Rain, wind, track limits and a long Sunday were the main topics of conversation as the BRSCC Alfa shop Alfa Romeo Championship made its only visit of the year to Donington.
There was also a surprise for many people when we discovered just a few days before that we would be running on the full GP circuit rather than the National track! This was the first time since 2009, so there would be several drivers to whom this layout was totally new, turning left and then right at the Fogarty Esses before the run downhill to the long Melbourne Hairpin. Thereafter, it was uphill to another hairpin at Goddards and back onto the Wheatcroft (Start/Finish) Straight. 2.49 miles as against 1.95 miles of the National layout. Some drivers definitely prefer the shorter track thinking that it flows better although Tom Eastwood was a prominent exception, really enjoying himself when I talked to him after qualifying.
The original entry was 24 cars, of which were delighted to see that 7 in Class A1 but a late withdrawal was the 156 Turbo of Anthony George which reduced this to 6 before we got there. Anthony admitted that preparation had started rather late and that there a couple of things they weren’t happy with. However, we had the addition of two 3.8 litre V6 machines – Ian Stapleton’s black GTV6 and the much re-worked 156 of Andy Robinson looked after by Kevin Evans. This car was now blue – “I took your comments to heart” said Andy – and had factory type bodywork extensions that made it look much more like a true race car. Barry McMahon’s 156 Turbo still needed to have its gearbox sorted and so he had brought along his faithful GTV 3 litre, now sporting a Martini decal on the bonnet. Graham Seager’s GTV had a new gearbox after the original had caused his retirement in race 2 at Silverstone while championship points leader Guy Hale was back with his 147 GTA although still without the onboard hydraulic jacks that would make life so much easier in the kind of mixed conditions we seem to have so often at the moment. Westley Evans was there to look after the car. The final A1 entry was another 156, this time fitted with a 3.2 litre GTA engine, and prepared by Avon Racing. Robin Eyre-Maunsell was down to drive and this would be his first race in a front wheel drive car, all his previous experience having been with drive at the rear. Classes A2, B and C had only one entry apiece. Nick Anderson was running his 33 8v in A2, while Darelle Wilson was alone in B after the defection of Robin Eyre-Maunsell to A1. In C, Ray Foley was celebrating his son Steve’s wedding (Steve himself an Alfa racer in the past) which meant that Roger Evans would set his sights on a good overall result.
And so to E….once again the major part of the entry with 12 cars this time. Notable amongst them was the return of Mel Healey now racing under her married name of Mel Freeman. The family 156 had been returned to health after being savaged at Silverstone with Chris at the wheel and Mel was raring to go after three years away. Silverstone class winners James Bishop and James Ford were joined in the 156 ranks by Tom Herbert, Dave Messenger, Andy Hancock and Stacey Dennis plus the Avon Racing prepared car of Andy Inman – always easy to spot with its yellow flashes on the purple pantwork. Jon Billingsley was giving this one a miss after the damage he suffered in Round 1, so the only 147s were the cars of Steve Potts and Steve O’Brien. Tom Eastwood and Kristian Leith were running their 145s. Matt Daly’s similar car is making good progress but the rebuild has stretched the budget somewhat so he is having to be patient about his return. Finally we welcomed two Fiat Punto Abarths in the invitation class – Alastair Kellett in his quick blue example and Roger McMahon his yellow car now resplendent in its new “Happy Days” livery.
The session had hardly got going before there was Red Flag, Andy Robinson having spun at Coppice, ending up in the middle of the track and narrowly being avoided by Guy Hale – “we waved” said Guy afterwards!
Scrutineering had thrown up a problem with the brake lines running inside the cockpit of Barry McMahon’s GTV and although the car was allowed to qualify on Saturday, they would have to be boxed in before the first race on Sunday. It was already 5.50 in the afternoon when qualifying got underway. There was quite a lot of dampness around on the circuit which meant that Ian Stapleton, Graham Seager and Guy Hale were using wet weather tyres while Darelle Wilson had opted for slicks. The session had hardly got going before there was Red Flag, Andy Robinson having spun at Coppice, ending up in the middle of the track and narrowly being avoided by Guy Hale – “we waved” said Guy afterwards! It would appear that the 156 had dumped a major part of its fuel load which ended up on the rear tyres and although it returned to the pits, nothing could be done to rectify the problem there and then, and the session resumed without him, the field having spent some six minutes lined up the pit road.
As the everyone completed their first flying laps, it was Darelle Wilson who topped the times, only to become the first driver to suffer from the new track limits rules when he had his quicker fourth lap disallowed. This became one of eight times to be removed from the timesheet. Most didn’t matter as it was that actual lap that was lost and not a competitor’s fastest but in the case of James Bishop it was to rob him of a grid position just behind his main rival James Ford, and to move him three rows back which was to prove a real handicap. Steve Potts had three consecutive laps disallowed but then went quicker while keeping on track as the session drew to a close.
As soon as he got his tyres up to a reasonable working temperature, Ian Stapleton established himself as the pole sitter with a final 1’51.026”. Graham Seager and Darelle Wilson continued to try hard and were within 1” of the GTV6 at the flag and Guy Hale’s best time good enough for the 2nd row. Barry McMahon ended the session a mere 0.16” slower than Guy, proving once again the potential of the old GTV. He would be joined on the second row by Roger Evans who reckoned that the performance and handling of the 156 were just about the same as his championship winning 147. Alastair Kellett was once again relishing track conditions that weren’t quite perfect and ended an excellent 7th quickest, a full 2.4” quicker than the fastest Class E car, the 156 of James Ford, that would join him on row 4. James Ford and James Bishop were the only class E cars to break 2 minutes but as already mentioned, the latter then had to settle for a time that was only 5th quickest in the class. Steve Potts’ best “allowed” time was still good enough for 2nd in class just ahead of Tom Herbert and Tom Eastwood. The rest of E would line up in the order Andy Hancock, Dave Messenger (reckoning his engine is bit tired now), Andy Inman, a happier Steve O’Brien now he is well in the mix, Mel Freeman, Stacey Dennis and Kristian Leith. Kristian had suffered an open rear hatch (Dave Peddie had the same problem with the car at Cadwell last year) and never really got going at all, finishing the session at the botton of the times after a pit stop. Of the cars not mentioned, Nick Anderson’s A2 33 would line up surrounded by Class E cars and alongside Tom Eastwood’s 145 on the sixth row while Robin Eyre-Maunsell had earned himself a “discussion” with Clive Hodgkin on how not to destroy the tyres on a front wheel drive car. Robin would start at the back with Kristian Leith.
Diana’s notes at the top of her lap chart said “windy/wet/dry/sunny” which just about summed it up!
With the exception of Andy Robinson and Barry McMahon who had to present themselves with 156 and GTV respectively to the scrutineers early on Sunday morning, there was plenty of time to prepare for the late morning race. Overnight there was other work to do, including a new driveshaft for James Ford’s 156. Sadly, the repairs to Andy’s fuel tank arrangements were not enough to satisfy the scrutineers and he would be a non starter while Barry was able to take his place on the grid. The weather continued to be indeterminate with some headscratching for those who had the option of wets or slicks. Diana’s notes at the top of her lap chart said “windy/wet/dry/sunny” which just about summed it up!
Guy Hale had “bet” Ian Stapleton that he would be first into Red Gate and sure enough the 147 GTA was in the lead as they headed towards the Craner Curves. However, coming out of the Old Hairpin on the run to Macleans, it was the smokey Diesel GT of Darelle Wilson that emerged in front and started to pull away with Ian Stapleton biding his time in third. Roger Evans had also made a fine start and was running fourth ahead of Alastair Kellett. Tom Herbert had grabbed the Class E lead from James Ford with Andy Inman surprising everyone with a surge into third ahead while Steve Potts had been slow away.
At the end of the first lap, Darelle already enjoyed a 1.4” lead over Guy with Ian Stapleton shaping up to move into 2nd place. Graham Seager had already realised that fitting slicks was the wrong move for the GTV and he would pull in after just 4 laps. James Bishop had gained a place in E on lap 1 while Steve Potts and Tom Eastwood had had a clash of wheels at the Melbourne Hairpin which damaged a tyre valve on Tom’s car, ruining his race. Steve’s tale of woe had not finished as he then encountered a sliding Barry McMahon at Goddards and had dropped right back to an unhappy 9th. On the second lap Ian Stapleton had slithered by Guy Hale but Darelle Wilson had expanded his lead which was now 3.7”. Roger Evans was a relatively lonely 4th with Alastair Kellett also on his own before the Class E lead battle that was emerging between Tom Herbert and James Ford arrived. Andy Inman was still lying third in E, but already 5” adrift of the class leaders and with Roger McMahon’s Punto and Nick Anderson’s 33 on his tail just ahead of James Bishop.
Ian Stapleton was starting to go quicker during lap 3, closing on Darelle Wilson by the end of lap 4, pulling away from Guy Hale at the same time while Roger Evans and Alastair Kellett were already half a minute adrift. Making progress was Nick Anderson, now up to 6th place but James Ford had slightly lost touch with Tom Herbert as he now had Roger McMahon’s Punto in the way. Making good progress from the back was Robin Eyre-Maunsell, now just ahead of Barry McMahon. Dave Messenger had passed Andy Inman who now had Steve Potts, Kristian Leith, who had made a good recovering from the back of the grid, Andy Hancock and Mel Freeman behind him. It was inevitable that Ian Stapleton would take over the lead of the race and this became a reality on lap 5, quickly moving away into a 2.4” lead at the end of that lap and then 6” as they crossed the line at the end of lap 6. Roger McMahon had now passed Tom Herbert which opened the way for James Ford to close in on the orange 156 while, 4th in class, Steve Potts was now ahead of Dave Messenger.
Ian Stapleton looked extremely comfortable in the lead as he lapped consistently over 3” quicker than Darelle Wilson but by the end of lap 8 we were watching the progress of Guy Hale who had started to close on the Diesel by a couple of seconds a lap. As they approached the Fogarty Esses on lap 9, Guy was slightly ahead, only to see Darelle slide down the inside under braking. Guy tried again at the Melbourn Hairpin and made the move stick this time. Meanwhile, James Ford had taken over the Class E lead from Tom Herbert with James Bishop and Steve Potts 3rd and 4th some 15” back – a lifetime in Class E!
Ian Stapleton led Darelle Wilson by 19” into the 11th and final lap with Guy Hale 3rd as he went down the Craner Curves towards the Old Hairpin. At this point he was about to lap Stacey Dennis, Mel Freeman and Steve O’Brien when Stacey ran wide on the exit before sliding broadside in front of Guy who had a fraction of a second to make a decision on which way to go. Sadly he chose wrongly, the 147 and 156 making heavy contact and breaking Guy’s rear suspension before he came to a stop in the gravel while Stacey was able to continue but with heavy damage to her nearside front. A sad loss for Guy of what would otherwise have been a secure 2nd place. Roger Evans was thus elevated to the podium in front of the remarkable Alastair Kellett and Nick Anderson. James Ford had pulled away from Tom Herbert to a 3” lead in E outpacing the next three cars home – Robin Eyre-Maunsell, Roger McMahon and Barry McMahon, after a somewhat exuberant opposite lock race from the A1 GTV. James Bishop was a secure 3rd in E, finishing 20” clear of Steve Potts with Dave Messenger, Kristian Leith, Andy Inman (who had been delayed by an incident with Kristian) and Mel Freeman next in line. Andy Hancock had been running ahead of Mel at the end of lap 10 but as they approached the flag couple of minutes later, his car cut out and not expecting this Steve O’Brien, just behind, hit him up the back and then went past to grab an extra place as had Mel already. Andy was not best pleased as you might imagine! Very happy however was overall winner Ian Stapleton, continuing the run he started at Donington last year while Darelle Wilson was pleased to take another 2nd overall.
We then had a long, long wait for our second race, although some people had work to do to see that their cars were fit for twenty minutes further action. Ian Stapleton needed to take a look at his front brakes as he was suffering some judder while Steve O.Brien’s oil cooler had been damaged in his last lap contact with Andy Hancock. It was decided that we would have two prize givings, James Ford’s lady Gemma handing out the trophies after the first race.
More rain delayed the smooth running of the programme which was running forty minutes late by the time our remaining 21 cars emerged for the second race which got underway at 6.36 pm. This time, Ian Stapleton wasted no time in getting to the front of the field but it was Roger Evans who emerged from Red Gate in second place ahead of Darelle Wilson. In the crowded run down to the Old Hairpin, it was James Ford who lost out as Graham Seager rushed through from the back. Tom Herbert sought to get out of his way, found himself on the grass and then hit James as he returned to the track. The result was that Tom took over the class E lead and James was left to re-start at the back of the field. Also out of luck were Roger McMahon and Nick Anderson who made contact in the braking area for the Esses. Roger was lucky not to hit the barrier while Nick had to make his way to the pits to inspect bodywork damage but later continued.
Roger Evans was unable to pull away from Darelle Wilson and it was the Diesel that appeared in second place at the end of lap 3. By then, Graham Seager had made his way past the fast starting Alastair Kellett but was already 21” behind the leader. Robin Eyre-Maunsell was running an excellent 5th in front of Barry McMahon while in 7th place, class E leader Tom Herbert was already a comfortable 4” clear of James Bishop and those in pursuit, led by Dave Messenger, Steve Potts, Kristian Leith and Andy Inman.
With 5 laps completed, Ian Stapleton has built a 9.7” lead over Darelle Wilson but between this point and the finish he found car and track conditions in harmony and rushed away to be 41” in front at the flag with a fastest lap four seconds quicker than anyone else. Graham Seager gradually crept up on Roger Evans to take away third place with a couple of laps to go. Alastair Kellett had held on to 5th place for most of the race but over the final laps, Robin Eyre-Maunsell was able to use his extra power on the drier track to take over the place although Alastair kept Barry McMahon at bay. In E, Tom Herbert stayed 6” clear of James Bishop to take his first win of the season but James had to fend off Dave Messenger. James Ford was working his way through the field, and at the end of lap 6 was in a Class E group headed by Steve Potts, Kristian Leith and Mel Freeman, Andy Inman having dropped back after an incident with Roger McMahon.
Over the final laps, James Ford continued his progress, starting lap 10 in pursuit of Dave Messenger and Steve Potts. The last lap saw Steve misjudge Dave’s speed at Goddards, sliding off to make light contact with the barrier and undoing all the good work he had done, slipping to 10th in class. James Ford couldn’t catch Dave Messenger, so ended up 4th with Kristian Leith 5th after his best drive to date. E was completed by Mel Freeman (happier with her second race), Andy Hancock, Steve O’Brien and a somewhat disappointed Tom Eastwood.
The Grove & Dean Motorsport Insurance Award went to Kristian Leith.
A weary group of competitors and team members arrived for the second prize giving, the trophies being handed out by Fred from Proalfa. The Grove & Dean Motorsport Insurance Award went to Kristian Leith. Our thanks once again for Bianco for providing their marquee in which we could all shelter. We were also grateful of Judith Hibbens who was once again our stand-in co-ordinator. She was pleased to report that whereas Race Control were somewhat annoyed by the number of track limits penalties they had to give out in qualifying, the races did not require their action.
The two races moved James Bishop into the championship lead with 76 points, 4 ahead of James Ford. Roger Evans and Nick Anderson are tied in third with 67 with Tom Herbert (54) and Darelle Wilson (53) completing the top 6.
As usual the in-car videos gave us a good insight into the on-track action and included a somewhat lively “commentary” from Steve Potts! My thanks to Steve, Guy Hale and Dave Messenger for their contributions.
We are happy to say that the timetable for Oulton Park on May 31 provides us with a mid afternoon race!