As our final race meeting of the season – and our last under the auspices of the BRSCC – approached, the Championship was still not decided.
Of the two contenders, Tom Hill had a 5-point lead over Dave Messenger but that could easily change over the course of the weekend, so there was still all to play for. Fittingly for a season finale we had our best grid of the season with 21 cars lining up on the grid. It might have been even better had Richard Ford and Ron Davidson not had to withdraw late on with engine problems. Nevertheless it was heartening and hopefully a sign of things to come as we transfer over to the 750 Motor Club for 2020.
As well as the two Championship protagonists there was a good spread of entries across the 3 classes. In the Twin Spark Cup, Mike Tydeman, Tom Herbert and Paul Plant were having their first Championship outing of the season, Kevin Gallagher his second and Matt Daly his third. Paul is always a force to be reckoned with when he dons a race harness, as is Matt Daly, and Tom is a former Twin Spark Cup race winner also, so the competition looked strong. Mike was looking to shake off a few cobwebs after a season where his business interests have had to take priority and Kevin was looking to build on his encouraging debut at Silverstone. Andrew Bourke has had a good season, as reflected in his third place in the points table; he had been aiming to be much closer to Tom Hill but here was another opportunity, although he was sure to have stiff competition in the form of James Ford, Simon Cresswell and Martin Jones as well as the others mentioned above.
In the Power Trophy Dave Messenger’s 156 GTA would have Jamie Thwaites’ superb 155 and Andy Inman’s and Paul Webster’s 156 GTAs for company in a very competitive class. The 4 cars were closely matched and a good battle was in prospect.
In the Modified class Graham Seager’s supercharged GTV was the favourite for overall honours, but Bryan Shrubb’s 33 can never be discounted in Bryan’s skilful hands and he was sure to press Graham hard. George Osborne’s beautifully prepared 75 3.2 and Mervyn Miller’s 156 GTA were also bound to be serious contenders. Mervyn held the class lead for season’s honours but as with the overall Championship battle there were many possible outcomes. We also welcomed back Dave Lambourn’s 156 3-litre for only its second outing after a brief appearance at Oulton Park a year ago, and Keith Waite’s son Tom was making a welcome debut in the Championship in his 33 8v.
After overnight rain and some more gentle and sporadic early morning rain the track surface seemed to be drying fast as we gathered on the Melbourne Loop assembly area, but tyre choice was still tricky for the Modified and Power Trophy runners. Unfortunately we were without Jamie Thwaites; when the car was started up a grinding noise signalled trouble and it transpired on investigation that something was loose in the clutch assembly – the flywheel was fouling on the crankcase and little bits of metal were flying off internally. The team got to work to try and sort the problem out but it was clear it would not be a quick fix.
As prearranged we were sharing the qualifying session with the Toyo Tyres Porsche Championship so it was a busy session with 33 cars on the circuit. Shortly before the cars were flagged away the sun came out and the track surface was officially deemed to be dry, thus compounding the difficulties for those who had opted for wet tyres. After 4 laps Tom Hill and Paul Plant were quicker than all the Modified and Power Trophy runners, Paul heading the time sheets with a time of 1:26.142. On laps 5 and 6 the quicker cars started upping the pace but then the red flag came out – Dave Lambourn felt the left front wheel of his 156 begin to wobble alarmingly on the back straight and started to try and pull off the circuit, but before he could do so the wheel came off and the car dug into the grass right on the edge of the circuit. The session was halted for what seemed like an age while they retrieved it using a hoist; by the time it restarted there was only time for 3 more laps and 15 of the 20 drivers set their fastest time during those 3 laps.
Graham Seager set the overall pole with a time of 1:20.508 on his final lap with Bryan Shrubb second quickest with 1:22.013, George Osborne 3rd (1:23.485) and Mervyn Miller 4th (1:24.062), all times set on their respective final laps. Dave Messenger was next but having set a time of 1:25.139 to take what turned out to be the Power Trophy ‘pole’ he decided to try to take the Craner Curves flat, the result being a huge lock up which shredded his tyres followed by a trip through the gravel at the Old Hairpin. He pitted and took no further part in the session. Paul Webster was next quickest but was having a difficult session; with all his times well over 1m 30s he suddenly banged in a time of 1:25.748 to go second quickest in the Power Trophy class. The duelling Twin Sparks of Tom Hill and Paul Plant were next, Tom pipping Paul Plant for pole (an enjoyable alliteration that – ‘pipping Paul Plant for pole’) with a final lap in the session of 1:25.748. Andy Inman was next on 1:26.418.
There followed a whole string of Twin Sparks, headed by Matt Daly (1:26.740) a second quicker than James Ford who was followed by tiny fractions of a second by Tom Herbert and Simon Cresswell. Andrew Bourke was 7th quickest Twin Spark, much further down the order than we would normally expect, and he felt he just hadn’t been able to get into his stride for some reason. Martin Jones (1:29.307) was next ahead of Mike Tydeman (1:30.839 and struggling with an uncomfortable seat position) and Kevin Gallagher (1:31.952). Tom Waite and Dave Lambourn rounded out the field. Tom was having his first ever race in the Championship and performed very creditably, his time of 1:33.565 being a reflection of the pace of his car as much as anything, and Dave Lambourn was able to repair his car in time for the first race.
As the time for Race 1 approached there were ominous-looking dark clouds about but thankfully no sign of rain. Jamie Thwaites’s team had the gearbox out and were hoping to make the next day’s race but not the first one, and Dave Messenger had managed to sort out his tyre problem, including having to buy one from Roger Evans. As the lights went out for the start of the front section of the grid, Bryan Shrubb made the best start, leading into Redgate but then slowing on the exit and dropping to 4th. Mervyn Miller then had a ‘moment’ on the opening lap, dropping back behind Dave Messenger and Andy Inman but recovered in time to stay ahead of the Twin Sparks. So at the end of lap 1 George had a narrow lead over Graham Seager from Bryan Shrubb, Dave Messenger, Andy Inman, Paul Webster and Mervyn Miller. In the Twin Spark Cup at the end of lap 1 Tom Hill had the lead, followed by Paul Plant, Matt Daly, James Ford, Simon Cresswell, Andrew Bourke, Tom Herbert, Martin Jones, Mike Tydeman and Kevin Gallagher in that order.
Dave Lambourn had dropped to the tail of the whole field at the end of lap 1 and there were reports from marshals that his car was smoking. The officials were debating what to do about this when Dave spun at Macleans on lap 2 and stalled in the middle of the track facing the wrong way. With the field approaching waved yellows served the warning and fortunately everyone missed him. He got started and rejoined but circulated slowly until retiring after 5 laps having lost a lot of coolant (hence the smoke) which made the track slippery in places. At the front of the field Graham Seager held the lead by the slenderest of margins over Bryan Shrubb, who had passed George Osborne on lap 3. George closed up on lap 4 but then began to fall away, hampered by a gearbox that was soon to lose 3rd gear. Bryan continued to press Graham hard lap after lap but then on lap 10 he decided to give up the chase and backed off as his brakes were overheating and making worrying noises. He dropped off Graham’s pace but still held a sizeable gap to George to claim second place at the finish behind Graham. George was third ahead of Dave Messenger with Andy Inman – driving extremely well – less than 2 seconds behind him. Mervyn Miller had been concerned about a smell of gear oil coming from his car and was concentrating on getting the car to the finish but he did pass Paul Webster on lap 10, Paul on tyres that have lasted many races which impeded his efforts to hold Mervyn off.
In the Twin Spark Cup, Tom Hill never relinquished the lead he took on the first lap. Paul Plant pressed him hard for the first 8 laps or so then dropped 3 seconds back on lap 9, then further back towards the end, finishing 7 seconds adrift at the chequered flag, although with consolation of fastest lap in the class. Matt Daly had been running a couple of seconds or so behind Paul for many laps in 3rd place, but was forced to pit 3 laps from the end as ominous banging noises from the front end of his car signalled what turned out to be loose drive shaft bolts forcing him into retirement. James Ford had been running 4th in class throughout and inherited 3rd place when Matt retired, but he was struggling to defend his place on worn tyres from a group of 3 cars a second or so behind him. He succeeded but was helped by the fact that the 3 – Andrew Bourke, Simon Cresswell and Tom Herbert – were engaged in a very intense battle of their own. Simon had held the place throughout and had a 1.5 second lead over Andrew as they started the last lap. However, Andrew and Tom piled on the pressure and they crossed the line virtually 3 abreast, Andrew just ahead of Tom and Simon in that order. Martin Jones was the last unlapped runner and finished ahead of Mike Tydeman and Kevin Gallagher, with Tom Waite 3 laps down after a couple of spins.
In the race for the Championship Tom Hill and Dave Messenger had both won their class but Tom not getting fastest lap cut his overall lead from 6 points to 5, so it was still all to play for on Sunday.
Race 1 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
Prior to the race there was much activity checking the rule books and totting up points to check how the position between Tom Hill and Dave Messenger might pan out, the conclusion being – after quite a bit of discussion – that as long as Tom finished 3rd in class or better he would be the Champion. We would see…
George Osborne had decided that the damage already sustained by his gearbox could only be made worse if he went out to race again so he had elected not to start, but others were putting in a lot of work to get their cars ready for Race 2. Jamie Thwaites’s team had completed the repair of his clutch and gearbox so it was arranged with the Clerk of the Course that he would go out on the circuit to complete 2 laps during the qualifying session for the Track Attack cars at 9.10, and the green flag lap prior to the race start would constitute the necessary third lap he needed to qualify. This duly took place and went to plan and he would line up at the back of the front section of the grid. Mervyn Miller only had to finish race 2 to be crowned Modified Class winner for the season but this was nowhere near as straightforward as it might have appeared. A drive shaft gaiter had been seeping oil so it was decided to take the whole assembly apart to determine the source of the loss of fluid. It turned out that the differential oil seals had gone and Mervyn’s son Gary was working with him on the car until 11.00 on Saturday night and again on Sunday morning until just before the drivers were called to the Assembly area to fix the problem. With everything back together they were hoping that the car would last the race. Matt Daly’s support crew had fixed the driveshaft assembly, James Ford had had new front tyres fitted and Dave Lambourn was satisfied that his car was no longer losing water and would be OK to race. So we gathered for the season’s finale ready to start at 10.55 AM.
Tyre choice was again an issue as there had again been overnight rain and the paddock surface was still quite wet in places even though the sun had come out so Bryan Shrubb had elected to go out on wets. The green flag lap demonstrated to him that this had been a mistake as the track was generally dry. That realisation, compounded by some concerning noises coming from his front suspension, led him to decide to pit and he retired back to the paddock.
When the lights went out the front group made a good clean start and seconds later when the flag dropped for the Twin Sparks they did likewise, Graham Seager and Paul Plant leading their respective groups through Redgate. At the end of lap 1 Graham was leading the first group from Andy Inman 2nd (!) and Mervyn Miller 3rd, followed by Dave Messenger, Jamie Thwaites and Paul Webster. Unfortunately for Andy his glory was short lived: Mervyn passed him on lap 2 and on lap 3 Paul Plant, leading the Twin Sparks, came upon him moving very slowly in the chicane, Andy having locked up and gone off. Paul passed him but Andy rejoined behind him and ahead of the pursuing Tom Hill and there followed an entertaining dice between Paul and Andy which went on until lap 10 when Andy finally got a good enough exit from Coppice to pass Paul on the back straight.
In the Twin Spark field the action was relentless. Paul Plant had a couple of seconds’ advantage at the front and Tom Hill likewise had a similar cushion to the group behind him, but behind Tom the action was eventful to say the least. Andrew Bourke led the group initially from Simon Cresswell, Matt Daly (Matt had started at the back of the grid due to his first race retirement but was soon up in the leading group), James Ford, and Tom Herbert with Mike Tydeman, Martin Jones and Kevin Gallagher a few seconds adrift behind them. On lap 4 Simon Cresswell’s car appeared on the start/finish straight smoking heavily and he was forced to pit at the end of lap 5 the smoke and steam unabated; Andrew Bourke had braked earlier than Simon had anticipated and Simon had hit the back of him hard enough to puncture the radiator, thus ending his race. He escaped a visit to the Clerk of the Course as the latter considered he had already created his own punishment! Another impending retirement was Dave Lambourn whose car was smoking again. He had been dropping steadily down the order after circulating at a respectable pace early on but pitted at the end of lap 8 and retired with what turned out to be head gasket failure.
Meanwhile the Twin Spark battle continued unabated. Tom Herbert had been passed by Matt Daly on lap 1 and had initially been a couple of seconds adrift of the group in front of him but gradually reeled them in as they were battling each other and after Simon’s retirement a fierce battle for 3rd place ensued between Andrew, Matt, James and Tom.
Andrew was defending stoutly from Matt but on lap 5 Matt got past him under braking for the chicane and then James passed Andrew in the Craner Curves but all 4 were circulating inches apart. Tom passed James on the outside on the back straight; then as Matt hugged the inside line going into the Old Hairpin Andrew got a quicker exit and passed him round the outside at Macleans only for Matt to re-pass him at the chicane and draw clear On the next lap Tom and Andrew were battling to catch Matt: Andrew was ahead exiting Macleans but Tom passed him in the middle of the back straight only for Andrew to outbrake him on the outside and attempt to take the racing line through the chicane. However, he wasn’t sufficiently clear of Tom to achieve this safely. Tom braked as hard as he could but there was contact and they both lost time enabling Matt to draw further clear of them. It was fortunate for Tom and Andrew that the marshals missed the incident otherwise they might both have been summoned to give an account of what happened, although it might well have been judged to have been a racing incident. Be that as it may, Tom was delayed the most having braked hard and Andrew was able to pull out a slight gap ahead of him. Tom subsequently dropped further back into James’s clutches after locking up at the chicane. By lap 12 Matt had a couple of seconds in hand over Andrew, and Andrew was likewise about 4 seconds clear of Tom and James. The latter two then had a battle royal, swapping places and at one point completed an entire lap side by side. Finally Tom ran wide at the Old Hairpin and James was able to open up a gap. That wasn’t the end of the battle though as on the very last lap Andrew overcooked it at Coppice ran wide and had a long trip through the gravel; he rejoined but had lost places at the finish to James and Tom. Phew! At the front of the Twin Spark field Paul Plant had held the lead till lap 12 but a couple of ragged moments at Redgate and the Old Hairpin saw Tom Hill get ahead and he held the lead to the end. Paul recorded fastest lap on the final lap but couldn’t get close enough to re-pass. Matt Daly finished some 20 seconds back in 3rd.
In the Power Trophy Dave Messenger led from lights to flag. After Andy Inman’s ‘moment’ Jamie Thwaites took over second place, the repaired 155 running well after the previous day’s problem. Lap by lap Dave steadily extended his class lead over Jamie to around 8 seconds; after that it started to come down but Dave still had 4 seconds in hand at the chequered flag. Once he got clear of Paul Plant’s Twin Spark Andy reduced the gap to Jamie but not close enough to mount a challenge for the place. Paul Webster meanwhile had struggled to get any heat in his tyres; he lost time with a couple of sideways moments in the opening 2 laps and dropped behind the Twin Spark battle described above. Towards the end he was lapping quicker than Dave and Jamie but was too far back to make any impact on the running order.
At the very front Graham Seager sailed serenely on. Mervyn Miller gamely gave chase for many laps but the horsepower deficit to Graham was too great and after a near spin at the chicane Mervyn settled for second overall, especially relieved at not losing any more gear oil. It was an excellent drive and well earned after the monumental effort he and Gary had put in to get the car back into shape for the race.
Race 2 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
So Tom Hill has become the Alfa Romeo Championship’s first triple champion! Dave Messenger chased him hard all season and was rewarded with a fully deserved Power Trophy class win, and Mervyn Miller’s hard work and consistency rewarded him with the Modified class win. Our final races with the BRSCC were certainly exciting and entertaining and we look forward to what we hope and trust will be a successful future for our Championship with the 750 Motor Club.