There are some race meetings that you can look back on with mixed emotions and I think that Croft was one of those.
Unsettled weather, excellent racing, and a determination by everyone to keep the show on the road was also tinged with relief at what might have been a disaster in race one on Saturday afternoon. It was looking at Bryan Shrubb’s in-car video of the race, when he spun on cold tyres at the first corner, that showed how serious this could have been. Bryan was left stationary and facing the oncoming Twin Spark field. Only the quick reactions of so many drivers was able to avert a heavy collision, the consquences of which could have been very serious for both drivers and cars – lightweight 33 against Twin Spark 156s are not good odds. Fortunately, the rest of the field passed by and Bryan was able to resume – no doubt shaken but happily unharmed. From the commentary box none of this was easy to see, so for me it was another case of the videos being an invaluable tool when writing race reports. So thank you Bryan Shrubb, Dave Messenger Paul Plant and Richard Stevens – not forgetting Tom Waite’s 15 seconds on his mobile!
The final Croft entry showed that even if some drivers are not able to enter a particular meeting for a variety of reasons, there are others who step in to keep the numbers respectable. Under normal circumstances we would have expected to see Roger Evans and his 147 GTA but he and Joy had gone to Sicily for a well deserved holiday which had been fixed before the Croft date had appeared. Vincent Dubois had also hoped to reappear in his 156 Turbo but work commitments kept him in London, so we shall have to wait for Donington to see him again. And Ray Foley, of course, was still deciding what to do with his 156 GTA that had been badly damaged at Assen. However, we were pleased to welcome back James Nicholls who had been working hard since his Integrale based engine had expired smokily at Oulton to build a new engine, the car again looking very smart and purposeful. He suffered a clutch problem in Friday testing which necessitated some hard graft by the team overnight.
Keith Waite had spent the three weeks since Brands putting his Power Trophy 75 3 litre back to rights, with straightened bodywork, new bonnet and paintwork plus a refreshed V6 engine – a lot of work! Making his first appearance since 2013 was another long standing 75 racer, Chris Oxborough, his supercharged 3 litre being readily identifiable with its white and green striped bodywork.
Having missed Brands, Andy Robinson was back with his 156 3.8 litre, now sporting new GTA front brakes and re-worked pedals fitted by Peak Alfa. Roger McMahon had decided that Croft would be his second appearance with us this year in his 147 GTA Cup car, resplendent in red with its “Happy Days” logos. It was good to see Clive Hodgkin on the entry list with his 156 GTA, now with smart yellow roof, and now running in the Power Trophy. As he has not been too well this year, we were keeping our fingers crossed that Clive would be fit enough to race but on arrival he seemed optimistic that all would be well which was good news as this car is also a potential overall front runner.
At the front of the grid we were likely to see Graham Seager’s championship leading supercharged GTV with 5 wins already to its credit in 2015 but the other car that we were sure would mount a strong challenge was the 33 16v of Bryan Shrubb. The only limitation for Bryan was tyres as he is still unable to find any soft 15” slicks to replace the hard Hankooks with which the car is currently fitted. The 16v engine has given him 60 bhp more than the old 8v but basically he can’t use the extra performance.
“giving it a good wash is my preparation!”
Brands Hatch Twin Spark Cup winner Tom Hill was back in his own black and gold 156 for this weekend while the Bianco renta’ 156 would be driven by Mick Donaghue who did a couple of races with us back in 2010/11 in Phil Donaghy’s 145. Phil was there to keep an eye on how things were going and is talking about doing some racing again next year as he still has the 145. The Bianco team was again out in force with Paul Plant, James Bishop, Simon Cresswell, Andy Hancock, Steve Potts and James Ford (a Friday morning entry) in their 156s plus the 147 of Stacey Dennis – an impressive multi coloured line-up in the paddock. Andy Inman, the most local of drivers as he lives in Newcastle, Jeremy Chilton – “giving it a good wash is my preparation!” – and Dave Messenger completed the 156s while Richard Stevens had his 145 which had undergone much rebuilding of the front end after Brands. 21 cars in all would go out to qualify.
Heavy overnight rain left us all doing “spray watch” as the qualifying sessions for Darling and District Motor Club Championship, Mazdas and Jedis coped with a lot of water on the track. However by the time our session approached, just after mid-day, things were better although very damp and the Modified and Power Trophy cars still required some kind of wet tyre. As there was to be no commentary for qualifying, I took the opportunity to walk between Sunny-In and the Complex, using a new 300mm lens that I bought earlier in the year to get what I hoped would be some good pictures, repeating what I did back in 2005. Graham Seager and Bryan Shrubb quickly led the way amongst the Modified and Power Trophy cars, some 10” off a dry time, but Roger McMahon was soon on the pace with his 147 before Graham recorded a couple of quick laps ten minutes into the 20 minute session with a best of 1’43.857”. This was immediately topped by Roger with 1’43.419” but he then misjudged an overtaking manoeuvre of a Twin Spark car at Sunny-in, spun and grazed the barriers hard, bringing his session to a premature end. However neither Graham or Bryan could beat his time and the 33 was actually pushed down to fourth by James Nicholls on the penultimate lap although James was suffering from a gearchange problem. Andy Robinson was 5th fastest, some 3” slower than Bryan, not at all comfortable with his new brake set-up. When Roger McMahon’s car was returned to the paddock it was clear that there was not only bodywork damage but that the suspension had also suffered and would require some busy work if the car was to be ready for the race but Roger remained typically optimistic that he would be able to start.
Clive Hodgkin was the quicker of the two Power Trophy cars but reported that his wet (cheapo secondhand)! tyres, also being used by Chris Oxborough, were “rubbish”. Consequently, he found himself lapping slower than the top three Twin Sparks, Tom Hill, James Bishop and Paul Plant, although with the usual split grid arrangement Clive would still be ahead of them at the start, on row 3 overall. James Bishop seemed to have regained some of his form here and as the track dried further, was pushing Tom Hill hard for pole. Tom had been first on the track with clear air ahead of him but it was a 1’51.957” from the black and gold 156 on his final lap as the track became less wet that was good enough to edge out James by a mere 0.038”. The latter nearly lost his TS front row position to a flying Paul Plant who failed, also on his last lap, by just 0.008”! Simon Cresswell continued his good Brands form to end up a fraction clear of Dave Messenger. Steve Potts and James Ford had hoped to be more competitive, but James was suffered from a drastic lack of rear end grip which left him nearly 5 seconds slower than Tom Hill – newer tyres were obviously called for. Andy Inman did well to line up 8th in TS ahead of Richard Stevens, Stacey Dennis, an off-colour Andy Hancock, Jeremy Chilton and Mick Donaghue. The two 75 3 litres of Keith Waite (Power Trophy) and Chris Oxborough (Modified) were evenly matched to within 0.008” of each other.
There was now a lengthy wait before the race, which was due to start at 5.05 pm, and many glances at the cloudy sky. Rain did return but by the time cars made their way to the assembly area, the track was almost dry again and slicks became the order of the day. This was much to the relief of Clive Hodgkin and Chris Oxborough who had both thought of non starting if they had to use their wets but Chris and Keith Waite had both decided to start from the pit lane anyway. The last time we were at Croft, the commentary box was in a double decker bus – shades of immediate postwar racing – but the circuit now boasts a splendid new structure which should act as a lesson to any circuit (Silverstone are you listening?!). The view is excellent covering the start/finish straight, the first set of corners (if a little in the distance), the run out of the chicane and then Tower. The cars disappear on their way to the Jim Clark Esses before reappearing through the left hand before the Complex, which is in full view just below, as is the Hairpin. It was good to meet Scott Woodwiss who book-ended our Cadwell Motors TV “Last Lap” programme and he had also brought along no less a person than Brian Jones to keep him company on the long journey up from Kent. Brian says he is retiring as a commentator after this years Formula Ford Festival, which will be his 40th, but I’ll believe it when I no longer hear Brian’s well loved voice coming over the PA.
I am sure there were wide-eyes and exclamations of “phew!!!” or “****” in many cockpits
The start looked as though it was all going to be quite orderly with Graham Seager moving ahead and Clive Hodgkin and James Nicholls slipping past Bryan Shrubb. However, on the exit of Clervaux, the 33 started to spin, stopping sideways on in the middle of the track – don’t really know why said Bryan afterwards apart from cold tyres – but this left him facing the oncoming field and there were some phenominal advoidances which you can probably only appreciate by taking a look at Bryan’s in-car video.
I am sure there were wide-eyes and exclamations of “phew!!!” or “****” in many cockpits, not least Bryan’s as a major disaster was avoided. The outcome of all this was that Graham Seager led the race into Tower from a flying Clive Hodgkin, James Nicholls, Andy Robinson and Paul Plant with Dave Messenger, Steve Potts and James Ford hustling on behind ahead of Richard Stevens and Andy Hancock. Paul Plant found himself frustrated by Andy Robinson’s Modified 156, quick in a straight line but very cautious through the corners. At the end of the lap Paul tried a very tight inside line at the Hairpin and ended up pushing Andy sideways, a situation that he recovered from very quickly and accelerated past the 156 again past the start finish line. Only problem with that is that he arrived at Clervaux too fast, spun, took the front spoiler off but then continued slowly to pull off finally at Barcroft. Andy was not happy with himself!
Meanwhile Paul Plant was trying to pull away from Steve Potts, Simon Cresswell, James Bishop and Tom Hill who had all passed the wide running Dave Messenger at Tower. Up ahead, the same corner had been the place for James Nicholls to pass Clive Hodgkin into second place and start to pull away. Missing from the race was Roger McMahon who had come into the pits before the race got underway with an exhaust problem.
By the end of lap 3 the Safety Car boards were out so that Andy Robinson’s car could be removed. Graham Seager, James Nicholls and Clive Hodgkin led the way to the back of the Safety Car as Simon Cresswell emerged ahead of Paul Plant He quickly realised that as he had overtaken under waved yellows he would have to give the place back, which he duly did on the next lap. All this had helped Bryan Shrubb who had been over half a minute behind Graham Seager but now found the gap slashed to just 12 seconds at the end of the second full safety car lap. As the moment came for the cars to released, but before the line, Clive Hodgkin and James Nicholls found themselves almost side by side and then, suddenly, the 147 dropped back which looked as though the safety car rules had been broken. However, Clive decided to stay ahead as he felt he had done nothing wrong and when the inevitable call came to the Clerk of Course after the race, James reported that he had suddenly lost boost (later revealed from 1.5 to 0.5 bar) and that the fault didn’t lie with Clive.
So now were back racing. James Nicholls seemed to able to match Clive Hodgkin despite his lack of boost but neither could make any real impression on Graham Seager. Making progress, though, was Bryan Shrubb who had passed several TS cars in a great rush on the pit straight and by the end of lap 8 was up to 6th place with Paul Plant and Simon Cresswell just ahead. However, it was in the final two laps that he really put his head down, seeing the possibility of catching James and Clive. Going into the last lap, he was just 6” behind James and lapping ever quicker so that as the cars arrived at the Complex the gap was under a second. Across the line as he had to settle for 4th place, a mere 0.551” down after a recovery drive that could have won possibly have won him the race had it got off the ground earlier. After the first corner incident though, no one could have blamed him if he wanted to take a deep breath! And he thanked everyone for their split second reactions.
Behind the top four, the Twin Spark battle had been as intense as ever. Before the Safety Car, Paul Plant, Simon Cresswell, Steve Potts, Tom Hill and James Bishop were the top five, covered by just 2.5” while James Ford had managed to get ahead of Dave Messenger. Approaching the Complex on lap 7 Tom Hill ran wide onto the wet grass but was able to gather it up although he dropped four places in the process. James Ford was quickest at this stage while the arrival of Bryan Shrubb in pursuit of the leaders lost Simon Cresswell a little ground (we are talking 0.3” here, it was so tight!). Steve Potts was clinging on to his hard earned third place as James Bishop worked to stave off James Ford. The race ran to its 10 lap conclusion with no change in the order but there was never a chance to make a mistake as Tom Hill had shown. Paul Plant was a relieved TS winner (his third victory of the year) and Simon Cresswell was happy to have repeated his Brands Hatch second place.
Steve Potts had listened to those who said that he should exercise more patience and that the results would come to him – which they did with an excellent podium. James Bishop – “I hate to be second” he said after qualifying so I don’t think fourth was what he was aiming for! – came next, just keeping his nose in front of James Ford who set fastest lap. Tom Hill, Dave Messenger and Andy Hancock crossed the line in a group and Andy Inman, Stacey Dennis, Jeremy Chilton and Mick Donaghue completed the TS field. A late retirement was Richard Stevens, ending his points scoring run, with a blown head gasket. The two 75s of Keith Waite and Chris Oxborough clashed early on at the left hander before Tower but after that their races fluctuated Chris being 4” ahead at the end of lap 8 before a spin dropped him 6” behind at the flag, Keith 2nd in the Power Trophy and Chris 4th modified car home.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||Clive Hodgkin|
|Twin Spark Cup||Paul Plant|
There was plenty to digest after the race and work to be done on several cars but most people had time planned away from the circuit, the Bianco team in particular descending on the nearby Chequers Inn for a good convivial evening.
In the morning the sunshine had returned and it was to be a really nice early autumn day. There were some clouds in the distance but they happily kept away. The 3.15 race time (no activity can start at Croft on Sunday until 12.00) meant that various jobs could be done without too much pressure. Paul Plant had new front discs and a driveshaft to fit and Harry White’s welding skills were brought into action to fix the exhaust on Roger McMahon’s 147. Richard Stevens tried hard to locate a new head gasket but sadly failed and loaded his car onto the trailer, missing his first race all year. As it was totally dry, Keith Waite and Chris Oxborough had decided to take up their correct positions on the grid rather than play 20 minutes of catch-up.
It was good to see Roger McMahon on the grid this time, as well as the two 75s. The start saw Graham Seager ease into the lead with Bryan Shrubb exercising caution through Clervaux and Hawthorn as he slotted into 2nd place with James Nicholls third and they completed the first lap in that order followed by Roger and Clive Hodgkin. Paul Plant had made an excellent getaway and had managed to pass Chris Oxborough and Keith Waite, the former ending the lap as a buffer against the chasing Simon Cresswell and James Bishop. Keith Waite had fallen into the clutches of James Ford ahead of Steve Potts, who was unable to make the best of his third place on the grid, Dave Messenger, Andy Hancock and Tom Hill.
Andy Robinson had dropped to the back of the field as his engine was cutting out, after which he pulled off with a dead engine just before the Complex. The problem was later traced to a faulty wire in the main loom. By the end of lap 2 it was pretty clear that Bryan Shrubb had the quickest car on the track and on lap 3 he tried, unsuccessfully, to pass Graham Seager going into Tower. A lap later he completed the move at the same place as Graham ran a little wide and although the GTV driver tried hard until the race was two thirds over to get close enough to reverse the position, Bryan always seemed to have it all under control. However, in third place, James Nicholls was driving a storming race in his 147 lapping well on the pace of the two cars ahead of him. Roger McMahon was also not out of the picture and was pulling well away from Clive Hodgkin who didn’t feel that either he or the 156 were on the form of the previous day. By the end of the second lap, Paul Plant had already pulled out a 2.7” gap over Simon Cresswell who was battling to stay ahead of the Chris Oxborough – the 75 fast down the straights but slower in the corners. Chris got ahead of him before Sunny-In but Simon trying not to lose touch with Paul misjudged things, and the two cars made contact, the 75 spinning onto the grass and the 156 going heavily into the tyre barrier. There was considerable front end damage to the 156 but Chris was able to continue.
Now running second in TS, 5” behind Paul Plant, James Bishop was coming under intense pressure from James Ford. Tom Hill had passed Dave Messenger and there now started a great battle between Dave, Keith Waite and Andy Hancock that was to last for much of the race (look at Dave’s rear facing video and you’ll see what I mean!).
After trying to pass Dave on several occasions, Keith finally made it stick on lap 6, pulling away quite rapidly as he was able to concentrate on his own race. At this point Bryan Shrubb held a 1.8” lead over Graham Seager with James Nicholls a further 1.1” back but certainly not giving up. Roger McMahon was 3.5” behind James and there was then a long gap to a lonely Clive Hodgkin. Paul Plant looked as though he was heading for his second win of the weekend but there were four cars in line behind him, covered by just 2”, James Bishop, James Ford, Steve Potts and Tom Hill making a fine sight as they arrived together at the Complex. On lap 7, James Ford managed to find a way past James Bishop but despite another fastest lap, it looked as though it might be too late to catch Paul Plant. That didn’t deter JF though and over the last three laps he managed to close within 1.529” at the finish, taking James Bishop with him to take third ahead of Tom Hill and Steve Potts. The battle between Dave Messenger and Andy Hancock was resolved when Andy suffered a broken wheel at Tower a lap after passing his rival.
By this time Bryan Shrubb had scored another fine win (and second fastest lap of the weekend) for the 33 and BLS, ending up 3.66” clear of Graham Seager with James Nicholls third, followed home by Roger McMahon and Power Trophy winner, Clive Hodgkin. Keith Waite was 11th overall in his 75 and second in the Power Trophy while Chris Oxborough recovered to 13th, 5th in Modified. Andy Inman and Stacey Dennis had been close together for much of the race, and might have been closer at the finish had she not been slightly delayed making way on the exit of the Hairpin for Graham Seager who was about to lap her and sliding onto the grass. Final finishers were Jeremy Chilton and Mick Donaghue. The damage to Simon Cresswell’s 156 looked fairly substantial when it was brought back to the paddock but he had planned to miss Donington anyway, so there is ample time for a rebuild before next season.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||Clive Hodgkin|
|Twin Spark Cup||Paul Plant|
The race trophies were presented in the paddock later by Brian Messenger while Andy Hancock handed over the Grove & Dean Driver of the Weekend award to Paul Plant, winner of the Twin Spark Cup in both outings. He dedicated his successes to Gethin Llewellyn who was about to come out of hospital after several operations following injuries to his leg in a paddock accident at Brands in August.
It was good to see several old friends with us again including Paul Legge (helping Keith Waite as ever), Peter Sloan, William Hebblethwaite, Richard Ford and Paul Webster amongst them. My personal thanks to Keith Ford, returning to prize giving photo duty after missing Brands. Unfortunately Paul Stone was unwell and did not come to Croft, hence no pictures from him, but Katy Read was there on Sunday and Justin Smith on Saturday. Our thanks to Graham Whittaker, Secretary of the meeting and all the official and marshals who kept everything running smoothly.
Graham Seager left Croft with a 9 point advantage in the championship over James Bishop with Tom Hill third and Bryan Shrubb fourth. The battle at Donington should be between Graham and James, but Tom does have the slimmest of mathematical chances of snatching 2nd overall and the Twin Spark Cup should it all go wrong for his rivals at Donington. We look forward to seeing everyone over the weekend October 17th/18th.