Congratulations Andrew Bourke. 2022 HITEK Alfa Romeo Champion!
Our final race meeting of the season took place at the thrilling and challenging Oulton Park International circuit on Saturday 8th October. Those testing the previous day and those just arriving for the meeting a day early had been subjected to deluges of rain of remarkable ferocity, but the Saturday dawned cool and dry. Nevertheless the track surface was damp with residual rain and autumn dew early in the day and this had not dried by the time we took to the track for qualifying at 9.30.
The entry list showed 5 cars each in the Modified, V6 and Twin Spark classes which were unusual figures for this season. In the absence of class leader Scott Austin (worn out clutch to be replaced and gearbox rebuild needed), the Modified class entry list promised some spectacular racing. Undoubtedly a star attraction was the debut appearance of former Caterham racer Mike Hilton in the black Alfa 4C he has recently acquired from Riccardo Losselli. The car had been sitting unused in the Bianco workshop for a couple of years and testing had revealed a number of issues needing sorting; these had been dealt with but prior to the meeting only a handful of laps had been completed, so it was a case of fingers crossed for the day.
We were delighted to welcome 2021 Champion Barry McMahon in his mighty green and white 156 back to the Championship and Paul Plant also who had entered the similar liveried Giulietta for his annual race appearance. We were equally delighted to welcome back Mervyn Miller, 2019 Modified class winner, to the Championship for the first time in 3 years, Mervyn having made the trip over from Ireland with Fiesta racer son Gary assisting him for the day. Last but by no means least Andy Page was with us in his unique 116 Giulietta Turbo.
The V6 and Twin Spark classes featured all regular competitors and we particularly welcomed back the inimitable Andy Inman after a recent health problem. (In fact perhaps he should be re-christened ‘Andy Inimitable’…) The Twin Spark Cup entry list once again featured father and son Giles and Jon Billingsley and – very unusually – neither of the Ford brothers for car and family reasons respectively.
In terms of the Championship Andrew Bourke needed 2 reasonable place finishes to claim the crown, with Tom Hill ready to pounce should Andrew experience difficulties.
There was a late issue with Barry McMahon’s car and at one point he actually withdrew his entry but happily the car was soon running again and he was reinstated, albeit he would not be able to qualify at his usual pace as further work on the car would be needed prior to the race. Given the track conditions there would only be time for 7 qualifying laps at most so mistakes would need to be minimised by all the drivers.
Tom Hill was first onto the circuit in his V6 class GT and was the only driver below the 2:20 mark on his first flying lap. However, this was quickly surpassed by Mike Hilton with a time of 2:12.25 on lap 3, Mike relishing the incredible grip provided by the traction control, and by Paul Plant on lap 4 in a time of 2:13.51. Mike then put in a time of 2:09.18 on lap 5 and seemed to have the overall pole well in his grasp. It was very close in the end though as Paul produced a time of 2:09.56 on his final lap despite his brakes overheating, just a whisker away from snatching pole, and these two would occupy the front row. Tom Hill was 3rd quickest in 2:15.05, 5 seconds clear of his nearest V6 class challenger, Tom displaying his usual superb car control in the slippery conditions.
Giles Billingsley had been second out onto the circuit behind Tom in his 156 Twin Spark and it was very noticeable that he had not dropped that far back off Tom’s pace in the early stages. Although the slippery track was something of a leveller Giles’s best time of 2:18.77 was not just due to the conditions – it was a brilliant driving performance to be 4th overall in a standard 2-litre Twin Spark, and he took pole for the second section of the split grid. He was 2 seconds quicker than class leader and Champion–elect Andrew Bourke – a big sideways moment at the Knickerbrook chicane having spoiled one of Andrew’s laps – but nevertheless a close race was in prospect, especially with Jon Billingsley only 1/10th adrift of Andrew in 3rd.
Sandwiching the quickest two Twin Sparks was Mervyn Miller’s 156. Mervyn took it steady in the early stages but then worked his way down to an excellent time of 2:19.41 to go 5th overall, and it was real treat to see the Irishman’s red and silver 156 out on track again. Behind Jon Billingsley, Dave Messenger was 8th quickest overall and second quickest V6, his best class qualifying position for some time. A spin at Old Hall was a reminder of the tricky conditions but Dave was undeterred and recorded a best time of 2:20.91. A second adrift of Dave was Toby Broome in his yellow and blue Twin Spark with a best lap of 2:21.87, a time that suggested he should be in the mix for a Twin Spark podium; there was a little ground to make up on the class front runners but Toby has clearly demonstrated that he is a quick learner…
Graham Seager was next up in his 147 GTA, a little quiet for the former champion. He normally records his best times right at the end of a qualifying session and he did that here with a best time of 2:23.76 but he could have done with more than 6 laps and there would surely be more to come in the races. Behind Graham there was a 5-second gap back to the final 5 who were closely grouped, headed by Andy Inman’s 156 GTA in a time of 2:28.11. On his return to racing Andy was taking no risks and his caution level increased after a spin at the chicane. Adrian Norman’s 147 Twin Spark was next. Adrian is now settling into the Championship well and quicker times will surely follow. Andy Page was unusually far down the order in 13th but was his usual cheerful self and would surely be going much quicker come the race.
The final two were Gabriele Iaccarino in his V6 GT and Barry McMahon. Gabs has been suffering with neck pain in recent races and has been battling that as much as the conditions. Hopefully the winter break will provide the time needed to resolve the neck problem. Here, well worn slicks on a slippery track signalled great care… Barry knew from the outset that he would be unable to set a representative time in qualifying and hugged the inside of the track with his indicator going during the session as he battled with a slipping clutch. Hopefully the 156 would be back to its potent best come the first race.
By the time our first race came around at 12.10 the track surface was virtually dry and much quicker lap times were in prospect. The sun was out and despite a cool breeze it should be possible to get heat into the tyres much more quickly. When the lights went out for the first section of the grid Mike Hilton tried out the launch control of the 4C for the first time – a brave move but it worked and he surged into the lead… for a few yards at least. However, the fast starting Paul Plant and Tom Hill then passed him as Mike encountered a problem that he was to experience throughout parts of the race: the paddle gearchange wasn’t responding to the upshift from 3rd gear to 4th. He wasn’t the only one with a problem at the start. Barry McMahon was near-stationary on the grid for a good 3 or 4 seconds after the rest had started. Had he deliberately given them a head start to see if he could catch them? No, the clutch was still causing a problem but finally he did get away ahead of the Twin Sparks albeit with a lot of ground to make up.
At the end of lap 1 Paul Plant had the Giulietta going superbly and led Tom Hill by 3 seconds, with Mike Hilton 4 seconds further back. Graham Seager was looking much racier now than he had in qualifying and was 4th with the delayed Barry McMahon 5th having already caught and passed Mervyn Miller, Gabs Iaccarino (a great first lap), Andy Page, Andy Inman and the delayed Dave Messenger in reverse order. Dave had been tapped into a spin at the Knickerbrook chicane inadvertently by Graham Seager who was slightly too late on the brakes, an incident that would later incur a penalty. The contact was only slight and had it been straight nose to tail it wouldn’t have been a problem – it was the angle of the contact that triggered the spin. Dave had quickly recovered however, losing relatively little time.
The Twin Spark group got away cleanly on the flag start although with slight hesitation in one or two cases it often being unclear at what point in the flag’s trajectory a false start becomes a good start. Giles Billingsley had dropped to 3rd place behind Andrew Bourke and Jon Billingsley at the end of lap 1, with Toby Broome in close contact in 4th and Adrian Norman a few seconds adrift in 5th. On lap 2 Jon made a late attempt to pass Andrew into the Shell hairpin, slight contact was made but Andrew held the lead through Foulstones and over Hilltop but then Jon made a successful move to take the lead down the inside of Andrew into Knickerbrook. Andrew was conscious that he only needed a decent place finish to secure the Championship and recognised the importance of not getting into too heated a battle.
In the overall lead Paul Plant was lapping consistently rapidly in the 1:55s, driving beautifully and extending his lead over Tom Hill by around a second a lap, but further back Barry McMahon was looking ominously quick. He passed Mike Hilton and Graham Seager on lap 2 but only matched Paul’s lap time in so doing, so this was not a foregone conclusion. However he then got down into the 1:52s and 1:53s and steadily reeled Paul in till he caught and passed him on lap 8, only 3 laps from the end, and won by a second at the chequered flag. It was a reminder of what a formidable car/driver combination this is and also a reminder of what a quick driver Paul Plant is on the odd occasions when he dons a race helmet.
On lap 3 Tom Hill had 9 seconds in hand over Mike Hilton behind him in 4th place but then Mike gathered himself up and started to reel Tom in. It seemed that the gear problem was not a serious one in the 4C gearbox itself but rather a faulty sensor in the paddles as the car would go into 4th on occasions and when it didn’t Mike was getting the hang of going quicker in 3rd. By lap 8 the gap was down to 1 second but try as he might Mike could not get through into 3rd place, Tom shutting the door on him quite firmly on one or two occasions and holding the place to the chequered flag.
In his final race before retiring Graham Seager had a lonely race in 5th, 23 seconds behind Mike Hilton and 45 seconds ahead of Andy Page in 6th , but it was still a strong performance, lapping consistently in the 1:59s. Andy Page had got the 40-year old Giulietta going really well – mid race he had lost places to Dave Messenger and Gabs Iaccarino but repassed them both on lap 10 after a really good dice between the 3 of them, all driving extremely well and finishing 6th (Andy), 7th (Dave) and 8th (Gabs).
Mervyn Miller had been ahead of this group for the first 5 laps but on lap 6 the 156 lost brake pressure and he spun. He resumed, pumping the brake pedal repeatedly and gradually the pressure returned. He reeled in and passed Andy Inman but had lost too much time to catch the others ahead, an unlucky outcome after a strong and resourceful drive. Andy Inman finished 10th overall with a few seconds in hand over a hard fought Twin Spark Cup battle.
After Jon Billingsley took the class lead on lap 2 there was no time to relax as he had Andrew, Giles and Toby climbing all over the back of him. Andrew held 2nd until lap 5 when Giles Billingsley passed him to go 2nd and on lap 6 Giles passed son Jon to take the class lead. However, the top 4 continued to lap within a second of each other all the way to the flag in an exciting battle, Giles taking the win from Jon, Andrew and Toby in that order, with Adrian Norman being the final finisher in his 147.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||No starters|
|Twin Spark Cup||Giles Billingsley|
Race 2 Cancelled
Sadly race 2 was cancelled. There was a delay of over 2 hours after a major shunt towards the end of the Club Enduro race and our race, being the final one of the day, dropped off the end of the remaining timetable which was disappointing and so our season ended a race early.
The Kevin Griffiths trophy is normally awarded to the winner of the last race of the season, and as a result of the cancellation of race 2, this year the trophy goes to Barry McMahon for his excellent race 1 victory. Giles Billingsley took the Driver of the Day award to reflect his impressive qualifying performance and victory in a close fought Twin Spark Cup class.
So our 2022 Champion is Andrew Bourke, who has had a superb season, and he wins the Twin Spark Cup class for the season as well. Tom Hill is the V6 class champion and Scott Austin the Modified class champion. John Griffiths takes the Power Trophy class first after his Anglesey wins but has insufficient race starts to benefit from a season award.
We are now looking forward to our Awards evening on 26th November (be there or be square etc.) and beyond that to what we hope will be a great 2023 season.