The build up to Round 5 of the Championship at Oulton Park was overshadowed by the sudden death earlier in the week of Mike Hibbins who was not only the BRSCC’s chief scrutineer but had also earlier in the year become our Eligibility Scrutineer. His wife Judith had also taken a role as our on-the-day co-ordinator and they represented a strong team to help us run the Championship which we hoped would continue well into the future. During the day at Oulton, drivers and others signed a card for Judith and the family to whom we send out sincere condolences.
Oulton Park Highlights
Considering that Oulton is one of the best circuits we go to during the year, it is always disappointing that we don’t manage to attract a larger entry. There are those who say that it is because it is not a double header, others that bank holiday meetings should be avoided, perhaps school half-term is a factor or having to travel too far. However, I do recall that the last time we had a double header there in 2009 some people commented that it was all too hard work on one day! Whatever the reason, we only managed a 16 car entry last weekend, just one more than in 2014.
Looking at the entry, though, it seemed as though we should have some close and interesting racing. Double winner at Silverstone, Graham Seager, was back after missing Rockingham, the GTV now fitted with a replacement crankshaft to supercharger pulley. He would face Roger Evans who had tasted victory in both the Rockingham races with his 3.8 147 GTA and was eager for more.
Andy Robinson was hoping that his new found form with the 156 3.8 would continue and Oulton was one of the circuits where he performed well last year, battling with Vincent Dubois and Clive Hodgkin until he ran off the track at Island Bend at three quarters distance, losing a potential podium. Modified points leader Bryan Shrubb had entered his 16v 33, racing at Oulton for the first time since 2007, but was probably going to find that the nimble handling of the 33 was not going to offset the power of the V6s. In addition, he was finding it almost impossible to find new 13” slicks . Several manufacturers list them but only Hankook could supply and Bryan was expecting them to be even harder than the ones he was replacing. A change to 18” (following the example of the John Sismey/Chris Snowdon 33) may be on the cards for the future but this is not as straightforward as it sounds, requiring bodywork changes as well.
The final Modified entry was perhaps the most intriguing. Allitalia, who are Italian car specialists based in Wrexham, had prepared one of the ex JSM 147s for 21 year old apprentice James Nicholls to drive. The car is one of two owned by Allitalia and is said to have been the spare JSM shell, a second race car having found its way to Hungary. Intrestingly, Tim Harvey had his best (and rare!) result with the 147 at Oulton where he finished 3rd in 2001. Both the Allitalia cars were fitted with diesel engines and used for tarmac rallying but James and the team wanted to go racing and saw the Alfa Championship as the perfect place for their efforts. Most importantly, they disposed of the diesel power unit and fitted an Integrale/Q4 engine, as used by Vincent Dubois in his 156, and we know how quick that is! James himself had competed for five years in karts before taking a break in 2012 but his only track experience was with the 147 when still a diesel powered car but at least it was at Oulton, so he did know the circuit. After a two car entry at Rockingham, the Power Trophy was back to just one car, Ray Foley’s 156 GTA but we are sure that will change as the season goes on.
Championship leader and four times Twin Spark winner already this year, James Bishop had decided to go on holiday. This would be the first race he had missed since the middle of 2013 and the dropped scores rule should still leave him in a strong position at the end of the year. Also absent was James Ford who is not doing a full season. The Twin Spark Cup entry was, nonetheless, full of this year’s major contenders, led by Squadra Bianco’s Paul Plant, the current lap record holder with his black and white 156. After a very strong start to the season, both Tom Hill and Dave Messenger were likely to provide the biggest challenge but last year’s pole-sitter and 2nd place finisher, Steve Potts was hoping to have another strong run after his two fourth place last time out.
Andy Hancock loves Oulton and we were expecting him to be a challenger, as he was last year before splitting his sump when running third with 3 laps to go. Totally new to the circuit was Simon Cresswell but he was able to test on Friday and gradually improved his times to a reasonably competitive level so that he had high hopes for another good race. We were happy to see Chris Healey back with the Spur 156, now looking as pristine as ever in its black and yellow colour scheme, and this was also the chance for a Healey mini-break as Mel and family were also there, Mel saying that she might make an appearance in the 156 later in the year, possibly at Brands Hatch. Matt Daly was seen casting covetous eyes at the car he drove to a win at Snetterton in 2012.
Jeremy Chilton and Luther Blissett had again entered their 156s while Cheshire Alfa’s Richard Stevens – who lives only a mile away from the circuit! – was in his 145 although talking about the possibility of switching to a 156 for next season.
After a problem free scrutineering session, qualifying got underway just after 10.30, thankfully on a dry track. For the Modified cars, early lap times were governed by ability to generate temperature in the tyres, Bryan Shrubb being particularly affected. I asked him afterwards if it was as bad as he expected – “worse!” was his reply. Graham Seager was the first to set a reasonable time, his 1’56.880” on his 4th lap being comparable to his best race lap a year ago. A lap later he would improve to 1’56.426” but this wasn’t good enough to fend off Roger Evans whose 1’56.145” grabbed pole on his penultimate lap. Also going well at the end was Andy Robinson who was delighted to push Graham off the front row with a 1’56.375”. As at Rockingham, the top three were all within 1” of each other, so we had a close race in prospect. Missing out this time was Bryan Shrubb whose best was a 1’58.489”. Unlucky was James Nicholls. The 147 look to be very rapid out of Old Hall and down to Cascades, where I was watching, but then blew off a turbo pipe before he could really set a competitive lap. Ray Foley didn’t quite break the 2 minute barrier but he was pleased to be marginally quicker than Roger Evans with the same car last year, albeit aided by his slicks.
A big question in the Twin Spark Cup ranks – could Paul Plant get near to or break his own lap record (2’05.658”)? The answer was “no” although both he and Dave Messenger had two laps disallowed for exceeding track limits. Dave showed us some pictures presented to him by the Clerk of the Course as clear proof of his misdemeanours! However, it didn’t make too much difference in the end as Paul took class pole with a 2’06.282”, 1.3” quicker than Dave, quite a big margin for the Twin Sparks. Andy Hancock ended third quickest with 2’07.885”, pleased to be 0.3” ahead of Stephen Potts. Tom Hill could only manage 5th quickest but was obviously enjoying himself and was confident of going quicker in the race. Richard Stevens and Chris Healey were next in line but disappointed was Simon Cresswell who couldn’t match his best from the day before. Final runner was Jeremy Chilton as Luther Blissett had run off the track on his very first lap, bouncing across the Old Hall grass, badly damaging his radiator on the way, Sadly he would be a non starter .
The five Modified and one Power Trophy car made up the front of the grid, before our now usual three row gap separating them from the now nine Twin Spark Cup runners. The earlier cloud had gone and it was now a bright day as everyone left the assembly area for the green flag lap round to the grid for a brief stop before the red lights came on for the start. All the front group seemed to get away well as the lights went out and by the time they had sorted themselves out on the exit of Old Hall, Roger Evans had snatched the lead from Graham Seager, with Andy Robinson, Bryan Shrubb in line astern being relatively cautious on their cold tyres. James Nicholls and Ray Foley had (just) avoided being caught by the Twin Spark leaders but James quickly pulled away from Ray and initially looked as though he would catch the 33.
Dave Messenger arrived at Old Hall in the Twin Spark lead in the lead as Paul Plant fought off Stephen Potts and Andy Hancock with Tom Hill just behind. Stephen was quickly into third place, having taken an outside line at the first corner and it looked as though he was going to have a strong race but it all went wrong at the entry to the Shell Oils Hairpin. Tom Hill misjudged a last minute dive past Andy Hancock, got two wheels on the grass on the approach to the corner, losing his braking and hitting Stephen Potts in the driver’s door as he was turning into the corner. Tom ended up going head first into the rectocell barriers while Stephen limped to a stop in the gravel. Both cars were eliminated from the race which was a pity as it broke up what was potentially going to be an excellent Twin Spark battle but happily neither driver was hurt although the cars, particularly Tom’s, had not fared so well.
At the end of lap 1, Roger Evans had a 1.1” lead from Graham Seager with Andy Robinson 3.6” further back chased by Bryan Shrubb and James Nicholls who were edging away from Ray Foley. Dave Messenger had managed to keep ahead of Paul Plant in the Twin Spark Cup,, but only just, Paul having been alongside on the approach to Lodge. Andy Hancock was a further 2” back and ahead of the very close trio of Chris Healey (who had been lucky to hold on to a kerb bouncing moment at Old Hall), Simon Cresswell and Richard Stevens. During the second lap, Roger pulled out a 2” gap to Graham Seager while Paul Plant made a brave late dive down the inside at Knickerbrook to wrest the TS lead away from Dave Messenger.
Over the next three laps, it became clear that the gap between the two leaders was not about to increase. On the contrary, Graham Seager started to eat into Roger Evans’ initial 2” advantage. By the end of lap 5 it was down to a mere 0.48” as the black GTV hounded the red 147 and it was great to see two powerful V6 Alfas racing so closely. A lap later, the gap over the line was just 0.18” (or nothing visually!) and as they reached the braking area for Old Hall, Graham took over the race lead, the lap times of both cars down into the 1.52s – impressive!
Andy Robinson was still 3rd but had not been able to shake off Bryan Shrubb who was under a second behind him at this stage. Going almost as quickly was James Nicholls in 5th place. Paul Plant had opened a 1.9” advantage over Dave Messenger, heading the Twin Sparks and controlling the race nicely, while Andy Hancock, Chris Healey and Simon Cresswell disputed third some 5” further back although, early on, Andy had been able to open up a small gap to Chris before the latter clawed it back.
By the start of lap 8 Graham Seager seemed to have the race under control with Roger some 2” behind. Roger, for his part, was concerned about his engine’s water temperature which suddenly turned into a race-ending trail of smoke as he passed the pits exit at the end of lap 8, pulling off on the inside after Old Hall, the engine having lost all its coolant. Shortly afterwards, he was joined by the other 147 of James Nicholls, the engine of which exploded at almost exactly the same spot, dropping oil, billowing smoke and catching fire. The marshals dealt with it all in their usual efficient way but James said afterwards that he had never got out of a car so quickly! With oil on the track and cars in potentially dangerous places, the Clerk of the Course called for the red flag as the 147s smoked away on the grass.
|Twin Spark Cup
The final results, taken at the end of lap 8, showed Graham Seager as the race winner by 37” from a slightly disappointed Andy Robinson who had hoped to be closer to Graham and Roger after matching them in qualifying. Bryan Shrubb finished 3rd, under a second behind with Power Trophy winner Ray Foley 4th. Paul Plant came home to a well deserved Twin Spark Cup win, taking fastest lap in the process, 3” ahead of Dave Messenger. Andy Hancock managed to stave off the advances of Chris Healey and Simon Cresswell, this trio having pulled well clear of Richard Stevens, Final finisher was Jeremy Chilton. Afterwards, Chris Healey said that he had “really enjoyed” the race and it was good to see Spur Motorsport back on the grid.
Unfortunately we never managed to gather the first three overall on the Oulton podium but the Twin Spark Cup drivers made up for that, Paul getting the winner’s garland and the champagne, as well as being interviewed by commentator Chris Dawes. He was joined by Dave Messenger and Andy Hancock. Later, Linda Robinson presented the trophies at our own prize giving, Andy receiving the Grove & Dean Driver of the Day award.
Our thanks to the BRSCC North West Section for another efficiently run meeting, overseen by the perennial Tom Dooley. The updated points tables showed that Ray Foley had assumed the Championship lead, 3 points clear of the absent James Bishop (TS) with Dave Messenge(TS) third. Andy Hancock lies third among the Twin Sparks. Bryan Shrubb continues to lead the Modified class on 66 points with Graham Seager (65) and Andy Robinson (64) close behind. Battle will be joined again at Snetterton where we have a double header on the 200 circuit over the weekend June 27th/28th.
View the standings after round 5.
There was some confusion after the race when the results sheet was published. This showed that the final classification had been taken as at 8 laps on count back, as expected. However, both Roger Evans and James Nicholls had passed the line on that lap before pulling off but were not shown as “Not Classified”. It is worth quoting the MSA Blue Book regulation “…..only those cars which are under their own power at the showing of the Red Flag will be classified.” Reasonably, that meant that Roger and James would not appear in the positions they held at the end of lap 8 but, apparently, not under “Not Classified” either. This conflicts with the situation at Rockingham where Chris Snowdon successfully argued his case with the Clerk of the Course to be listed under “Not Classified” and this gave him fastest lap and the 1 championship point!
Finally, as I neared the end of this report, we heard the very surprising news that BRSCC Competition Director Drew Furlong is leaving to join rivals BARC at Chief Operating Officer, a wide ranging role that had obvious attractions. Drew has been a good friend of the Championship over the years and will be much missed but it is another blow to the BRSCC following the sudden death Mike Hibbins. However, both Drew and BRSCC Chairman Bernard Cotterell have sought to allay fears of major disruption (see BRSCC and BARC websites for full story) and we shall be watching developments closely.