Well, what a day!

Our Festival Italia races had everything: superb close racing, some unexpected results, the slipperiest track surface ever, incidents, unpredictable weather, mechanical woes (some overcome, some not), and great entertainment.  25 starters was our biggest grid for some considerable time and 11 different models on track provided great viewing for the spectators.

In the days leading up to the event the weather forecasts seemed to change on a daily basis so it was difficult to know what conditions to expect. In the event, when we were ready for our qualifying session at 10.30 AM, it was overcast, very warm, humid and dry with hazy sunshine. The track surface looked dry but it had had quite a battering in recent times, with Touring Cars laying down copious amounts of rubber the previous weekend, and an eventful 750 MC raceday the previous day featuring spins, red flags, and 3 races finishing under the safety car, all of which pointed to the need for a degree of caution to assess track conditions before driving flat out…

QUALIFYING

As all 25 cars waited in the Assembly area to go out to qualify, 4 drivers were informed they could not do so because they “hadn’t signed on”. They were eventually allowed to join the session halfway through after Giles Groombridge loaded up his laptop and showed the officials that they had indeed signed on with 750 MC. It turned out that MSV had sent out a separate signing-on form 2 days before the meeting which these drivers hadn’t completed on the basis they had already done it. The procedural issue was resolved after the session in the end, albeit at the cost of a good deal of frustration on the part of the drivers concerned who were anxious to be out on the track.

Modified and Power Trophy Grids

The point about the need for caution was underlined right at the very beginning of qualifying. Defending champion Tom Hill was first onto the track in his GT as is his custom. Normally he sets a benchmark time on his first flying lap but as he rounded Paddock Hill Bend on his out lap the GT slewed sideways; he successfully controlled the slide all the way down the slope and carried on but it was clear that conditions were going to be tricky! Nevertheless Tom was on provisional pole after 8 laps, only briefly usurped by George Osborne’s 75, until first Ricky Losselli’s iconic MiTO and then, very late in the session, Graham Seager’s mighty supercharged GT took over the head of the timesheets, with George Osborne also pipping Tom on his penultimate lap. Graham had wisely taken his time settling into the session, setting his two fastest times right at the end, 54.880 being the quickest, to take pole for both the races. Ricky Losselli’s 56.017 put him alongside Graham on the front row for Race 1, and 3rd quickest for Race 2. The MiTO looks superb and is beginning to fulfil its obvious potential on the track, a tribute to its quality of specification and build by the Alfa Workshop team. A spin exiting Surtees briefly halted his progress but he was quickly into his stride again. George Osborne’s beautifully prepared 75 would line up 3rd and 4th respectively with Tom’s Revs Italia-prepared GT reversing those positions.

Finding space for a clear lap wasn’t easy with 25 cars on the 1.2 mile circuit, and there was quite a lot of variation in the lap times of most drivers. Chris McFie was 5th quickest with an excellent best lap of 57.299, the nimble Abarth getting right in the mix with the V6 cars. His second quickest lap was a second slower but still good enough for 8th place on the Race 2 grid. Dave Messenger’s 57.342 put him alongside Chris on row 3 for the first race and he would also line up 6th on the grid for Race 2 in his 156 GTA. Jamie Thwaites was due better fortune after his car problems at Snetterton – his superb looking 155 certainly has the wow factor – and his best laps in the 57s put him 7th and 5th respectively for the 2 race grids. 8th and 7th place grid positions went to Simon McFie in his Abarth Punto, setting his best times mid-session, as usual extremely close to brother Chris’s times.

Daniel Wood was making a welcome return to the Championship in his well known Alfa 164 ‘Big Yella’. Daniel had bought the car from Ian Brookfield a few years ago and it is still in the same spec. as it was then – a 3-litre 12-valve V6 – his plans to redevelop the car this year having been thwarted to date by the Covid 19 lockdown. Through the session he progressively worked his way down to a series of laps in the low 58s to line up 9th on the grid for both races – a fine effort and one he was justly pleased with. Andy Inman was next in his 156 GTA – he has often missed the Brands meeting in the past due to travel issues but this time he had made the long drive down from Newcastle. His best times in the mid 58s putting him 10th and 11th quickest. Alastair Baptie had also travelled down from the north – all the way from Perth in fact – to race in what is likely to be a one-off event for him in his Fiat X19. Alastair has twice won championships north of the border and it was a pleasure to welcome him to our races at Brands and the Fiat added yet more flavour to our varied grid. He lapped the little 1500 CC car in the high 58s to line up on the inside of row 6.

Scott Austin had gone extremely well at Snetterton, winning the coveted Driver of the Day award, but here in qualifying his 155 was misbehaving. Something definitely sounded wrong with his engine: it wasn’t firing at all cleanly and the turbo wouldn’t cut in till he was way up the rev range, that on top of being one of the drivers late onto the track because of the administrative mix up. He wasn’t able to break the 1 minute barrier, and returned to the paddock in some frustration, but settled down to try to get to the bottom of the problem. Luke Praoline was next up in the third Southgate Racing Punto Abarth. Still a novice (this only his second-ever race meeting) Luke has been enjoying the racing experience immensely and lapped in the 1.01s to take the penultimate grid slot ahead of – of all people – Vincent Dubois in the powerful Integrale-engined 156. Vincent was another driver delayed by the administrative problem and once out on track things didn’t get any better. He managed 3 laps before retiring to the paddock with oil seeping from a cracked sump and sadly had to withdraw from the races. He accepted this with his usual good humour but it was a shame; the car is a mighty beast in full flow and we would dearly love to see it doing just that. Next time Vincent!

Twin Spark Cup Grid

An 11-car entry for the Twin Spark Cup promised some great track action and this is exactly what we got. Andrew Bourke had set the pace at Snetterton with a double class win and continued here where he had left off setting pole for both races. It wasn’t a given by any means though: most of his laps were well over the 1 minute mark but in the middle of the session 3 laps under 59 seconds did the business for him. Simon Cresswell was second quickest, only a couple of 10ths slower than Andrew for both race grids and would start alongside him on the front row. On the inside of the second row for both races was Richard Ford with times of 59.122 and 59.168, again set in the middle of the session. He would have his brother James alongside him for both races only a few hundredths of a second slower, suggesting a great battle was in prospect with brotherly love at a premium. The ever-improving Steve O’Brien was fifth quickest for both grids, the fruits of the efforts he has been putting in to improve his pace being there for all to see, his best times being only 3/100ths shy of James.

Motorsports Consultants Motus One had acquired a pair of 156 Twin Spark cars from Bianco over the winter with a plan to run them for customers in the Championship this season. They appeared here for the first time looking very well presented in red and white livery respectively to be driven by Managing Director Will Powell and Motorsport Director Sean Hurley prior to testing with prospective customer drivers the following week. Although he hadn’t driven the car before and feeling that it wasn’t set up quite to his liking, Will actually set the quickest Twin Spark lap times early on before his times were narrowly beaten by the five drivers above but he was only 1/10th slower than Richard, James and Steve, demonstrating that whoever drives the car at future races will certainly have the right equipment to be very competitive. Sean Hurley was not quite on the same pace and would line up at the back of the grid but it is a great benefit to the Championship to have a new Twin Spark Cup preparer aboard, so we are looking forward to welcoming a couple of new drivers being run by the Silverstone-based outfit. In his second ever race meeting Luke Powell would line up 7th and 8th on the respective grids in his 147 and breaking the 1-minute mark on his best lap in particular was an excellent achievement. He is certainly one to watch as he gathers experience and says he is having a great time which is after all the main point of club racing! Unusually far back on the grid was Gethin Llewellyn who would start 8th and 7th – he had been highly keyed up to go on the track to qualify only to be told initially that he couldn’t race because he hadn’t signed on. This undoubtedly affected him and once he was cleared to go out he never really got into his stride to achieve the lap times we know he is capable of. Martin Jones was next with a best lap of 1.00.878; he was blaming himself for being a little off the pace but from the sidelines it looked more like a lack of straight line speed. Ahead of Sean Hurley the penultimate driver on the grids was – or would have been – Jon Tortolani who is having no luck at all at the moment. After blowing his engine in qualifying at Snetterton he replaced it with another engine from a road car and the same thing happened here, an ominous knocking sound from the big end giving a strong clue as to what was wrong and forcing him to withdraw. To his enormous credit his enthusiasm seems undimmed and hopefully in future meetings we will see him enjoying himself and getting some trouble-free races under his belt.

RACE 1

With the track programme running ahead of time we lined up on the grid at 12.35 for Race 1. The track surface had proved to be slippery off the racing line but weather conditions were good. The MiTO had been emitting a lot of smoke in the paddock after qualifying with Jamie Porter and team trying to cure the problem which it seemed they had. James Ford acquired a puncture just before the grid formed up and came slowly down the pit lane. Fortunately fast work by the Bianco team changed the wheel enabling James to take the start, albeit from the pit lane. Both grids made good clean, close starts but among the Twin Sparks both Gethin Llewellyn and Luke Powell got on the slippery stuff and spun independently of each other into the sand at Paddock Hill Bend. Unable to free themselves and continue the Safety Car was deployed as the leaders of the front grid approached Druids on lap 2. There followed 4 laps under the Safety car as the 2 cars were towed out of the sand, both being able to continue albeit several laps down.

Before the Safety car came out, Ricky Losselli had made an excellent start and established a 2.5 second gap over George Osborne in second who was followed by Tom Hill and Dave Messenger. Surprisingly, there was then a 2-second gap back to Graham Seager in 5th. We are accustomed to seeing Graham make cautious starts as it seems to take some time for him to get temperature into his rear tyres but it was a surprise to see him so far back. What we didn’t know was that he was already aware that he had a problem and was pretty sure he knew what it was. Although he continued behind the safety car for a couple of laps he then pitted and retired; his surmise had been correct – a wheel bolt had sheared and the other 4 bolts had bent as a result. It was obviously something he was well prepared for as he had an ample supply of spares and would be fine for the second race. Behind Graham, Scott Austin was flying, overtaking 7 cars on the opening lap, suggesting that his engine problem was sorted; he was followed by Chris and Simon McFie, Jamie Thwaites, Daniel Wood, Alastair Baptie, Andy Inman and Luke Praoline in that order. Disappointingly, Jamie Thwaites’s race immediately came to an end. As he came down the start/finish straight at the end of the lap his bonnet flew open and blew back hard onto the windscreen, cracking the glass and ripping the safety electrics out. His raceday therefore ended there and then and he is surely well overdue for a change in fortune. In the Twin Sparks Andrew Bourke was leading Simon Cresswell, Steve O’Brien had passed Richard Ford for third and they were followed by Martin Jones, Will Powell, Sean Hurley and James Ford. Once Gethin Llewellyn and Luke Powell had been pulled out of the sand the safety car pulled in at the end of lap 5 and the racing was on again.

At the front Ricky Losselli quickly re-established his lead over George Osborne to 1.8 seconds by the end of lap 6, held it at that for a couple of laps but then George steadily began to close the gap. By lap 11 he was right on the bumper of the MiTO looking for a way through. An attempt to go round Ricky on the outside of Clearways failed as Ricky managed to close the door and stayed just ahead through Paddock but then George got through on the inside at Druids into the lead. He never got clear with Ricky pressuring him all the way but held on to take a fine race win by 1.5 seconds at the chequered flag. Behind them, Tom Hill was running third on lap 6 but Dave Messenger was close behind and getting closer, lapping right on Tom’s pace. In order to try and pull clear Tom was braking later and later at Paddock until lap 12 when the (almost) unthinkable happened – Tom made a mistake! He left his braking far too late at Paddock and went straight on across the gravel and hit the tyre wall, sustaining frontal damage and was out on the spot, Dave taking over third place. Scott Austin had been a few seconds adrift of Dave on lap 6 but then slowly started reeling him in, his 155 still not running as well as he would like but certainly the qualifying problems seemed to have been overcome and on lap 13 he was through into third place. Unfortunately for Scott it was not to last: 2 laps later a tyre began to delaminate and with the sound of the rubber flailing against the bodywork  he thought a wheel was coming off and pitted. The wheel was firmly on but the tyre was scrap and he had to retire.

Dave Messenger then held a fine 3rd place overall to the flag. Behind him a characteristically entertaining battle between the two Abarths of Chris and Simon McFie was in full flow. Chris held the advantage by a couple of 10ths from lap 6 to lap 8 but then Simon got past him until lap 11 when Chris repassed him. However, Chris then broke a drive shaft on lap 13 ending the battle prematurely leaving Simon to record a fine overall 4th place finish. A few seconds adrift of Simon on lap 6 was another entertaining battle between Daniel Wood’s 164, Andy Inman’s 156 GTA and Alastair Baptie’s diminutive X19 in that order. Andy got past Daniel on lap 12 and slowly increased the gap back to Daniel, but just as the chequered flag was looming Andy spun on the last lap and did not restart, thinking he had a puncture. This left Daniel to take 5th place overall, a result he was rightly delighted with, and Alastair was just a second behind in 6th. Luke Praoline’s Abarth was the final Power Trophy runner, finishing behind the first few Twin Sparks but pleased at getting some more solid race miles under his belt.

In the Twin Spark Cup the field was closely grouped when the safety car pulled in and it stayed that way through lap 6. Andrew Bourke held the lead but had Simon Cresswell right behind him looking for a way past, with Steve O’Brien, Richard Ford, Will Powell, James Ford, Martin Jones and Sean Hurley close behind in that order. Gethin Llewellyn and Luke Powell were also continuing after being rescued from the Paddock Hill sand but were 4 and 5 laps respectively behind. In general the racing remained close but the gaps between the cars gradually widened slightly, the progress of James Ford being the only variation in the running order. Having passed Sean Hurley and Martin Jones on lap 6 it wasn’t till lap 16 that he was able to find a way past Will Powell. At the flag Andrew took a fine win with a couple of seconds in hand over Simon, and a truly excellent drive by Steve O’Brien netted him third place ahead of Richard Ford in fourth. James, Will, Martin and Sean then finished a lap down in that order. Disappointingly for Gethin and Luke Powell they were too many laps adrift to be classified as finishers. The race had been full of excitement for the spectators and was a fine advertisement for the 750 Motor Club Alfa Romeo Championship in that respect. There was much to do to prepare the cars for the second race later in the afternoon and what was to follow proved to be even more eventful as the weather took a hand…

Race 1 Results

ClassWinners
ModifiedRiccardo Losselli
Power TrophyGeorge Osborne
Twin Spark CupAndrew Bourke

RACE 2

Our second race was due to start at 16.25 although the track programme was running ahead of schedule and we would eventually start 15 minutes early. The weather had been warm, very humid and dry, but in mid afternoon the heavens opened and a prolonged downpour left no doubt that wet tyres would be needed for the Modified and Power Trophy cars. The track surface had been quite slippery off the racing line already but it was now wet as well and car control was going to be far from straightforward. (Is it ever? Ed.) We had lost Vincent Dubois, Jon Tortolani, Jamie Thwaites and Tom Hill at this point. The frontal damage on Tom’s car looked significant but it would have been driveable in that respect; however, the cam belt housing was full of gravel and as Roger Evans carefully wound the engine forward by hand to see if it would turn freely it locked solid so it was clear that Tom could not take the start. The Motus One Twin Spark cars had customer testing scheduled for the following Wednesday and Will Powell and Sean Hurley eventually decided not to start in order to obviate the risk of damaging the cars in the slippery conditions, so 19 cars took the start for Race 2. There would be two green flag laps to accustom the drivers to the changed conditions.

Both sections of the grid made good clean close starts and this time all made it safely through Paddock Hill Bend and the first five laps unscathed. At the end of lap 1 Andrew Bourke once again led the Twin Spark field with Simon Cresswell hard on his heels, followed by Richard Ford, James Ford, Gethin Llewellyn, Luke Powell and Martin Jones. However, the slippery conditions were about to get even more slippery. Unbeknown to him initially Luke Powell’s sump had been cracked and was leaking oil. He pulled into the pits at the end of lap 5 but by this time there was a trail of oil starting at Paddock and continuing for most of the circuit. There were now 3 layers of slipperiness – oil on top of water on top of rubber – and we were now in effect racing on ice! At the front of the Twin Spark field Andrew Bourke could not shake off Simon Cresswell, there being no more than 1/10th or two between them, but then proceedings were once again interrupted by the safety car. On lap 7 Steve O’Brien hit the oil in the braking area for Druids, the car snapped to the left and he hit the tyre wall, fortunately not head on but his car was in a dangerous position so once it was became clear that it couldn’t be moved under its own steam the safety car was deployed.

Meanwhile what had been happening in the Modified/Power Trophy group up ahead? After the tight close start the field was still tighly bunched at the end of lap 1. George Osborne just held the lead from Graham Seager with Chris McFie a close third, and they were followed in close order by Dave Messenger, Scott Austin, Simon McFie, Ricky Losselli, Andy Inman, Daniel Wood, Luke Praoline and Alastair Baptie. Surprisingly to me at the time Alastair’s X19 was obviously in difficulties; I had thought it would find the wet conditions very much to its liking but it transpired that Alastair did not have any proper wet race tyres with him and had to put on some worn road tyres. It was clear the car had no grip at all – a video appeared on Facebook subsequently with the caption ‘X19 Drift Car’ to illustrate the point. Alastair continued gamely for 11 laps before calling it a day. (The car is for sale incidentally: contact Alastair at [email protected] if you’re interested.)

https://www.facebook.com/AlfaRomeoChampionship/posts/3193345720778797

Up at the front of the field there was real drama on lap 2; Scott Austin was finding grip where no one else seemed to be able to and passed all 4 cars in front of him to take the lead. From there he pulled away, no one else able to live with his pace. By lap 7 he had 12.4 seconds in hand over Graham Seager and a further 2 seconds over Ricky Losselli who had moved up after a slow first lap. Scott then actually spun on the oil at Clearways but recovered quickly losing only 5 seconds off his lead. Dave Messenger was running well in 4th place ahead of George Osborne and the McFie brothers. With such a big lead what Scott really did not want at that point was a safety car but, much to his chagrin, that’s what he got…

There followed 4 laps under the safety car, during which time something had clearly happened to Andrew Bourke’s exhaust as the car was painfully loud. Brands Hatch noise restrictions being a perennial headache for the circuit owners, Andrew was black flagged, ending his chances of a fourth straight class win. When the safety car pulled in Graham Seager was obviously intent on making the most of the opportunity he had been gifted to wrest the lead back from Scott Austin during the remaining laps. He hounded Scott all through lap 13 trying to find a way past and at the start of lap 14 he made his move down the inside as they approached Paddock Hill Bend. As they entered the corner side by side it looked for a moment that he had done it but somehow Scott found more grip around the outside of the corner and exited the corner more quickly than Graham was able to and held the lead for the rest of the race. In the end Scott won by just 0.184 seconds from Graham in what had been a thrilling battle. Ricky Losselli finished 3rd some 10 seconds back ahead of Dave Messenger, George Osborne, Chris McFie, Simon McFie and Andy Inman. Of the rest, Daniel Wood had experienced numerous ‘moments’ in the big 164 on the slippery surface before deciding to park the car to avoid damaging it and Luke Praoline made a similar decision after spinning off the track on the oil. In the Twin Spark Cup, Simon Cresswell had taken over the lead following Andrew Bourke’s retirement and capped a fine driving performance throughout the day by taking a well earned class win just ahead of James Ford, with Richard Ford third, Gethin Llewellyn fourth and Martin Jones fifth. It was a long overdue class win for Simon on UK soil and he fully merited the Driver of the Day award for his performances in addition to his class winner’s trophy.

Race 2 Results

ClassWinners
ModifiedScott Austin
Power TrophyDave Messenger
Twin Spark CupSimon Cresswell

We now look forward to our next meeting at either Anglesey or Snetterton 300, hoping as always for a strong grid and to continue the exciting racing that has characterised our season so far. As always, see you there!

Andy Robinson
Championship Coordinator

Points