Our now annual visit to the Festival Italia event at Brands Hatch took place on Sunday 18th August.
With qualifying and two races all on the one day it is often quite hectic but because the event attracts lots of Italian marque car clubs and other enthusiasts it is a good family day out and gives us an important opportunity to showcase our Championship in front of a much wider (and more numerous) audience than usual. The prestige of the event attracted our best entry of the season – 21 cars – although we were soon down to 20 as Paul Plant had sadly been too busy preparing and repairing other drivers’ cars to get his own ready in time.
There were 3 Modified class entries, all of whom might well have qualified for the Power Trophy class had they taken the mandatory rolling road tests. Making a welcome return to the Championship for the day was renowned Alfa racer Chris Snowdon in his GTV6; Chris had scored 2 overall race wins at the event in 2018 and was hoping to repeat the feat this year. Joining Chris was his friend and rival George Osborne in his beautifully prepared black Alfa 75, fitted with a 3.2 litre V6. Sticking my neck out a bit, I would say George’s is the nicest 75 I’ve ever seen. A photo of it in the pit lane appeared on Facebook after the event prompting one person to ask if it had been photo shopped, so immaculate did it look.
Just so the car doesn’t get all the attention it must also be said that George is a very accomplished driver! Veteran Alfa racer Keith Waite was the third Modified class entrant, appearing with his well known 75 instead of the 33 listed in the programme. Son Tom would be racing the 33 in the Allcomers’ race. In addition to the 3 listed Modified class entries, Simon McFie would also be racing his Fiat Punto Abarth in the Modified class as he too had not completed the required rolling road test. The Southgate Racing team has suffered some financial setbacks this year so it was great to see at least one of them back on a race circuit, professionally turned out as always and featuring a newly rebuilt engine. The nimble Abarth always goes well in Simon’s capable hands and is often a contender for overall honours on the right circuit in the right conditions.
There were 4 Power Trophy class entries. Jamie Thwaites’ red 155 had had an engine rebuild since Croft and looked absolutely superb, rivalling George’s 75 as the best turned out car. The team were confident the new liners would cure the smokiness of the engine at Croft and Jamie was also certainly due a change of luck. Dave Messenger was currently 2nd in the Championship overall and is a former Twin Spark Cup class winner at Brands. He had gone extremely well at Branfds back in March in his maiden outing in the 156 GTA and was expected to be a candidate for overall honours here. Ben Sharich’s MiTO has been going better and better in recent races as the Scuderia MiTO team has progressively got to grips with the set up of the car in terms of both reliability and pace, and they were hoping for further progress here. The final entrant in the Power Trophy was Simon Hampton, making his first appearance in the Championship since 2007 in his yellow and white 33. We were delighted to have a 33 back on our grid – let’s have many more! – and to be looking forward to seeing how competitive the car would be in Simon’s experienced hands.
The Twin Spark Cup field had been smaller than that of the Power Trophy at Croft but the tables were certainly turned here. 12 cars were entered, 10 of them through Bianco, which promised a very busy day for Paul, Alex and the rest of the Bianco team. There were 2 exceptions to the Bianco numbers. Twin Spark Cup lap record holder Andrew Fulcher was back in his distinctive Filippo Berio liveried 147 hoping to repeat his impressive double class win in 2018 and to improve on his results back in March this year where things didn’t go quite so well. It was also a great pleasure to see Matt Daly back on the entry list with his yellow 145. Matt had secured some sponsorship from his company for the day and brought a large entourage of colleagues with him to cheer him on, which they did with great enthusiasm, and Matt is a top driver who invariably runs at or near the front when he appears.
Leading the Bianco charge was expected to be Championship leader Tom Hill, back in his black and gold 156 again for this event. Tom has had a couple of setbacks this year not of his own making but has consistently driven superbly and was certainly seen as the man to beat here. 2017 Champion Andrew Bourke seemed likely to be Tom’s closest challenger, having been close behind Tom on a regular basis this season – although a little too close at Croft – and Andrew has been working hard in testing and on his own fitness to get to the front of the Twin Spark field. Simon Cresswell has also been going extremely well this year and only a chance mechanical failure on the last lap deprived him of a long-overdue class win at Croft. Richard Ford came on in leaps and bounds last season and drove exceptionally well at Snetterton to record 2 second-place finishes behind Jon Billingsley, but then encountered problems at Cadwell (a spin then brake failure) and Croft (blown engine). He was hoping for a change of luck and to be back on song here. Martin Jones had recorded his first Class win at Croft, albeit slightly fortuitously, but has been steadily and quietly improving his performances during the year in his first season in the Championship. Good results here in his 147 would be well earned.
The ever good-humoured Steve O’Brien was back on the entry list here, having had to miss the meeting at Croft for budget reasons. Steve always brightens up the paddock, enjoys his racing and is a determined competitor in his 147. Cip Nistorica’s business commitments restrict his racing programme and two solid finishes at Brands back in March had been his only outing so far this season, but Cip is capable of some fast lap times and it was good to see him back in his black 156 again.
It was a great pleasure to welcome 3 new drivers to the Championship, although one was ‘new’, not really new. Martin Parsons is actually a Championship veteran having raced in the Championship extensively between 1986 and 2001 so this was a very welcome return after an 18-year absence. Martin had warmed up with a strong performance in the ex-Andy Hancock 156 in a mini endurance race at Brands a couple of weeks ago. David Packham has been racing a Suzuki Swift but is considering a change and Andrew Fulcher had suggested trying the Alfa Championship so David negotiated a ‘taster’ drive with Bianco in a 156 and was looking forward to the day with great enthusiasm. The third new driver was Bob Taylor. Bob hadn’t raced before other than in karts and hadn’t managed to test beforehand so it was in at the deep end for him, with the added challenge of getting to grips with front wheel drive in a racing context. He was approaching the day with friendly good humour.
The weather forecasts throughout the week before the event – and indeed on the morning of the event – were good, suggesting only an 8%-12% chance of rain on the day. As Sunday dawned there were significant remnants of overnight rain on the ground but the partly sunny morning indicated that the track should be dry well before we were due out for qualifying at 10.20. As the cars waited in the assembly area for the Ferrari practice session to finish, there were dark clouds gathering but there was a good breeze and surely they would just blow over. The track was dry and conditions were good.
Tom Hill was first onto the circuit and straight away banked a time of 58.189 on his first flying lap. Others were going more cautiously in the early stages – getting tyres up to temperature, bedding in new brakes, checking that new engines were running as they should be, getting used to the feel of a car that was new to them, etc, before going for quicker times later in the session. However, the weather gods had other ideas… 3 laps into the session the first drops of rain appeared; it wasn’t torrential by any means but it still started to make the track surface slippery quite quickly and it showed no sign of letting up – indeed, it seemed to be coming down more heavily. As a result drivers were forced to go for quicker laps much more quickly than planned, particularly those on slicks. On lap 4 Dave Messenger set a time of 57.598s which was to prove quick enough to take pole position, and Tom Hill’s opening lap was second quickest overall, Tom’s normal approach to a qualifying session being perfect in the circumstances. George Osborne went third quickest on lap 4 with a lap of 58.341, and on lap 5 Simon Hampton and Jamie Thwaites posted their quickest times in the higher 58s. Simon McFie, bedding in a new engine, and Chris Snowdon, bedding in new brakes, were not so fortunate and, along with Ben Sharich’s MiTO and Keith Waite’s 75, were caught out by the worsening conditions and would line up at the back of the front section of the grid in that order.
Among the Twin Sparks, Andrew Fulcher realised that he would have to go for a quick time on lap 5 as the rain worsened but went a bit too fast and spun off at McLaren; the damp grass offered no resistance to his momentum and his right rear corner made contact with the barrier causing bodywork damage and, more critically, bending his rear suspension arm and ending his participation in the session. Others were soon spinning as well – Steve O’Brien and Richard Ford included – although thankfully without damage, and no one set their fastest time after lap 6. The Clerk of the Course let the session continue but eventually red flagged it 2 minutes short of the scheduled 20 as more cars were spinning and no one was going to better any of the times they’d already set.
So how did the Twin Spark Cup grid line up after this very eventful session? Matt Daly’s 59.045 on lap 6 put him on the front row alongside Tom, showing no signs of being ring rusty despite having not raced for many months – the little 145 looking poised and smooth throughout notwithstanding the conditions. Andrew Bourke was very close behind in 3rd with a 59.052, some 7/10ths clear of Simon Cresswell in 4th. None of the others managed to break the 1m barrier but Steve O’Brien was an encouraging 5th quickest in 1:00.625, a couple of 10ths ahead of Martin Jones (1:00.831) and Richard Ford (1:00.843), all recorded on lap 6. In the 1:01s were David Packham, Cip Nistorica and Andrew Fulcher, with Martin Parsons and Bob Taylor rounding out the grid.
After qualifying, Andrew Fulcher had to go in search of a rear suspension arm to replace the one he’d damaged when spinning out of qualifying. The only one available anywhere was the one fitted on Alex Hearnden’s road car and Alex very generously loaned it to Andrew to remove and put on his race car. The sight of Alex’s road car up on jacks under Andrew’s awning minus a rear suspension arm was a superb symbol of the sportsmanship and camaraderie that exists in the Alfa Championship.
What was originally thought likely to be a mere shower turned out to be anything but … the rain came down harder and harder and set in for over an hour. With about half an hour to go to the race start the rain stopped and the sun came out. At that point in time it would undoubtedly have been a wet race – the track surface was covered with water. For the Twin Sparks on control tyres it was no problem but the Modified and Power Trophy drivers had to try and estimate track conditions as they would be in 30 minutes’ time. In the end, there was a split decision – Simon McFie, Dave Messenger and Ben Sharich went with wets and the rest went with slicks. With hindsight the perfect combination would have been wets for the first half of the race and slicks for the second half but of course there is no time to change tyres in a 20-minute race!
To complicate things further there was an unfortunate start line incident involving 3 cars in the front section of the grid that had little to do with tyre choice. When the lights went out Simon McFie got an excellent start from the third row and when Simon Hampton saw him approaching rapidly in his mirrors he momentarily moved sharply to his left to give him room. He corrected this almost immediately but Chris Snowdon, also making a good start from the 3rd row, was already taking avoiding action moving to his left – unfortunately moving into space that was already occupied by Jamie Thwaites’ 155. Chris’s passenger door made heavy contact with Jamie’s off side front corner and the collision put Jamie out on the spot with the front splitter detached and nearside front damage. Chris managed to restart and rejoined briefly before having to retire after 2 laps. It was most unfortunate, and the result of a chance series of events for which no one was really to blame, which is what the Clerk of the Course concluded after several careful views of the circuit camera footage. Very disappointing for those involved sadly. At the front Dave Messenger had made a good start to take the lead and by the end of the opening lap it was clear that wets were the tyre to be on at that point. Dave had Simon McFie in close attendance, the Abarth revelling in the tricky conditions, ahead of Simon Hampton in an excellent 3rd place, the slick-shod George Osborne treading very gingerly in 4th, followed by Ben Sharich and Keith Waite.
Meanwhile, the Twin Spark grid got away smoothly – pretty much in grid order initially – and at the end of lap 1 Tom Hill led, followed by Matt Daly, Simon Cresswell, Andrew Bourke, Steve O’Brien, Richard Ford, Andrew Fulcher, David Packham, Martin Jones, Cip Nistorica, Martin Parsons and Bob Taylor. Unfortunately for Bob, however, he deposited the car in the sand on lap 2 and that was the end of his race – don’t worry Bob, it’s just one of those blips in the learning curve! In the opening laps the rapid Tom Hill very gradually built a gap to Matt Daly in 2nd place. It was 8/10ths at the end of lap 1, 1 second at lap 2, 1.5 seconds at lap 3, and 2.1 seconds at lap 4, Tom having also put Ben Sharich’s MiTO between him and Matt. Further down the field the Twin Sparks were running at roughly half-second intervals. Martin Parsons had passed Cip Nistorica on lap 3, Andrew Bourke squeezed past Simon Cresswell on lap 4 to go 3rd in class, Steve O’Brien spun on lap 5 losing 5 places in the process, and Keith Waite had elected to drop down through the Twin Spark running order to the tail of the field to run at his own pace in the slippery conditions.
At the front of the field Simon McFie passed Dave Messenger on lap 2 and started to pull away initially but from lap 4 to lap 15 Dave held the gap to 2 to 2.5 seconds. However, the track was drying as the race progressed and Dave’s wet tyres, which he acknowledged had not been in great shape anyway, began to turn gradually to scrap and Simon won by over 7 seconds at the chequered flag – a great drive by him and a tribute to the effort and skill of the Southgate Racing team in financially straitened circumstances. Dave held on well to take 2nd overall, but what was happening behind them?
Firstly, Tom Hill’s inexorable progress had continued. Simon Hampton’s little 8-valve 33 was running and handling superbly on slicks in the slippery conditions but Tom closed steadily on him as the laps progressed and finally made it past Simon on lap 11 to go an excellent 3rd overall, a position he maintained to the flag. Matt Daly had also been closing on the 33 but as the track dried Simon’s lap times came tumbling down and he maintained 4th position overall to the flag, a couple of seconds ahead of Matt in 5th – fine drives by both. George Osborne had dropped behind Tom and Matt on lap 4, driving very sensibly on slicks on the damp track, an approach he judiciously maintained to the flag to finish 6th overall but pulling out the stops a bit on lap 19 to record the overall fastest lap of the race – a 58.788. Ben Sharich’s MiTO was next. Early on he was running as high as 4th but a couple of slower times on laps 4 and 5 saw him drop behind Tom, Matt and George. After that a long series of very consistent laps saw him lose no further places and although he had Andrew Bourke pressing him very hard in the closing laps he held on to finish a fine 7th.
Andrew Bourke finished a strong 3rd in the Twin Spark Cup, some 9 seconds clear of Simon Cresswell in 4th. Behind Simon, Andrew Fulcher had a fruitful opening lap, passing Cip Nistorica, Martin Jones and David Packham. He made up another place when Steve O’Brien spun on lap 5. He then held station behind Richard Ford for a few laps, but Richard was suffering brake problems – when he took his foot off the brake pedal after braking, the rears were not releasing completely causing unnerving and unpredictable ‘moments’. Andrew passed him on lap 11; Richard struggled on but then a big moment on lap 15 dropped him to the tail of the field, his run of bad luck with mechanical issues sadly continuing. Cip Nistorica had struggled a little early in the race, dropping to the tail of the Twin Spark field on lap 3, but at mid distance got into his stride passing Steve O’Brien, David Packham, Martin Jones and Martin Parsons to finish 6th in class. The latter 3 were engaged in an entertaining dice, Martin Parsons just leading the other two home by half a second at the end, Martin Jones and David Packham almost finishing in a dead heat. Steve O’Brien, Keith Waite and the delayed Richard Ford rounded out the finishers.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||Dave Messenger|
|Twin Spark Cup||Tom Hill|
With over a 3-hour gap to Race 2 Dave Thornhill was working hard to repair Jamie Thwaites’ 155 which he did successfully – not as pristine as it had been but hopefully Jamie would have better fortune in Race 2… Chris Snowdon’s car had a huge dent in the driver’s side door but would also be able to line up for the second Race. There was intensive activity to try and sort out Richard Ford’s rear brakes, but there were no other major issues for the mechanics to tackle.
Although there were some darkish clouds around when Race 2 started at 16.49 they didn’t look particularly menacing this time and thankfully we had a dry race. This time, both grids got away smoothly and cleanly in grid order. In the front group George Osborne passed Simon Hampton on lap 1 and Chris Snowdon passed Ben Sharich and Keith Waite, both moves which might have been expected in the dry conditions. Jamie Thwaites then got past Simon Hampton at Paddock at the start of lap 2 and set his sights on the leading three ahead of him. Simon McFie held the lead for the first 2 laps but on lap 3 the greater power of the 3 V6-engined cars behind him told and they all got through, demoting Simon to 4th. For the next 6 laps the leading 3 circulated in close order – all 3 beautifully prepared and presented cars with Busso V6 engines sounding glorious. Simon McFie continued in 4th place some 3-4 seconds back but then on lap 8 he experienced tyre failure: big splits appeared in a tyre sidewall and pitched him into the gravel at Clearways, sadly ending his race.
Meanwhile where was Chris Snowdon? Having passed 2 cars early on he was not scything through the field as expected to take on the front runners with his renowned driving expertise, and was making no inroads into the gap between him and Simon Hampton up ahead. Something seemed clearly amiss and so it proved – the battery master switch packed up and he retired at the end of lap 7 – very unusually it had just not been his weekend but hopefully we will see him again before too long to redress things. Sadly, this was not the end of the misfortune among the leading group. Jamie Thwaites was having an excellent drive near the front of the field, setting the fastest Power Trophy lap of 56.367 in the process and looking a real threat for a possible race win, when drive shaft failure – perhaps a result of the front end damage he suffered in Race 1 – forced him into retirement on lap 11. The fates have really conspired against him this year but his luck must surely change soon.
In the Twin Spark field, things were also becoming eventful. Andrew Bourke had got ahead of Matt Daly on lap 1 to go second behind Tom Hill, and at the rear of the field Steve O’Brien and Richard Ford had both picked up places on the opening lap. Cip Nistorica had also passed Andrew Fulcher to go 4th in class but Andrew was pressing hard and got back through; however, exiting Clearways Cip was right up on the exit kerb on the outside of Andrew and the cars made contact pitching Andrew across the grass on the infield as Cip’s front left made contact with Andrew’s rear offside quarter. From the head on camera it looked as though Andrew had closed the door on Cip when they were overlapping, causing the contact, but it wasn’t clear if alternatively Cip had been behind and hit Andrew. It was deemed to be a racing incident in the final analysis. Cip lost 2 places to Steve O’Brien and Martin Jones in the aftermath but Andrew came off worse, dropping to the tail of the field a lap down on the rest.
At the front of the Twin Spark field also on lap 2, Tom Hill, Andrew Bourke and Matt Daly were running very closely together when Matt inadvertently – much to his chagrin and embarrassment – hit Tom’s rear quarter. The contact delayed both of them enabling Andrew to take the lead. In addition, Tom’s car looked to be crabbing and smoke was coming from the rear corner where the contact had occurred, though at this stage the cause was uncertain. Although his car looked to be a real handful Tom maintained his pace behind Andrew and Matt until lap 7 when a black and orange flag shown by concerned race officials forced him to pit to have the car checked. He was released onto the circuit again but now a lap down. This elevated Simon Cresswell to 3rd in class while Matt Daly got his head down to try and reel in Andrew Bourke who was 2 seconds further up the road. The gap gradually came down and by lap 12 they were nose to tail. As he proved repeatedly in his 2017 Championship-winning year, Andrew is highly accomplished at defending a lead; time and again Matt was alongside but on the wrong line and Andrew was able to close the door fairly and retain his position. Finally, however, the pressure told – Matt tried something different and succeeded in passing Andrew down the outside turning into Paddock on lap 19 and held his line on the exit to claim the lead.
In the remaining 2 laps Andrew tried to come back at him but Matt was able to claim a popular and highly acclaimed class win. Simon Cresswell was a few seconds back in 3rd after another strong drive. Steve O’Brien achieved his best result to date, winning a close dice with Martin Jones to finish 4th in class with a slowing Richard Ford settling for 6th with vibration problems that later turned out to be a drive shaft problem. Martin Parsons, David Packham and Cip Nistorica were next in that order after more close racing with Tom Hill salvaging 10th place at the end ahead of Bob Taylor (delighted at his finish) and the also-delayed Andrew Fulcher.
At the front of the field another close dice for the overall lead had developed. Like Andrew Bourke, Dave Messenger is very good at maintaining a lead under pressure, knowing just where to place his car to make it difficult for a quicker car trying to get through. So it required patience and persistence from George Osborne over 17 laps before finally he was able to pass Dave and go on to claim the overall win and setting fastest lap of 55.846s two laps from the end. Simon Hampton finished an excellent 3rd overall – a top class performance – and 4th was Ben Sharich. Ben drove strongly throughout the meeting to record the best ever result for the MiTO, a car that is crucial for the future of the Championship, and deservedly won the Driver of the Day Award. Behind Ben, Keith Waite was a different proposition in the dry and lapped consistently in the high 58s/low59s to record a strong finish ahead of the Twin Spark field.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||Dave Messenger|
|Twin Spark Cup||Matt Daly|
The latest standings
It was an exciting and eventful day’s racing which entertained the crowd brilliantly and thanks to all our drivers, preparers and supporters – as well as MSV, Auto Italia magazine, et al – for a great day’s racing.