Lap records tumble at Oulton Park
A spectacular day’s racing in the HITEK Alfa Romeo Championship saw all our lap records broken in glorious sunshine at the Oulton Park International circuit!
Saturday 3rd June 2023 turned out to be a momentous day in the history of the HITEK Alfa Romeo Championship. It was a beautiful June day, clear blue skies, bright sunshine and very warm, but not hot enough to be stifling or to have a negative effect on lap times – as would soon be proved.
Several drivers tested on the Friday before the meeting. Stacey Dennis, Toby Broome, Jamie Thwaites and Adrian Norman all had good runs. Riccardo Losselli had some issues with the engine cutting out in his MiTO 404 and Mike Hilton spun his 4C into the barriers at the exit to Old Hall towards the end of the day, fortunately sustaining only slight cosmetic damage. Mark Skeggs was having issues with fumes in the cabin of his GTV and Harry White drilled some extra holes in the driver’s side window to try and alleviate the problem. Finally, Edward (Ben) Robinson was having his first outing in his newly acquired 156 Twin Spark – and indeed only his second ever drive in a race car – having just acquired his race licence; he settled in well and was looking forward to his first races on the morrow.
The qualifying session started on time at 10.15 in bright sunshine. As usual Tom Hill was first out onto the circuit and wasted no time getting his head down, completing the out lap in his V6 class GT in 2:08, 13 seconds faster than anyone else in the 19 car field. Settling in gently, warming tyres, checking everything was working? None of that, he just goes for it straight away! By his 3rd lap he was already inside his own class lap record and a 1:55.41 on his penultimate lap put him 5 seconds quicker than any of his class rivals and 4th overall. It was business as usual for Tom and it’s so habitual that occasionally it fails to register how brilliant he is.
Mind you, early in the session Barry McMahon was also signalling his intentions and demonstrating the incredible pace of his 156 Turbo. He was down in the 1:53s on his first flying lap and on his 5th and final lap a time of 1:50.79 put him on the overall pole and only 0.5 seconds off the overall lap record. Could Tim Lewis’s long standing lap record of 1:50.15 finally be under threat? We would see…
However, Barry wasn’t the only very quick car/driver combination out there. Jamie Thwaites’s TCR Giulietta (1:51.45) and Scott Austin’s 156 Turbo (1:52.68) were snapping at his heels, qualifying 2nd and 3rd overall and looking spectacularly quick – what a fantastic Modified class entry there was! As if to emphasis that point Mike Hilton was 5th quickest in his 4C in 1:55.51 and Riccardo Losselli 6th in the Alfa Workshop MiTO 404 with a time of 1:58.40, Ricky finding the rear suspension problematic as Jamie Porter and his team continue their work to develop the car’s potential.
7th, 8th and 9th quickest were the V6 class cars of Dave Messenger, Gabriele Iaccarino and Roger Evans. Dave was quickest of the three, setting a strong pace and recording a time of 2:00.88 on his final lap. In addition he had a trouble-free run in contrast to last season when Lady Luck seemed to desert him at times. Gabs was close behind (2.01.20) in his GT and Revs Italia Roger Evans was giving the 156 GTA earmarked for a (hopefully) returning Andy Inman an outing, qualifying 9th overall with a time of 2:01.31. Some close competition was in prospect!
Next up was Mark Skeggs in his GTV, still having issue with fumes in the car but posting a very respectable time of 2:02.77 ahead of leading Power Trophy class driver Stacey Dennis in Barry McMahon’s Giulietta – with a standard ECU fitted in place of its normal tuning – in a time of 2:04.05. It’s great to see Stacey with a budget that enables her to race on a regular basis – sincere thanks to Synetiq – and hopefully Bianco will be able to complete the build of her own car shortly. Andy Page was the final Modified class runner in his Giulietta 116 Turbo. Andy had put in a late entry on Thursday when his new head gasket had arrived but was finding that he still had issues with overheating, although the problem was less pronounced than before, preventing him from running at full pace.
The Power Trophy class Punto Abarths of Chris and Simon McFie were making a welcome return to the Championship after a couple of years’ absence. However, for some reason they were some way adrift of their usual pace, recording best times of 2:06.84 and 2:06.96 respectively behind the leading Twin Sparks. They were trying out some new tyres and suspected that was where the problem lay but decided to persist with them for the first race.
In the Twin Spark Cup James Ford built on his double success at Silverstone by recording the class pole in 2:05.16, 9/10ths clear of the ever improving Toby Broome in 2:06.06. Toby was the only one in the field to set his best time early on (on only his second lap) and a spin on his penultimate lap was a setback in terms of outqualifying James but it did imply that there was more to come. Toby had half a second in hand over Richard Ford, still in his 156 Twin Spark as the build of his new Giulia continues, who recorded a best time of 2:07.33.
The field was rounded out by Adrian Norman and Edward Robinson. Adrian recorded a best time of 2:10.92 in his smartly presented blue 147, while Edward recorded 2:12.74 and went quicker every lap through the session in his very first race meeting, a fine effort and an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.
All 19 cars assembled ready to go at the appointed hour for Race 1. Well, almost ready…Mike Hilton’s nearside door mirror was being heavily taped in place amid fears that it might not remain where it was supposed to be under race pressure. In addition, at the last minute when cars were ready to leave the assembly area, Mark Skeggs’s throttle stuck open. This was relayed to Race Control by the marshalls and after a fleeting thought that he might be able to start from the pit lane it was quickly decided that he must not be allowed to start given the nature of the problem.
Then, after the formation lap, Scott Austin’s 156 was not lined up correctly in his starting box (Scott later complaining that there was no marshall there to line him up and he couldn’t see the lines), but the officials quickly decided that no advantage was gained and did not penalise him. As the lights went out Tom Hill got a fantastic start from row 3 to pass everyone in front of him and lead the pack into Old Hall as Paul Stone’s excellent photographs show. Of course he was never going to be able to hold off the high powered Modified class cars behind him, and in fact 4 of them passed him on the first lap as would be expected; nevertheless it was a great sight as the pack approached the first corner.
The field was tightly packed approaching the first corner where there was slight contact between Scott Austin and Jamie Thwaites; Jamie moved to the outside in avoidance and inadvertently touched Riccardo Losselli’s MiTO. Ricky went off onto the grass and lost several places before he could regain the track only to find that his offside front tyre had come off the rim, forcing him into retirement from the race. Gabs Iaccarino was similarly delayed after taking avoiding action; he went onto the grass and had dropped to the tail of the front grid cars by the time he was able to regain the circuit safely. In contrast, when the flag dropped the Twin Spark cars got away cleanly in grid order and settled safely into race mode.
At the end of Lap 1 Barry led by almost a second from Scott, with Jamie 1.4 seconds further back, ahead of Mike Hilton, Tom Hill, Dave Messenger, Roger Evans, Andy Page and Stacey Dennis in that order. The McFies’ Abarths were already some 4 seconds adrift of Stacey in their class battle, and Gabs faced a recovery drive from the tail of the front group. The Twin Sparks were already well spaced in grid order with a minimum gap of one second between them. James Ford was again demonstrating his dominance of the group while Toby Broome was doing his utmost to keep him within reach.
The running order remained the same on lap 2 except that Gabs had passed the two Abarths. Barry had pulled out a 2-second gap over Scott, while Jamie was a couple of tenths closer to Scott. Mike Hilton was now 7 seconds back in 4th but had 2 seconds in hand over Tom Hill’s GT who was now 8 seconds ahead of a battle between Dave Messenger and Roger Evans. Gabs Iaccarino had got his head down after his first lap delays, passed Andy Page and was closing in on Stacey Dennis and would pass her on lap 3. Andy was dropping back as his engine began to overheat if he pushed the car too hard but he elected to keep going at a reduced pace to record a finish. The McFies’ Abarths were also dropping back as their tyre problems again manifested themselves and by mid race they would be among the leading Twin Sparks.
At the head of the field Barry McMahon was eking out a bigger gap to Scott Austin in second; Barry definitely had the edge lapping in the 1:50s and 1:51s while Scott was in the 1:51s and 1:52s and keeping Jamie Thwaites at bay a second or so behind. The stewards had noticed that Jamie’s front splitter was loose but fortunately they decided that it wasn’t serious enough to call him in via a Black and Orange flag. On lap 7 Jamie narrowed the gap to 8/10ths and was contemplating an overtaking manoeuvre; he had a little look on lap 9 but Scott closed the door firmly and it seemed that Scott had 2nd place in his grasp. No such luck! On the penultimate lap his engine cut out without warning and although it fired up again after a couple of seconds Jamie had nipped through to take second place. Barry took the chequered flag to record another superb race victory by 8 seconds from Jamie. Scott then rapidly dropped back to finish 39 seconds behind Jamie and settled for 3rd some 10 seconds clear of Mike Hilton in 4th.
Barry had got within 2/10ths of the outright lap record on lap 4 but could not break it on this occasion, but new records were being established further down the field. On lap 4 James Ford surpassed Andrew Bourke’s Twin Spark lap record, setting a new record time of 2:05.16 and, not to be outdone, Tom Hill broke his own V6 class lap record with a time of 1:55.20. On lap 9 Stacey Dennis established the lap record for the revised Power Trophy class with a time of 2:02.44. Records galore but the outright one was still intact…for now. Tom Hill took a dominant V6 class win finishing some 45 seconds clear of Roger Evans’s 156 GTA. Dave Messenger had held the class 2nd early on after a fine start but Roger squeezed past him on lap 4 and then steadily pulled clear. Gabs Iaccarino took 4th in class; the 10 seconds he had lost on lap 1 were too much to make up on his class rivals, although his quickest lap was very close to Dave’s. Stacey Dennis finished 9th overall after an excellent drive, well clear of the two Punto Abarths who finished 11th and 13th. Andy Page had dropped steadily back through the field as he concentrated his attention on his temperature gauge, finishing 15th overall in the end.
In the Twin Sparks, James Ford had extended his lead to 5 seconds over Toby Broome by the end of lap 4 and was catching the 2 Power Trophy Abarths in the process. By the end of lap 5 he had edged past Simon Mc Fie but stayed sandwiched between the Puntos until he got past Chris on lap 9. James went on to take the Twin Spark Cup class but not without some dramas on the final lap. After cresting the rise at Hilltop and approaching the chicane at Knickerbrook a cloud of smoke spelled trouble and the marshalls reported that oil was being dropped on the circuit. On the exit from Knickerbrook, the car slid sideways but James managed to hold the spin and continue the climb to Druids. He checked the gauges and everything seemed fine. The Punto Abarth of Chris McFie was still between himself and Toby Broome and he carefully got the car to the finish without losing too much time while the smoke mysteriously disappeared. The gearbox oil plug had dropped out and why the gearbox didn’t seize is a mystery.
Toby Broome had kept James honest, holding the gap to him to around 5 seconds. He could not get close enough to mount a challenge but it was another excellent drive ahead of 2021 class winner Richard Ford in a hard fought 3rd place. As he concentrates on the development of his Giulia Richard isn’t spending as much time on his 156 but he is never other than totally committed and competitive. Adrian Norman finished 4th in class lapping mostly in the 2:08s to 2:10s, only a couple of seconds off the pace but the odd slow lap (2:13.17 on lap 6 for example) cost him a closer finish to the cars ahead. Edward Robinson rounded out the finishers, buzzing with the experience of completing his first race, shaving 2 seconds off his best qualifying time in the process and reducing the time gap to Adrian on their respective best laps to 1.5 seconds. It was an excellent start.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||Stacey Dennis|
|Twin Spark Cup||James Ford|
With a long break till our second race of the day there was ample time to make preparations and repairs. James Ford managed to source a replacement gearbox sump plug and some more oil and would be ready for race 2. Bianco sorted out Mark Skeggs’s sticking throttle and attempted to secure Jamie Thwaites’s front splitter. With no spare slicks Riccardo Losselli’s Alfa Workshop MiTO team was very lindly loaned a pair by Bianco, and to try and generate something more like their normal pace the McFies fitted an old set of Michelins to Chris’s car in place of the tyres they had been experimenting with. Scott Austin tried to trace the cutting out problem that had afflicted him in Race 1 but was unable to find an explanation and would keep his fingers crossed that it was a one off.
As the lights went out Mike Hilton got a rocket start from row 2 to pass everyone in front of him and lead the pack into Old Hall. A strange thing about the start was the timekeepers and the Judges simultaneously coming to the view that Jamie Thwaites had jumped the start, for which he was given the standard 10 second penalty. However, in car video footage subsequently showed that he clearly hadn’t jumped the start at all and neither, it appeared, had anyone else. It was a mystery. Fortunately, as we will see, it did not affect the result in the end. The Twin Spark Cup cars got away cleanly again on the drop of the flag in grid order. James Ford got away well from the class pole and led but he could not shake off the attentions of Toby Broome who was less than a second behind for the first 8 laps. It was only when they started being lapped by the Modified cars that Toby lost a little more time but the gap between them stayed thereafter at around 1.5 seconds at the chequered flag – a fine performance by both drivers. Behind Toby, Richard Ford was in touch a couple of seconds behind but on lap 9 he started to fall away, the result of a braking problem and finished over 20 seconds behind Toby. Adrian Norman was 4th in class. For the first few laps he lapped consistently in the 2:09s but then lost several seconds on lap 6 and though he got into the 2:08s on his penultimate lap he wasn’t able to keep pace with those ahead. Edward Robinson again improved his lap times significantly in this his second ever race with 3 laps in the 2:10s and it was only laps 1 and 5 that cost him significant time. He will surely continue to get quicker as he acquires more experience.
In the front group Mike Hilton’s 4C had surged into the lead on lap 1 with such verve that it took Barry McMahon over a lap to catch him but catch him he did and pulled out a 5-second lead over Mike by the end of lap 2, at which point Jamie Thwaites was challenging Mike for second place with Scott Austin a couple of seconds further back in 4th. Tom Hill was 5th ahead of Roger Evans and Dave Messenger. Chris McFie and Stacey Dennis were fractions of a second apart battling for 8th place and for the Power Trophy class lead, and it was already obvious that the old set of Michelins had transformed the performance of Chris’s Abarth, emphasised by the fact that Simon’s car was back among the Twin Sparks again on the other rubber. The duel between Stacey and Chris lasted the whole race in a great dice, Stacey having the edge on the straights and Chris in the corners. Nose to tail coming out of Lodge corner on the final lap with Stacey just ahead, Chris tried to time his move out of the slipstream to perfection but couldn’t quite make the pass as they crossed the line a fraction of a second apart.
Meanwhile, Scott Austin’s 156 was clearly in trouble by lap 3 as he slowed dramatically. Frustratingly the car would only run cleanly using ¼ throttle; if Scott put his foot down any further a horrible misfire would appear, giving him no choice (other than retiring) to continue at a reduced speed. Valiantly he kept going, finishing 10th overall at the chequered flag, exasperated with his very quick but temperamental car. Andy Page’s Giulietta 116 was also running at reduced pace once again as Andy fought overheating, dropping through the field and eventually finishing 18th. Also in difficulties was Roger Evans’s V6 class 156 GTA. For the first few laps all seemed fine as he held second place in class but then climbing coolant temperatures caused him to slow and then retire after 7 laps to prevent any engine damage.
Riccardo Losselli, Gabs Iaccarino and Mark Skeggs had all started at the back of the front section of the grid after their respective problems in Race 1. Ricky and Gabs started making progress up the order, aided to some extent by drivers ahead dropping back, Ricky trying not to overheat the wets on the rear of his MiTO and Gabs matching his pace in his V6 GT, both lapping around the 2-minute mark. They eventually finished 5th (Ricky) and 6th (Gabs) taking 4th and 2nd in their respective classes in a well earned change of fortune. Mark pressed on in his GTV lapping staedily and recording a reliable 11th place finish overall.
Right at the front of the field there were some real fireworks. After taking the lead at the beginning of lap 2 Barry McMahon really went for gold. On lap 2 he was only 3/100ths of a second outside Tim Lewis’s outright lap record and on lap 3 he broke it by a staggering 6/10ths with a new record time on 1:49.50. It was a great great lap and if you haven’t seen it watch it along with the rest of his in car footage on youtube – so impressive! He took the chequered flag to record a great race win. Behind him Mike Hilton held 2nd initially but Jamie Thwaites passed him on lap 4 and pulled away impressively. Not withough incident though… Jamie’s front splitter had again loosened and a piece fell off it when Mike was close behind and punched a hole in the 4C’s windscreen. Unsurprisingly Mike then dropped away, unable to match the pace of the TCR Giulietta and Jamie actually closed the gap to the leader to take 2nd place as Barry backed off on the final lap.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||Stacey Dennis|
|Twin Spark Cup||James Ford|
The Clerk of the Course specifically asked me to thank all our drivers for the quality of their driving and the almost total absence of any infringements, and truly it was a fabulous day’s racing and will live long in the memory of those who witnessed it.