropica and Stacey Dennis. Avni had been caught out at the start, looking for the flag on the lights gantry rather than trackside, and had then run wide onto the kerbs at Paddock trying to make up lost ground, losing places as a result.
At the front, Ray Foley had passed Simon McFie to go 2nd and was now right behind Chris Snowdon, with Simon 3rd and Scott Austin holding station in 4th. Lap after lap Chris and Ray then circulated close together with only a tenth of a second or two between them – Simon joining the scrap briefly on lap 7 – until lap 16 when Ray got a better exit out of Clark Curve and passed the start/finish line 2/100ths ahead. However, Chris had the better line into Paddock and as Ray tried to go round the outside of him into the corner he got on the slippery stuff off the racing line and spun. Fortunately he stayed clear of the gravel and quickly rejoined, but frustrated that his challenge for the race win appeared to have gone.
Scott Austin meanwhile had had an adventure of his own; he had just passed the start/finish line at the beginning of lap 10 when one of his front tyres exploded spectacularly, leaving huge chunks of rubber flying all over the track and winding themselves around one of his drive shafts. He was flat out at the time and the car wobbled this way and that as he fought to get it under control – happily he did so and was able to pull safely off the circuit on the inside of Paddock to retire. Thus, at the chequered flag Chris, Ray and Simon finished 1-2-3 overall and in the Power Trophy class.
The Twin Spark Cup battle meanwhile had intensified. Although it was close, Tom Hill held the lead for the first 4 laps, but disaster struck on lap 5. The engine cut out on the Cooper Straight and he coasted to a halt – it transpired that the TDC sensor had failed causing the ECU to shut off the ignition, finito benito Tom’s race sadly. Two corners later on lap 6, Riccardo Losselli and Mike Tydeman had a coming together at Clearways, resulting in Riccardo pitting and eventually rejoining 3 laps down, and Mike sadly being unable to continue due to broken rear suspension.
Tom’s retirement left Andrew Fulcher in the lead with Dave Messenger close behind, followed by Simon Cresswell, Richard Ford, Kristian Leith, Cip Nistorica, Avni Ropica (who had picked up places since his first lap misfortunes), Mel Freeman, Nick Anderson and Stacey Dennis. Bianco had worked hard on Stacey’s car to remove all the gravel after her qualifying indiscretion, but it was down on power and she was circulating well off the pace. It later transpired that the gravel had broken a tooth on the timing belt causing the engine not to run cleanly. She finished the race but well down with only the delayed Riccardo Losselli behind her.
From lap 6 through to lap 17 the Twin Spark running order didn’t change. At the front Dave Messenger was initially close behind Andrew Fulcher but around lap 11 Andrew began to pull steadily further ahead, widening the gap to around 5 seconds by lap 15. Behind Dave the pack was in close order but Richard Ford was getting noticeably closer to Simon Cresswell, moving alongside into Druids on lap 11 before contact at the hairpin. The positions were maintained for the next few laps until Richard briefly moved ahead at the start of lap 17 following a move around the outside into Paddock Hill bend. Simon, however, managed to regain the place having the inside line through Druids. Richard was alongside again at the end of lap 17 and ready to make a similar move to overtake.
The outcome, though, resembled Ray Foley’s move on Chris Snowdon – Simon held the racing line and Richard, in trying again to round the outside, ran wide and through the gravel and out again – no mean feat in itself given the depth of the Paddock gravel trap – and lost places to Kristian, Cip and Avni as a result. The order then stayed the same to the finish, although Richard yet again had the consolation of fastest lap (58.734 on lap 3). Andrew won by nearly 7 seconds from Dave with Simon a further 5 seconds behind, just pipping Kristian by 1/10th to take the third podium place.
Race 1 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
The casualties from Race 1 were all able to take the start of Race 2. The Southgate team found a spare wheel bearing for Chris McFie’s car – it was a bit old and rusty but they cleaned it up and fitted it and hoped it would last the race (it did). Stacey Dennis’s car had a new timing belt, Mike Tydeman’s rear suspension was repaired, Richard Ford needed his tracking sorting out and his car and Riccardo Losselli’s each had a new helping of gaffa tape. Scott Austin had conjured up a tyre solution to replace the one that exploded and delaminated. Tom Hill’s car had a new TDC sensor and was running well again, although he would have to start from the back of the grid. Race 2 proved to be a superb race and a testament to the skill and competitiveness of our drivers!
At the start, both grids made even starts. Chris Snowdon lead the Power Trophy field into Paddock and at the end of lap 1 held a narrow lead over Ray Foley, with Chris McFie, Scott Austin and Simon McFie in close order behind. For the first few laps Ray held the gap to Chris to under a second but on lap 8 he had a wobble on the exit to Druids and the gap widened to 3.6s. After that Chris was able to extend his lead to around 14s till he eased off towards the end and it reduced to 8.5s at the flag. Scott Austin was right behind the two Abarths for lap after lap but at half distance, in closely watching Simon, took his eye off Chris and ran into the back of him, much to his embarrassment. He gave the place back straight away and both continued, though Simon had now moved into 3rd place ahead of Chris. The order then stayed the same to the flag.
When the Union Jack dropped to send the Twin Sparks on their way, Dave Messenger got a characteristically fast start and led the field into Paddock. He was still in the lead at the end of lap 1, followed by Andrew Fulcher, Kristian Leith, Cip Nistorica, Simon Cresswell, Avni Ropica, Richard Ford, Mike Tydeman, Tom Hill (already picking up places), Stacey Dennis, Mel Freeman, Riccardo Losselli and Nick Anderson. The order was the same at the end of lap 2, but on lap 3 things began to change. Andrew Fulcher’s pressure on Dave Messenger paid dividends and he took the lead on the Cooper Straight, then began gradually – by a couple of tenths each lap – to pull away. Further down the order Simon Cresswell squeezed past Cip Nistorica to move into 4th place and Richard Ford passed Avni Ropica to move into 5th in class. Tom Hill had overtaken 4 cars on lap 1 but then found Mike Tydeman a tougher nut to crack. The pressure eventually told on lap 5 and Tom was through into 7th.
As Andrew Fulcher drew steadily clear of the battle behind him, Dave Messenger was hanging on to second place under heavy pressure from Kristian Leith, Simon Cresswell and, by lap 8, Richard Ford who had passed Cip Nistorica, running nose to tail behind him. The pressure from Kristian on Dave was intense with Dave hanging onto the place by the slenderest of margins, but all of a sudden on lap 9 Simon Cresswell pounced on an opening to pass both of them and move into 2nd place. Dave was now hanging onto 3rd from Kristian, Richard, Cip and Tom Hill who had joined the battle after getting past Avni. Sadly for Cip, things went wrong on lap 10 when he spun exiting Druids, undoing all his good work in the thick of the pack, and he dropped to second last with only Nick Anderson behind him. It was a disappointing end to a performance that deserved better: Cip is starting to show good pace and just needs to eliminate the odd mistake that is costing him better results.
Ahead of Cip, Mike Tydeman, Stacey Dennis, Riccardo Losselli and Mel Freeman had passed the spinning Avni Ropica at Paddock and were running 7th to 10th in class and in close order but each unable to mount a challenge to the car in front and they would finish in that order. Avni caught the spin well but still dropped to 12th in class behind Cip which is where he would finish.
At the front, Simon had pulled clear of the battle for 3rd but remained 6 or so seconds behind Andrew and couldn’t narrow the gap. Dave Messenger was holding onto 3rd under heavy pressure from Kristian, Richard and Tom in a close 4-way battle and by lap 12 it was very difficult to predict how things would end up. However, Richard and then Tom would get past Kristian on laps 13 and 14 respectively before the order settled down again for a few laps. Finally, Richard squeezed past Dave on the Cooper Straight on the penultimate lap with a characteristically determined performance to grab the final podium place behind Andrew and Simon. Kristian Leith regained 5th spot on the line from Tom, with Mike Tydeman, Stacey Dennis and Riccardo Losselli close behind having gained sufficient ground over the last few laps that the gap between Dave in 4th and Riccardo in 9th was around a second and a half at the finish!
It had been an excellent race: close, clean and exciting, and a superb advertisement for the Championship.
Race 2 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
View the latest standings
Now we move on to the Rockingham Motor Speedway on 15th and 16th September for rounds 13 and 14. As Rockingham has been sold and will cease to be a motor racing circuit at the end of the season this will be a last chance to race on the banking there. It’s a great pity that it is closing – “The broken dreams of Rockingham Motor Speedway” as the Northamptonshire Telegraph reported it – and it will also put more pressure on the other UK circuits. Let’s hope that another good grid and a weekend of exciting Alfa racing will at least help to give it a worthy farewell. Get those entries in!