The Championship’s first visit to Mallory for six years ended in heartbreak for Andrew Bourke who was eliminated in the first race and saw his lead over Tom Hill cut to just 11 points before the final meeting of the year at Donington.
The fast and challenging 1.35 mile Mallory Park circuit always used to be one of the Championship’s favourite tracks, both for practice days and race meetings, but all that changed in 2002 with the dreadful accident to Kevin Griffiths. Since then we had been back only three times before last weekend . However, much has changed since our last visit in 2011. The BARC had held the lease after taking it over from the Overend family but problems with noise complaints and restrictions over the number of meetings they could run led them to withdraw. The circuit closed for a while but the freehold was taken over by new owners in the hope that they could come to an agreement with the local council to expand to a financially viable programme, based mainly on motorcycle racing. Car racing was now low on the list of priorities but some events have been held and the BRSCC, having held a pilot meeting in 2016, had decided to go there again this September.
The first thing that strikes you on entering the circuit, via the hairpin, is how open and tidy it now is. There used to be trees on the bank between the approach and descent to and from the Hairpin. These have now all gone. Instead, there are now some sound deadening barriers on either side. The paddock appears larger and the view of the track more open. None of this, though, was much consolation to a rather frazzled Paul Plant who arrived at the wheel of the large Bianco transporter having had to negotiate the narrow approach roads not helped by the sudden disappearance of road signs! One thing that Mallory does have though, and this was built towards the end of the Overend era, is a palatial race control building and one of the most spacious commentary boxes of any UK circuit with a splendid view everywhere apart from the hairpin, this being covered instead by well sited television cameras.
ARCA had decided to subsidise entries for this meeting to the tune of £100 per driver, so it was a disappointment to us and the BRSCC that we ended with only 13 cars. Leading the way, having missed Brands, was Graham Seager in his Peak Alfa prepared supercharged GTV but after his double success at Festival Italia, Vincent Dubois was hoping to give him a run for his money in his quick 156 Turbo. A welcome modified class entry was the 156 3.2 with which Roger McMahon won the opening race at Oulton in March, running under the Kellett Motorsport banner. As Roger had been very unwell and in hospital for a while, Alastair Kellett was due to drive the car at Mallory. Since he last raced his Punto Abarth with us, he had become 2016 BRSCC Fiesta champion and we were looking forward to seeing what he could achieve with the 156 which had been so quick in Roger’s hands at Spa (last year) and Oulton. Single entries made up the Power Trophy and Invitation classes, Paul Webster returning with the 156 GTA which had given him such a good couple of races at Snetterton in July while Vince Proto was having a second outing in the ex Simon McFie Punto Abarth HGT.
For the Twin Spark Cup, Bianco had brought the 156s of Championship leader Andrew Bourke, Tom Hill, Simon Cresswell and Mike Tydeman, Andrew hoping to protect his 26 point lead over Tom in his quest for the 2017 tile. Simon was still looking for that elusive class win and Mike was hoping that he could get himself into the mix at the front of the class. But they all had to resist the attentions of Dave Messenger who was looking somewhat happier than he had been at Brands Hatch, his team having worked extremely hard to tidy up their 156 and give it a rebuilt engine. Also Dave knows the circuit pretty well having raced at the 2016 Boxing Day Plum Pudding meeting and a few years ago with his 75 3 litre. Other 156s were those of Jeremy Chilton (again under the Bianco) umbrella and Andy Inman (with Peak Alfa). Finally, Roger Evans had once again entered his 145 Cloverleaf. The car had brought him nothing but grief so far so I asked Roger if it had had some serious t.l.c to sort out its fuelling/electrical problems .”No” he said “mmm!” I thought. There had been a change to the TSC regulations in that ABS could now be disabled.
Our qualifying session had hardly got going before a red flag brought proceedings to a halt. Vincent Dubois had suffered a driveshaft failure as he left the pit lane, a repeat of the problem he suffered at Silverstone in 2016. After a ten minute delay qualifying restarted with enough time on the clock for the fastest cars to complete 18 or 19 laps. Although Graham Seager was initially slightly quicker than Alastair Kellett it didn’t take Alastair long to show that he was not going to be left behind, both drivers times coming down until Alastair set a 51.863” on his tenth lap. Could Graham match that? Despite a lairy moment coming out of Gerards, he came close with 51.881” four laps later but it would be Alastair who just kept pole, giving us hopes of a close race at the front. Paul Webster had worked his way down to 55.218” to be third quickest. As usual the Twin Spark Cup times were incredibly close – 0.266” covering the top four with Simon Cresswell, despite not feeling at his best, grabbing his first class pole with a 56.300”, ahead of Tom Hill, Andrew Bourke and Dave Messenger. Mike Tydeman and Andy Inman were both in the 57s with Roger Evans in the 145 happy to complete the session with a best of 58.518” despite understeer at Gerards early on and a loose exhaust. Jeremy Chilton was disappointed not to be closer to his class rivals while the grid was completed by Vince Proto in the Punto HGT.
Wandering around the paddock, there was plenty to look at in the HRDC area including the Giulietta saloons of Gavin Watson and Tom Shepherd and the Giulia Sprint GT of Roz Shaw. Also people to bump into, prominent amongst them being past lease holder at Mallory, Ron Overend – now a spritely 93 years of age, who had always been a staunch supporter of the Championship as an Alfa owner himself for many years. However, back in our own area Vincent Dubois and Keith and Tom Waite were hard at work replacing the broken driveshaft on the 156 turbo in order that it could qualify out-of-session. Mission accomplished only for the car to suffer an engine fire after its 3 laps caused by a split oil pipe. Although it was quickly put out it was not possible to make a repair at the circuit and we therfore lost one of our three modified runners. As Vince Proto did not want to start with the front group, it was decided by the Clerk of the Course that although there would still be a three row gap, everyone would start on the lights. This was welcomed by those who are suspicious of creeping and jumped starts with the 10” delay and flag getaways. I had made my way to join the ever enthusiastic Jake Sanson in the commentary box, enjoying the opportunity to chat about various Alfa related matters before the cars came onto the grid.
At the front, Alastair Kellett and Paul Webster made the best starts as the lights went out with Graham Seager third as they went into Gerards, but Graham was soon into second place and setting about trying to take the lead away from Alastair. Behind, there was an amazing Twin Spark start which ended with Dave Messenger, Andrew Bourke, Tom Hill and Simon Cresswell going four abreast into Gerards – wonderfully illustrated in Matt Daly’s highlights video. On the outside, Dave Messenger had the best line to take the lead while Simon Cresswell, on the inside, managed to slip into second place behind him, trailed by Tom Hill and Andrew Bourke. It looked initially as though Dave was going to pull away but Simon and Tom had other ideas and by the time they all reached the hairpin the leading foursome were tightly bunched with Mike Tydeman and Roger Evans next in line. On lap 2, Mike Tydeman managed to get ahead of Andrew Bourke although it looked as though Roger Evans might not be able to hold on to them.
With Alastair Kellett running strongly It would take Graham Seager until lap 5 to take the lead and although Alastair tried his best to keep pace it became clear that Graham just had that edge. The Twin Spark leaders were beginning a game of cat and mouse that was to go on lap after lap with it becoming clear that the getting enough speed out of Gerards was essential for Simon Cresswell and Tom Hill to close up on Dave Messenger through the Esses and up to the Hairpin. Here Simon would try every way he could to get alongside for a good run to Devil’s Elbow with Tom very close behind looking for any mistake by the two cars in front. For Dave, keeping the advantage at Devil’s Elbow was key and some calm defensive driving on his part was the answer to attacks from both Simon and Tom.
Further back, the battle between Mike Tydeman and Andrew Bourke had become very close by lap 5 while Roger Evans now seemed able to keep pace with them so that only a second covered the three cars at the end of the lap. Equally close were Andy Inman and Jeremy Chilton enjoying their own private contest. Lap after lap we were entertained by Simon Cresswell’s attempts to pass Dave Messenger at the Hairpin while Tom Hill continued to watch from just beyond Simon’s bootlid. Sadly, it all went wrong for Simon on lap 16 – two thirds distance – when he outbraked himself going into the hairpin, skated over the grass and then hit the tyre barrier. He was able to reverse back and continue but there was smoke from damaged bodywork rubbing on a tyre and fluid from a damaged oil cooler, so he had no option but to pull off by the marshals post on the exit of Gerards. This left Dave Messenger now having to fend off a feisty Tom Hill who had waited relatively patiently for the opportunity. But even he couldn’t find a way round the ever defending Darnell’s 156. A final opportunity was lost when with a lap to go Mike Tydeman made an ill judged attempt to re-pass Andrew Bourke on the approach to the Hairpin through a gap that wasn’t really there. The inevitable contact threw Andrew hard into the left hand barrier. The car was badly damaged but happily Andrew was able to clamber out unhurt while yellow flags flew and Dave Messenger’s class lead was safe.
In the meantime, Graham Seager crossed the line to win by over a lap from Alastair Kellett who had slowed dramatically at the end. Paul Webster was unlucky that everyone was having to slow at the Hairpin, otherwise he might have caught him. As it was he had to be satisfied with 3rd. Dave Messenger took a fine Twin Spark win with Tom Hill under a second behind him. Roger Evans came home a very pleased third in class ahead of Mike Tydeman who was later excluded for his part in the accident with Andrew Bourke, receiving 4 points on his licence in the process. This elevated Andy Inman to fourth in class, winning his battle with Jeremy Chilton while Vince Proto completed the finishers.
Inevitably there was much serious discussion about the Andrew Bourke/Mike Tydeman accident particularly as it could have had much more serious consequences than was happily the case. However, it had not only put in jeopardy Andrew’s hopes of winning the Championship but also very seriously damaged one of the best cars in the series, and most people approved the action of the Clerk of the Course To give him his credit, Mike Tydeman was profuse in his apologies to Andrew later, offering him his car for the second race (not possible under the regulations) and subsequently saying he would like to pay for any rental charges for a replacement for the final two rounds at Donington which Andrew has much appreciated.
Race 1 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
With race two not due to start until 4.30 there was time to watch some of the Historic racing which included a dramatic bang, flash of flame and much smoke as the 1600 engine in Gavin Watson’s Giulietta detonated itself on the exit of Gerards – not something an Alfa enthusiast ever wishes to see! Engines were also the centre of attention for some of our drivers. Simon Cresswell’s 156 Twin Spark had run its bearings and the car would sadly be a non starter, robbing us of a repeat of the race one contest with Dave Messenger as the bodywork had been made acceptable. Alastair Kellett was seen delving into his 156’s electrics – with success as it later transpired – but Modified rival Graham Seager was seen putting his GTV onto its trailer. A “wobbly” supercharger pulley had been diagnosed and the team had no spare, a lack that Graham and Roger Evans were determined to put right for the future. The grid would again have a three row split with everyone going together on the lights.
With his 156 3.2 back to health, Alastair Kellett was determined to run away to a comfortable win ahead of Paul Webster who soon settled himself into a lonely second place, concentrating instead on seeing how quickly he could get the 156 GTA round Mallory. Apart from Dave Messenger, Roger Evans was the “star” at the start, finding himself in second position ahead of Tom Hill and keeping the 145 there for a couple of laps before Tom exerted himself to take away the place. Mike Tydeman came through very quickly from the back, determined to make up for race one, and was quickly past Jeremy Chilton and Andy Inman, latching onto the back of Tom Hill and then Roger Evans. At the end of lap 4, Alastair Kellett led Paul Webster by 5.6” and in the Twin Spark Cup Dave Messenger led Tom Hill by 1.6” but it had been 2.2” on the previous lap and would come down to 1.3” a lap later. Roger Evans was having very spirited race, shadowing Tom Hill but with 5 laps completed was having to keep his eyes on the advancing Mike Tydeman. Five seconds further back, Andy Inman and Jeremy Chilton were enjoying another battle of their own but just as entertaining.
Tom Hill was continuing to lap quicker than Dave Messenger and had got the gap down to just 1.1” at the end of lap 7. Roger Evans and Mike Tydeman were matching Dave’s lap times and just 2” covered the top four in the class two laps later. The next change came on lap 12 when Mike Tydeman moved ahead of Roger Evans while Tom Hill closed to within half a second of Dave Messenger. Mike, though, was now lapping quicker than either of them and was soon on the tail of Tom Hill. This wasn’t exactly what Tom had expected and a lap in the 56s brought him closer still. With one lap to go, Mike was ahead and chasing Dave for the lead! On the final lap he was challenging coming out of Devil’s Elbow. It was near thing at the flag, just 0.059” separating the two cars with Tom Hill not being left out of the picture just over half a second behind. Roger Evans had dropped back slightly by the end but still happy to have finished both races in the hitherto unreliable 145. 4th in class was Jeremy Chilton ahead of a delayed Andy Inman. By then, of course, Alastair Kellett had passed the chequered flag to win overall from Paul Webster, Paul being particularly pleased with a best lap of 54.091”. A double victory represented a great success for Dave Messenger’s close knit team and for Mike Tydeman it was his best Alfa result to date. There was some consolation for Simon Cresswell who had set a new Twin Spark lap record in the first race of 56.786”.
Race 2 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
Every year, the International Police Association ask the BRSCC to nominate a championship to receive their Peter Goodwin Trophy and it was decided that it would go to the winner of our second Twin Spark Cup race. IPA is now a worldwide police friendship organisation. Peter Goodwin’s daughter Louise Shaw and grandson, also Peter, were to make the presentation to Dave Messenger and we took the opportunity to ask Louise to present all the other awards as well. In fact, Dave went away with an armful of Trophies which included those for his class wins plus the coveted Grove & Dean Motorsport Insurance Driver of the Day Award.
Our thanks to the BRSCC Midland section for running a smooth meeting despite resources being somewhat stretched as they were also involved in running the GT Championship meeting at Donington. Andy Robinson once again had a busy time as our “on the day” co-ordinator but he is hoping that he will be able to race his 156 at the final meeting. Andrew Bourke went away from Mallory nursing a reduce championship points lead over Tom Hill, down from 26 to 11, but the dropped scores rule meant that every point would now count (bar 1 that Tom has to drop). And don’t forget Simon Cresswell who is still in contention.
See the latest standings
PS: Congratulations to Max and Andrew Banks for winning both legs of the U2TC series at the Spa 6 Hours meeting (September 14th/15th) in their already highly successful GTA, defeating the Lotus Cortina of Steve Soper on both occasions. They also raced their ex Jo Bonnier McLaren M6B to second place in the Masters Historic Sportscar event. A busy weekend for the Alfaholics team.