After our recent visit to Zolder, it was back to some sense of normality as we returned to one of our favourite tracks, Oulton Park, for rounds 7 & 8 of this year’s BRSCC Alfa Romeo Championship.
Last year we just had a single race there and there were requests at the time that for 2016 it should be a double header – albeit all on one day and hard work as a result! Our request was granted as part of a move to make every meeting this year comprise two 20 minute races with the usual 20 minute qualifying session although, as part of the Italian Festival at Brands Hatch on August 14th, there will also be an extra practice session. As has been the case for several years now at Oulton, the BRSCC were using the popular 2.7 mile International Circuit with the long run out to the Shell Oils Hairpin and back. As an aside I was wondering when we last used the short, Fosters, circuit. The full track is more interesting for the drivers, but with a lap time around 2 minutes, it means that there are periods for spectators with no cars visible. I could say, in exam question terms – “Discuss”!
The trip to Zolder was not a productive one for Tom Hill and he arrived at Oulton with his overall championship lead cut to just 13 points. Simon Cresswell, on the other hand, had leapfrogged into second place ahead of Andy Hancock and James Browning. However, Tom was confident that this was just a blip although he was aware that the return of one of the quickest drivers in the Twin Spark Cup, James Ford, might not make his life all that easy. Andy was looking forward to racing again on one of his favourite circuits, hopefully free of the problems that curtailed his performances at Zolder. Dave Messenger’s 156 had been fitted with a replacement engine after the big-end failure on the unit used in Belgium. Andy Inman’s 156 is now being looked after by Peak Alfa but we were sad not to have Clive and Christine Hodgkin with us to keep a beady eye on things. The arrival of Andy’s car had increased Roger Evans’ work-load to the point that he was not able to finish the TSC 145 that he has acquired to race before Giuletta project comes to fruition. However, he hopes that it will be ready for Castle Combe (see last week’s Friday Fix). Other 156s entered were those of Mike Tydeman and Paul Webster. It was good to see Richard Stevens back with his 145 but he admitted to hardly having touched it since it last appeared at Snetterton apart from dealing with a dented bonnet that had had a heavy object dropped on it! The ex Tom Eastwood 145 was also entered for Mark Hope but this failed to appear. The only TSC 147 this time was that of Joshua Lambert while the class was completed by Andrew Bourke’s GTV which is now recognised as a strong midfield contender. So, looking at the 11 cars due to run, there was a good chance of some entertaining battles down the order.
Andy Robinson’s 156 had apparently overheated in parc ferme after his second win at Silverstone back in May but Peak Alfa had sorted out the problem and Andy was hoping for more success at Oulton. However, the welcome return of Graham Seager in his 2015 championship winning GTV, complete with new engine, was bound to make his task a lot harder. We were also very pleased to see Andy Page with his Giulietta 116 series 2 litre turbo which has had so much success including championship class wins in 2003, 2005 and 2006 Andy has not raced since 2013 when he made an appearance at Silverstone, suffering an overheating engine, and had not been to Oulton since 2010. The car looked pretty well the same as it did three years ago but Andy had been working hard on the engine to make it both reliable and competitive. Joining the three Modified cars were the Power Trophy entries of Ray Foley (147 GTA) and Ron Davidson (164 3.0), so that hopefully there would not be a recurrence of the minimum starters rule that brought us a problem at Zolder. The split grid and delayed start for the Twin Spark Cup cars would operate as intended although there would be a difference here. The “flag” starter did not have a gantry to use, so that the flag would have to be shown from the pit wall in the same place as the chequered flag showing the end of the race.
Friday afternoon had brought a torrential rain storm and the unpredictable nature of the weather made the allocation of pit garages for the second time this year a welcome bonus. However, although it was cloudy on Saturday morning, the track was dry as qualifying started at around 10.35. Tom Hill always seems to manage to get himself first out onto the track and this was to be no exception, arriving at the start finish line at the end of his first lap out of the assembly some 8” (!) ahead of the pursuing Andy Hancock. On his second flying lap Tom proceeded to set his TSC pole time in 2’06.606” and although he went sub 2’ 07” a couple of times during the session, he could not beat his first effort. This turned out to be half a second quicker than Andy Hancock but over a 2.7 mile lap that was a great effort by the Grove & Dean driver and it turned out that nobody else would end up in the 2’07”s. The next four TSC cars, though, were covered by just 0.228” in the order James Ford, Dave Messenger, Simon Cresswell and Andrew Bourke, James’s best time being a 2’08.026”. Dave Messenger was happy to have a fully working engine but Simon Cresswell had hoped, after Zolder, to be more on the leading pace. The Twin Spark grid was completed by Richard Stevens, Andy Inman and Mike Tydeman in the 2’09s, then Joshua Lambert and Paul Webster.
In the meantime, Graham Seager, Andy Robinson and Andy Page were all taking time to make sure that their cars had bedded in well before trying to go for a representative time. It was Andy Page who was leading the way but you felt that it was only a matter of time before Graham Seager unleashed the GTV. Andy Page set his fastest time (1’56.77”) on his 5th lap but two laps later, as he crested Deer Leap there was “bang, clatter, clatter, smoke” from the Giulietta. Andy pulling off rapidly onto the grass opposite the pits. Clearly it was a major derangement of either engine or propshaft, with my bets going on the latter. On his penultimate lap. Graham Seager bettered the Giulietta’s time and then left pole on his final lap at 1’55.467”. Andy Robinson was cruising along smoothly but was disappointed with his actual lap times which were some 3” slower than he had managed a year ago. In the Power Trophy class, Ray Foley had pulled off with an electrical gremlin on his very first lap, leaving Ron Davidson to take class pole, albeit with a time that would have left him among the TSC cars on a non-split grid.
All the Twin Spark cars were weighed after qualifying by eligibility scrutineer Kevin Lewis and deemed to be over the minimum weight limit of 1180 kg for all apart from the 145/146 limit which is set at 1160kg. Andy Page was seen inspecting the underside of his Giulietta and strapping up the detached propshaft so that the car could be pushed back to its pit garage. Having assessed the damage, Andy reckoned that he had all the parts needed to get the car going again and, with the help of Tim Newman, started the major task of putting it all to rights. It was going to be touch and go whether they could make it and a need to bleed the clutch in the final moments nearly scuppered their efforts. Roger Evans was at work on Ray Foley’s 147, Ray having obtained agreement from the Clerk of the Course to do three qualifying laps when the car was running. Sadly, Ray was not feeling too well and wisely decided to withdraw.
In the commentary box I was happy to be invited to join that lifelong Alfa enthusiast Ian Titchmarsh who had donned a very smart Alfa Romeo sweatshirt for the day. Oulton Park regular Mike Cookson was down at Knickerbrook this time. As the cars came out from the assembly area, we were looking eagerly to see if Andy Page’s Giulietta was amongst them and, happily, it was. When the cars arrived on the grid (the lap from the assembly area is treated as the green flag lap) Andy was seen to be coming down the pit road and we feared the worst, but he had decided to start from there and would emerge at the tail of the field, behind the Twin Sparks.
Lights off and the three remaining modified/power trophy cars went off together while our attention quickly switched to the Twin Sparks, the flag dropping after a 5 second delay. Tom Hill and Andy Hancock were level at the end of the pit wall but Tom had the advantage of the inside line and moved into the class lead. Dave Messenger tried to follow Tom but had to be careful of James Ford on his inside. On Dave’s bootlid was Simon Cresswell and he moved across into James, the red 156 going sideways and then being caught by James’s quick reactions but losing momentum in the process. By the time the cars reached the Shell Hairpin, Dave Messenger was being hustled by Simon Cresswell, with Andrew Bourke and Richard Stevens also in the mix. Simon tried to pass Dave at the Hislop Chicane but there was no way by on the outside and thereafter Dave managed to edge away, so that by the time they reached Lodge there was a reasonable gap.
In the meantime, Graham Seager had waltzed into a 7” lead over Andy Robinson at the end of the first lap and it was another 6.5” before Ron Davidson appeared. However, the Twin Sparks were rapidly catching the 164 with Tom Hill dominating the class once again, 2.2” clear of Andy Hancock. Dave Messenger had maintained his third place ahead of Simon Cresswell and there was then a big gaggle of cars that appeared on the pit straight led by Richard Stevens from James Ford, Andrew Bourke and Mike Tydeman. Andy Page was already in amongst them although his progress was hampered by his need to keep revs down to a maximum of 5000 rpm.
The gap between Graham Seager and Andy Robinson stabilised over the next few laps as Graham saw no need to push while Andy Page had moved into third place, passing TSC leader Tom Hill on lap 4. By this stage, Tom was 4” clear of Andy Hancock who was followed by Dave Messenger, James Ford – now 9” behind Tom – Ron Davidson, keeping neatly out of the Twin Sparks way, and Simon Cresswell. Andrew Bourke, Richard Stevens, Joshua Lambert and Mike Tydeman were next in line while Andy Inman, having been off the road at Old Hall on lap 1, had passed Paul Webster. Richard Stevens pulled off on lap 5 with some serious bottom-end noises. James Ford had now got the bit between his teeth and was closing rapidly on Dave Messenger, passing him into third in class on lap 7 at Cascades. James now had Andy Hancock in his sights but a lap later Andy suffered another frustrating clutch failure and pulled into the pits, promoting James to 2nd with Dave Messenger 3rd. Clearly there was no chance of catching Tom Hill and James would cross the line 9.8” adrift with Dave a further 5.6” back. However, James did have the satisfaction of taking the fastest lap in 2’06.475”. Simon Cresswell was 4th in class ahead of Joshua Lambert, Andrew Bourke, Mike Tydeman, Andy Inman and Paul Webster.
Graham Seager was over 25” clear of Andy Robinson as he took the flag with Andy Page an unaccustomed two thirds of a lap behind in 3rd place as he took care not to stress the Giulietta and make it to the finish. Ron Davidson finished a satisfying 7th overall to take the Power Trophy class but is looking forward to his new 3.2 litre engine which should give him a boost in performance for the later races in the season, although he is not planning to be at Castle Combe.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||Ron Davidson|
|Twin Spark Cup||Tom Hill|
With the relatively short gap between the two races, the Bianco team were soon hard at work replacing Andy Hancock’s clutch, watched closely by an interested Dave Messenger who thought he could learn a few tips from watching Harry White and Co at work! Andy Page was underneath the Giulietta doing a “spanner check” but otherwise everything seemed reasonable routine until just before the cars were called to the assembly area for race 2 when an oil leak was discovered on Simon Cresswell’s car. An emergency repair was attempted but in the end it was all to no avail and Simon would sadly be a non starter, as would Richard Stevens. We clearly heard his problem later when he drove his 145 onto the trailer! During the break we also took the opportunity to present some Zolder trophies that had not arrived in time to take with us. These were primarily the TSC 2nd and 3rd trophies which went to Simon Cresswell, Andy Inman, Paul Plant and Richard Ford plus the Grove & Dean Driver of the Weekend award to Simon. It was also an opportunity to gather “rentacrowd” for a photo opportunity.
Going into race 2 we had just 13 starters, 9 of which were Twin Sparks. Although he had said that he would probably start again from the pit lane because of clutch problems, Andy Page decided after all to line up with Graham Seager, Andy Robinson and Ron Davidson for their start on the lights. Graham Seager was soon into his stride and it looked as though the result would be a repeat that in race 1. Meanwhile, the Twin Spark cars were all jostling into Old Hall, led once again by Tom Hill with Dave Messenger and James Ford in pursuit. Dave was able to hold off James until lap three when the red 156 slipped past at Island Bend to begin his pursuit of Tom. Andy Hancock was trying to work his way through a “wall” of cars led by Mike Tydeman and Andrew Bourke but then overshot the Hislop chicane on lap 3, passing through the slalom, before rejoining at Knickerbrook. Mike Tydeman’s 156 had run very wide at the chicane’s left hander and then come back across the road to hit Josh Lambert hard, causing steering and bodywork damage that brought the 147 driver’s retirement. Not knowing the extent of the damage he had continued but soon found that the car was impossible to drive, coming slowly into the pits.
At the front of the race, Graham Seager had continued his relentless progress, building up a 17” lead over Andy Robinson by half distance, dropping his lap times in the process. Andy Page was over half a minute behind but able to use a few more revs as the vibrations in the drive train were not as bad as he had expected. Tom Hill continued to lead the Twin Sparks but now had a very real challenge from James Ford who was just 1.2” behind as they started lap 6, both lapping consistently in the 2’06”s which showed that they were both trying hard. Dave Messenger wasn’t quite on the same pace but happily holding onto 3rd in the class while Andy Hancock had moved up to 4th in front of Andrew Bourke, Mike Tydeman , Andy Inman and Paul Webster. Ron Davidson’s 164 was running 7th overall, 3” clear of Andy Hancock.
Almost unnoticed, so far ahead was he, that there was suddenly a void at the front as Graham Seager pulled off under the trees on the exit of Old Hall with a suspension problem, having just set his fastest lap in 1’55.300”. At the end of lap 7, it was therefore Andy Robinson who came round with a lengthy lead ahead of Andy Page. Tom Hill and James Ford crossed the line together, now 3rd and 4th. Further back Andrew Bourke, having an excellent race, had pulled well away from Mike Tydeman and Andy Inman who were engage in a fierce battle. Andy seemed to have the quicker car but Mike was intent on making his 156 as wide as possible, particularly on the run from Druids to Lodge where Andy looked down the inside a couple of times but found his rival moving over on him.
At the end of lap 8 it looked as though Tom Hill had conceded defeat and was thinking “championship” but he is a racer at heart and at the end of the penultimate lap he had closed to within O.3” of James Ford as they crossed the line. What neither of them knew was that the timing screens were now showing James with a 5” penalty for exceeding track limits, giving Tom an unassailable lead, despite running onto the grass at Lodge with two laps to go. Coming into Lodge for the final time, Tom tried to go down the inside of James who was already on the outside kerbs. The two made contact, shooting across the track to the grass on the inside but somehow not hitting the Armco and continuing with James crossing the line first. Dave Messenger followed them home 10” later in 3rd place with Andy Hancock 4th, happy to at least finish although he had had the company of Ron Davidson for the final laps.
Andrew Bourke was a lonely 5th in class. However, over at the Shell Oils Hairpin, Mike Tydeman had run wide on entry and Andy Inman had seen his opportunity, hugging the inside kerb as they rounded the corner. Mike, however, came back across the road into Andy’s car, spinning across the front of it, the tail of the silver 156 bouncing into the barrier but still managing to carry on while Andy recovered from the shock. But Andy was not giving up and the two cars crossed the line under 1” apart. There would be a robust discussion afterwards! Oh, Yes – Andy Robinson had passed the chequered flag to take his third win in four races with Andy Page a happy 2nd. Tom Hill appeared on the podium thinking that he was third overall but a highly disgruntled James Ford was on his way to the Clerk of the Course to dispute his penalty on the basis that many other cars had exceeded track limits with no reports being made. Then, just as we were getting the prize giving underway, Tom was also called to the Clerk of the Course following an Observer’s report on the Lodge incident. As a result of all this, James’s penalty was rescinded (he must have argued his case well!), the race positions were reversed to give James the class win, and Tom received 3 points on his licence although he had retained the all important 2nd place and the 18 points that went with it. James again set fastest TSC lap in 2’06.475”.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||Ron Davidson|
|Twin Spark Cup||James Ford|
Having started the prize giving before Tom and James had disappeared to Race Control, we decided to continue with 33 racer Matt Abell making the presentations. With James and Tom absent when we came to the race 1 Twin Spark trophies, we asked Linda Hill and Sue Ford to accept their awards. Dave Messenger thought this was a good idea and sent his father Brian to accept his!
Graham Seager and Andy Robinson were delighted to receive their Micky Bolton trophies for the race wins while Andy Page also received the Grove & Dean “Driver of the Weekend” award, as much for the effort he and Tim Newman made to get the Giulietta racing than Andy’s results.
A day not without controversy then! Our thanks go to the BRSCC North West Section for running a busy meeting so smoothly and often ahead of time. With half the season now completed Tom Hill has extended his championship lead to 39 points ahead of Simon Cresswell with Andy Hancock still 3rd. Andy Robinson leads the Modified class and Ron Davidson the Power Trophy. Rounds 9 & 10 will take place at Castle Combe on one of their rare two day meetings over the weekend July 16th/17th.
View the standings after rounds 7&8.