Well what a fabulous day it was! 30 cars on the HITEK Alfa Romeo Championship grid – the first time for some years we’ve achieved this number – and 11 different models on track.
We had the biggest grids of the day, a wide variety of cars, top quality racing for the spectators and compliments from the officials. The weather was fine, and with the HRDC historic Alfas sharing the lower paddock with us it was a great occasion all round for Alfa racing. Autosport magazine did us proud too, making us the highlight of their report on the meeting and giving Barry McMahon star billing.
As the cars waited in the Assembly area for our qualifying session, scheduled for 10.30, there was a last minute alarm as 2 drivers had not signed on correctly but this was sorted out with the help of MSV officials. Qualifying was not straightforward for two main reasons. Firstly with 30 cars on a 1.2 mile circuit it was crowded and therefore not easy to get a clear lap and secondly there was a red flag after 5 laps followed by a 17-minute wait in the pit lane before the cars could rejoin the circuit. The unfortunate parties in the incident that caused the red flag were firstly Paul Webster and then Dave Messenger. Paul has had an unbelievably bad run of luck with his ex-Ray Foley 147 GTA a car that has been beset with engine problems over a period of time. After yet more remedial work on the car it was agonising to see a huge spurting cloud of oil and water spewing out of the back of the car on the Brabham Straight and spinning Paul into the gravel at Paddock Hill Bend as he braked on the fluids for the corner. Dave Messenger and Graham Seager were close behind Paul; Graham just managed to wrestle his car around the corner (no doubt helped by his experience as a rally driver) but Dave went straight on into the tyre wall near the top of the hill.
The marshals and the recovery people did an excellent job and the remaining cars were able to continue the session. With a few exceptions the quickest lap times were set after the red flag interlude and heading the field as expected was Championship leader Barry McMahon in his lightning quick 156 Turbo. His best times were recorded in his final 4 laps with a quickest time of 52.040, easily outpacing the rest of the field and it seemed that he was likely to be unbeatable barring an uncharacteristic driver error or a mechanical problem. Time would tell. Scott Austin is a former Brands race winner in his 155, getting the better of Graham Seager’s then-supercharged GTV in a thrilling dice in 2020 and he was second quickest here with a best time of 55.549. Graham Seager’s 56.031 on his final qualifying lap propelled him into 3rd on the grid, an impressive 4/10ths clear of Brands specialist and Power Trophy class leader George Osborne. However, one suspected that it would be closer than that between them come the races…
On his return to racing this season Andy Page has been unobtrusively increasing his pace in his Giulietta 116 Turbo and a best lap of 56.723 saw him record a fine 5th quickest time overall, narrowly ahead of Paul Plant in Barry McMahon’s Giulietta 1750 tbi. It would be intriguing to see the two cars with the same model name but manufactured some 40 years apart side by side on the 3rd row of the grid with only 2/1000ths of a second between them! Dave Messenger and Andy Inman were next in their 156 GTAs, both in the 57s. Dave managed a 57.139 on his 4th lap – quickest of all the Power Trophy runners at the time – before his session came to an untimely and premature end, and Andy worked his way down to an solid 57.954 and showing signs of a return to his best form. The eternally young Keith Waite was next in 57.972, his 75’s recent engine rebuild providing Keith with a noticeable increase in pace and sounding superb to boot, just ahead of the ever improving Gabs Iaccarino with a best time of 58.023 as he continues to learn the UK circuits in his GT.
The Southgate Racing team’s Fiat Punto Abarths were making a welcome return to the Championship in a season where budget restrictions have severely limited their track time. Simon and Chris McFie being joined by former Fiat racer James Levy in a 3rd car, James returning to the UK circuits after a decade away. Simon just pipped Chris by 1/10th with James a further 8/10ths behind. Simon Hampton was making a welcome return to the Championship in his 33, sharing the car on this occasion with Doug Clarke, doing one race each. Simon was the quicker with a best time of 59.594, while Doug recorded a cautious 1:05.065 in the first half of the session before handing the car over to Simon. The final two in the Modified/Power Trophy classes were Paul Webster and Tom Waite, the unfortunate Paul recording a time of 1:00.820 on the lap before his engine blew. Tom had had a 16-valve boxer engine fitted to his 33 – looking lovely in its green livery – but due to running problems had had to take it out again and refit the less competitive 8-valve engine but he was nevertheless pleased to be back on the race track again.
A 14-car Twin Spark Cup field was a superb entry and not only that but they were all beautifully turned out – a tribute to the Bianco team and to the independent preparers Andy Winterton and Jon Tortolani, as well as the Ford brothers (who normally look after their own cars between race meetings) and Motus One. Three seconds separated the whole field in qualifying heralding some close exciting racing. The Bianco team had literally worked night and day to re-shell and rebuild Andrew Bourke’s 156 after his unfortunate accident at Snetterton, an incredible effort. Andrew looked back to his top form early in the session but then, put off by the traffic and the red flag delay, he didn’t quite get back into his stride and dropped down the order to 6th in class by the end with a best lap of 58.917. His times were surpassed first by Simon Cresswell, then by Jon Billingsley and finally by Richard Ford who set the class pole with a huge effort on his final lap in 58.462, splitting the McFie brothers’ Abarths which is, to be fair, an almost impossible feat in itself! Jon Billingsley was a close second in 58.482 and Simon Cresswell a fine 3rd quickest in 58.638. Tom Herbert was 4th in 58.787 but late in the session he was trying a bit too hard and ran wide and autocrossed through the gravel at Paddock – the session was halted for good this time as his car was in a dangerous position and couldn’t be moved as a tyre had come off its rim. Former Brands double class winner Andrew Fulcher was next in his iconic Filippo Berio-liveried car, a tenth clear of Andrew Bourke in 6th.
James Ford was 7th quickest Twin Spark and Stacey Dennis would be alongside him on the 4th row, the final driver to break the 1-minute barrier with a best time of 59.935. Andy Winterton was next in his second race meeting in the Championship with a very respectable time of 1:00.461, just ahead of Steve O’Brien, returning after missing Croft and Snetterton. Tom Williams was having his first Alfa race and performed extremely well despite his session being truncated after 8 laps. With a time of 1:00.752 he would line up on the inside of row 6 with Emma Karwacki alongside him, another driver returning to the track after a long break. Finally, Jon Tortolani at last got a solid reliable run in his 156 without any mechanical gremlins and newcomer Adam Heit was the final qualifier and far from disgraced with a best time of 1:01.986.
The grid for our first race had initially been issued as a single grid mingling all the classes together. A quick call to the Clerk of the Course confirmed that it was being reissued. It was indeed reissued but the assembly area marshals had not noticed this so there was some consternation before the situation was sorted out. Then a shower of rain threatened the wellbeing of the cars on slicks but it stopped as suddenly as it had started without wetting the track surface. Thankfully that was the end of the precipitation for the rest of the day. The front end of Dave Messenger’s car had been patched up by the Darnells team to get him onto the grid but sadly Paul Webster’s weekend had come to a premature end and he could not take the start.
When the lights went out for the Modified/Power Trophy start there was a good clean start and at the end of lap 1 Barry McMahon had a 2.4 second lead over George Osborne in 2nd, followed by Scott Austin, Graham Seager, Paul Plant, Dave Messenger and the rest. When the flag dropped for the Twin Spark start, poleman Richard Ford was caught slightly on his heels and Jon Billingsley made an excellent getaway from the outside of the front row to lead the field through Paddock. At the end of lap 1 Jon led from Richard, Simon Cresswell, Andrew Fulcher, Andrew Bourke and the rest of the field. On lap 2 Emma Karwacki passed Steve O’Brien to go 10th in class and on lap 3 Jon Tortolani moved up a place at Tom Williams’ expense. Emma – clearly getting into her stride now – passed Andy Winterton to make up another place. Simon Cresswell had been driving extremely well in 3rd place in class ahead of Andrew Fulcher, who was pressing him strongly and on lap 6 there was an unfortunate collision between them at Druids which elevated Andrew to 3rd and dropped Simon back to 5th behind Andrew Bourke. Having reviewed the incident the Clerk of the Course deemed it a racing incident and no penalties were imposed but it was particularly frustrating for Simon who had been driving so well. Although the field was pretty tightly bunched there were no further changes to the Twin Spark order till lap 10 when Tom Herbert retired his 156 from 6th in class. His car had been exuding a thin cloud of oily smoke and he elected to call it a day to locate the problem.
At the front of the field Barry McMahon increased his lead by some 3 seconds a lap till lap 5 when it stabilised somewhat at around 11 seconds as he undertook the tricky task of lapping back markers on the congested circuit. Scott Austin was still 2nd, 1 second ahead of Graham Seager who was in turn around 4 seconds clear of Paul Plant’s Giulietta, and behind Paul at 3-second intervals were Andy Page, Dave Messenger and the duelling Abarths of the McFie brothers who were putting on their customary entertaining show of dicing inches apart. They were a few seconds clear of Andy Inman, Keith Waite, Gabs Iaccarino and James Levy’s Abarth, while Doug Clarke and Tom Waite had dropped back through the Twin Sparks to the rear of the field. On lap 12 Scott Austin got off line lapping cars, picked up rubbish on his tyres and dropped to 4th behind George Osborne and Graham Seager, and on the same lap there was an unfortunate incident which brought out the safety car. As Stacey Dennis exited Graham Hill Bend she felt the car slide sideways, she corrected it but unknown to her a bolt had sheared in the rear suspension. She got through Surtees but as she started to turn right into McLaren her car snapped into a spin at the tail end of which the car drifted backwards towards the outside of the circuit. Behind her Dave Messenger was about to lap her and Barry McMahon was about to lap Dave. Barry just got through unscathed but Dave had nowhere to go as Stacey’s car inadvertently blocked the only space where he could get through. A heavy collision inevitably followed, and after 4 laps under the safety car the 2 cars were retrieved from the circuit, both drivers being unscathed thankfully, and racing recommenced.
In the Twin Sparks Jon Billingsley had fortuitously got George Osborne – who was a lap ahead – between himself and Richard Ford under the Safety Car. Both drivers had broken Paul Plant’s long standing lap record, Richard on lap 6, but on lap 4 Jon had achieved something no Twin Spark Cup driver had ever done before in a race: break the 58-second barrier with a superb lap in 57.998 seconds. At the end Richard was lapping slightly quicker of the two but Jon was able to claim his second class win of the season. Andrew Fulcher took a fine 3rd place ahead of Andrew Bourke, James Ford (who had passed Simon Cresswell on lap 14), Simon, Emma Karwacki, Andy Winterton, Steve O’Brien, Tom Williams, Jon Tortolani and Adam Heit.
I sometimes use the word ‘serene’ to describe Barry McMahon’s progress at the front of the overall field but serene it wasn’t at times: narrowly avoiding the Stacey Dennis/Dave Messenger incident and a long grassy moment down the Brabham Straight lapping cars demonstrated that. Later, before Race 2, I suggested to Barry that he might go for the lap record, a silly idea when I thought about it given the congestion on the circuit. George Osborne took second place, continuing his fine form this season, ahead of Graham Seager in 3rd. Scott Austin maintained 4th place to the flag ahead of Paul Plant; there was then a gap to Andy Page, the McFie brothers, Keith Waite and Gabs Iacccarino, with James Levy, Doug Clarke and Tom Waite concluding the running order.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||George Osborne|
|Twin Spark Cup||Jon Billingsley|
Tom Herbert had traced his oil smoke to a loose clip on an oil pipe and was ready to go again. Stacey’s car had been patched up by Bianco – the right rear corner didn’t look very pretty but they hoped it would suffice, Stacey saying that she would retire the car if it didn’t feel right. Sadly Dave Messenger’s car was too badly damaged to race; Dave has certainly been in the wars lately for reasons largely beyond his control, mainly just a run of bad luck. Meanwhile Andy Inman had fallen off his bike in the paddock between races causing a very nasty gash in his leg. The staff at the Medical Centre cleaned it up and put several butterfly clips in to hold the cut together; Andy was determined to race and bravely did so. Simon Cresswell had decided not to take the start for personal reasons, so 27 cars lined up on the grid.
Both grids made good clean starts, George Osborne getting away in the lead until normal service was resumed as Barry McMahon took over. By the end of lap 1 he had a 1-second lead over George and Graham Seager was noticeably closer to George than in race 1, determined to make a real battle of it for the Power Trophy class win. Scott Austin was 4th , his 155 a second clear of Paul Plant’s Giulietta, in turn ahead of Andy Page, Chris McFie, James Levy, Keith Waite, Andy Inman, Simon McFie, Gabs Iaccarino, Simon Hampton and Tom Waite. At the Twin Spark start Richard Ford got away best this time to lead the field through Paddock and at the end of the lap he still had the lead ahead of Jon Billingsley, Andrew Bourke, Andrew Fulcher, James Ford, Emma Karwacki, Steve O’Brien, Tom Herbert (having already made up 5 places), Jon Tortolani, Andy Winterton, Tom Williams, Stacey Dennis and Adam Heit. At the end of lap 2 Stacey retired her car to the paddock as she had said she would if the handling didn’t feel right. She was followed into retirement by James Levy who pulled into the pits at the end of lap 6 with a mechanical problem; however, this didn’t dim his enthusiasm as he promised to be back racing with us again having really enjoyed himself.
At the front Barry McMahon began to pull away as expected but behind him Graham Seager was giving George Osborne no peace at all. For lap after lap he was never more than 3/10ths shy of George’s rear bumper and on lap 12 he got a slightly better exit from McLaren’s through Clark Curve and with a bold move passed George down the outside on the entry to Paddock. It was a great battle, often side by side all round the circuit and clean as a whistle as one would expect from such good drivers. Sadly for Graham he couldn’t quite hang onto his lead – George re-passed him on lap 15 and held off his challege for the rest of the race to take another fine class win. Behind the duelling pair Scott Austin had been holding station 2-3 seconds back up to lap 13 when his pace gradually dropped away, his car crossing the start/finish line slowly and trickling down Paddock Hill Bend before pulling off the circuit to retire – yet another puncture, and same tyre, same place as at the last meeting at Snetterton. Spooky. His demise left Paul Plant clear in 4th place with several seconds in hand over Andy Page in 5th, positions which they held to the chequered flag. A race-long battle between the McFie brothers’ Abarths and Andy Inman’s 156 GTA was narrowly won by Chris McFie ahead of Simon and Andy, a mere 1.5 seconds covering the 3 of them. Simon Hampton, Gabs Iaccarino, Keith Waite and Tom Waite completed the race in that order, albeit intermingled with Twin Sparks.
There was a battle royal between Richard Ford and Jon Billingsley for the Twin Spark Cup class win. Richard took the lead at the start and held it for 4 laps by which time the two of them had caught up with a 3-way dice between Simon Hampton, Gabs Iaccarino and Keith Waite. Getting past them was another matter however due to their superior straight line speed. At the beginning of lap 5 they had closed right up on them again; Richard got held up – though only momentarily – behind Gabs exiting Paddock but that enabled Jon to get alongside going around the outside at Druids and exiting almost alongside as Richard followed Gabs through, and as Richard took the normal racing line for Graham Hill Bend Jon went for the gap, outbraking Richard and scrambling through on the inside. The more powerful trio drew away again on the Brabham Straight but they caught them up again at Druids and the duelling pair managed to squeeze past Simon Hampton at Graham Hill Bend. It took another couple of laps for them to pass Gabs and Keith with Jon still leading.
As the race went on Jon was able to extend his lead a little but then he came up behind the Andy Inman/McFies battle on lap 19. Jon had normally taken a wide line through McLaren’s but this time he elected to go for the inside line to fend off any challenge from Richard. However, as luck would have it, it was the wrong choice. Just ahead of him Andy Inman had also made the decision to hug the inside and there was no way through; Richard went round the outside, made the pass and held the lead to the flag to take the class win. Great battle, small margins…! Behind them Andrew Bourke held 3rd throughout and maintained it to the flag, seeing off challenges first from Andrew Fulcher then James Ford. It was never a comfortable lead but he maintained it extremely well, finishing some 9 seconds behind the leading pair. James Ford finished 4th in class but Andrew Fulcher dropped back behind Tom Herbert as they finished 6th and 5th respectively. Tom had started from the back of the grid due to his retirement from Race 1 but passed 5 cars on lap 1, Steve O’Brien on lap 3, and Emma Karwacki on lap 5. It took him till lap 16 to pass Andrew Fulcher; he then set off after James Ford but as the chequered flag loomed both drivers recorded their fastest laps enabling James to have a second in hand at the chequered flag. Emma Karwacki finished 7th and Jon Tortolani 8th in class, both having good reasons to be pleased with the results: Emma having shaken off some of the cobwebs after a long lay-off from racing and Jon because his car was at last running well enabling him to focus on his driving performance which showed great promise. Steve O’Brien and Andy Winterton were next ahead of newcomers Tom Williams and Adam Heit who will no doubt be going progressively quicker as they gain experience. The Driver of the Day award went to Jon Billingsley for his 1st and 2nd places and new Twin Spark lap record.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||George Osborne|
|Twin Spark Cup||Richard Ford|
We now have a gap of several weeks till our final 2 rounds at Oulton Park on 9th October but don’t let the stove go cold in the meantime. Oulton Park is a great, great driver’s circuit with gradient changes, flowing corners, hairpins and chicanes. Don’t miss it! Let’s show the world that our big grid at Brands wasn’t just a one-off and round off a great season with some top class racing.