Our prayers were duly answered last weekend as sunshine and a dry track greeted the Alfa Championship’s arrival at Oulton Park.
Coming after the inhospital mixed conditions that greeted us at Silverstone and Donington, this came as a relief to drivers, team members and supporters alike. I suppose the only downside is that a single header on a Saturday in Cheshire, is not as popular as it was many years ago. Nonetheless, we had still amassed an original list of 18 cars although this was to be reduced to 16 by the late withdrawal of Guy Hale and Luther Blissett. After Donington, the rebuild of Guy’s 147 was quite a lot more involved than was at first thought and involved new power steering as well as bodywork and suspension repairs. Luther was still awaiting a new engine. Notable absentees this time were the Spur Motorsport team.
On the other hand, despite the absence of Guy, class A1 was maintaining its new found interest with the arrival of Vincent Dubois’ 156. We have several engine options in the class, and this was a new one – a power unit from the 155 Q4 which, in itself, was derived from the Lancia Delta Integrale, coupled to a 164 gearbox. The installation, with smart colour coded underbonnet pipe work, was a tribute to Vincent’s abilities and everyone was keen to see how well it would go. Kevin Evans had worked hard to put right the fuel tank/fuel pump problems that had stopped Andy Robinson racing his 3.8 156 at Donington, and a test session the previous Tuesday had shown that the car was now totally fuel “tight”. After Robin Eyre-Maunsell’s debut run with the Avon prepared 156 GTA at Donington, it was Clive Hodgkin’s turn to get behind the wheel at Oulton. Like Robin, Clive’s racing experience has almost all been in rear wheel drive machinery although he has had many sessions running 156s at trackdays. However, he seemed to be looking forward to the new opportunity. Once again, Darelle Wilson would be the only competitor in Class B with his Diesel GT and Roger Evans was also alone in C.
Fortunately, Class E was quite strong once again – Championship and Class points leader James Bishop was hoping to be able to hold on to his 4 point advantage over James Ford but had the handicap that this was his first visit to Oulton. They were both in their usual 156s prepared by Bianco and were joined in the “team” by Andy Hancock in the Grove & Dean 156, Tom Herbert (also making his first Oulton appearance) and the 147s of Steve Potts and the returning Jon Billingsley. Dave Messenger was running his Team Darnells 156, Andy Inman his Avon Racing car and Kristian Lieth the 145 Cloverleaf looked after by Pro alfa. Making up the class was the first 2 litre GTV to appear since Chris Finch ran on at Oulton a few years ago, to be driven by Andrew Bourke, due to have his very first race. Sadly, there were some elements of the preparation on this car that were not to the satisfaction of the scrutineers and it was once more the “Spirit of the Championship” that came to the rescue thanks to the efforts of Avon Racing and Bianco. This eventually enabled Andrew to complete two laps out of session and to be allowed to start from the back of the grid.
Several people on the pit wall commented on the straightline speed of the blue 156
The usual 20 minute qualifying session took place mid morning and we had some more of what now appears to be normal, a number of lap times disallowed for exceeding track limits. None of them seemed to be a particular driver’s best time, so the grid itself was not affected. For a change there was no commentary during qualifying, so I was able to take my camera out to the right hander at Lodge. Always an interesting place to watch the action. Most of the quick modified times didn’t come until near the end of the session but Roger Evans was going quickly from the word go, his second lap being his best in 2’01.613”, getting near to it again at the end. Part of the time he had been in company with Clive Hodgkin’s similar car. Clive was trying out different approaches with his new mount but eventually settled into a couple of quick laps, the best of which was a 1’59.043” which would be good enough for fourth on the grid. Ahead would be the clear pole sitter, Graham Seager with 1’56.400, with Andy Robinson (1’58.117”) sharing the front row and there were several people on the pit wall who commented on the straightline speed of the blue 156. Darelle Wilson, on 1’58.562”, would be on the inside of row 2 with Clive alongside him. Throughout the 20 minutes, Vincent Dubois’ 156 had looked reasonably rapid and would eventually edge ahead of Roger Evans but there was a worrying misfire that would require investigation later.
Several Bianco Class E cars had been testing the previous day and Stave Potts discovered that his car was jumping out of 4th gear which necessitated a gearbox change that kept the team busy well into the evening. However, Steve put the result to good use by leaping to the top of the E times at the start of qualifying and staying there to the flag and his first class pole. His quickest time of 2’06.515” was good enough to keep both James Ford and James Bishop at bay. Having his best outing so far was Andy Hancock who ended up 4th fastest with 2’07.296” ahead of Jon Billingsley, Dave Messenger, Kristian Leith, Tom Herbert and Andy Inman.
Much interest was generated in the paddock by the brand new 4C of Andy Robinson, only no.7 to be delivered in the UK. He had collected it only two days before from Alfa dealers Platts, who had pulled out all the stops to get the car to him in time for the weekend. It was good to see so many old friends at Oulton plus a number of members of AROC’s North West Section and the Richard Murtha the Club’s Board member in charge of “The Development of AROC Motorsport”. Keith, Tom and Lynn Waite were there in the Vincent Dubois camp while also paying close attention there was Alfatune’s Gus Lambrou. Keith Turner was reminiscing about racing a Sud and a modified 33 back between 1993 and 1997 while Roy Jeffries was doing likewise about local dealers Mangoletsi with whom he was a leading light for many years in the parts department. Multiple competition Alfetta and GTV6 restorer, Richard Melvin, appeared for a while with one of his current projects and he was also optimistic that the appearance of the ex Peter Hilliard Alfetta GTV turbo race car was not far off. It was good to see Sue Bland, complete with bicycle with which she embarks on some fairly adventurous group tours, recently in the Lake District.
The sight of four cars abreast going into Old Hall away from the start was somewhat exhilarating
The race start was to be at a comfortable mid afternoon time and everyone was looking forward to seeing how the A1/B contest would develop and also, as usual, Class E. Would Steve Potts manage to keep James Ford and James Bishop behind him or would Andy Hancock be able to capitalise on his excellent qualifying performance? We had decided that E would also have more recognition at Oulton by having a podium of its own after that of the finishers in 1-2-3 overall. The sight of four cars abreast going into Old Hall away from the start was somewhat exhilarating – Graham Seager and Andy Robinson had been relatively slow off the mark while both Darelle Wilson – going between Graham and Andy – and Clive down the outside were quickly away. Darelle held on to the lead throughout the lap while Graham Seager worked his way into second place ahead of Clive Hodgkin, Andy Robinson and Vincent Dubois while Roger Evans had already slipped away from the race leaders. In E, Andy Hancock was another to make an excellent start, finding that the inside line into Old Hall was the place to be, rushing into 2nd in class behind Steve Potts while Dave Messenger who also got away well discovered that the outside route wasn’t, finding himself stuck behind Kristian Leith. As they went out of sight into the country, Steve led Andy with James Bishop ahead of James Ford, Kristian and Dave. Behind them there was an entertaining trio made up of Jon Billingsley, Tom Herbert and Andy Inman.
Throughout lap 2, Graham Seager closed up on Darelle Wilson, crossing the line 0.75” adrift. Clive Hodgkin was pushing on in fine fashion only just over a second behind Graham, having already dropped Andy Robinson and Vincent Dubois. In E, Steve Potts continued to hold on to the lead with Andy Hancock excelling himself only a second adrift but James Ford had woken up and passed James Bishop and didn’t waste any time in closing the gap to Andy, passing him on lap 3. Meanwhile, up at the front, Graham Seager appeared ahead of Darelle Wilson at the end of lap 3 – the gap under a second – before starting to pull away at some 3.5” a lap. The battle between Darelle and Clive Hodgkin then became quite intense and on lap 5 there was hard contact at the top of Clay Hill, which could have had disastrous consequences. Fortunately, both were able to continue after some heart stopping moments. Andy Robinson and Vincent Dubois had both speeded up, lapping comfortably under the 2 minute mark and were looking as though they could now challenge Clive for third place.
James Ford’s race had really come alive by this point, and he had quickly slashed the gap to Steve Potts, passing him on lap 4 while Andy Hancock, although demoted to third, was still running strongly to stay ahead of James Bishop. Kristian Leith was holding on to 4th in E in front of Dave Messenger who would close right in at the Shell Oils Hairpin but seemed to lose out on the second half of the lap. Behind them, Jon Billingsley continued to hold sway over Tom Herbert and Andy Inman. Andrew Bourke was now being lapped in his GTV but keeping well out of the way of the rest of the field.
At the end of lap 6 it was Clive Hodgkin who came through in 2nd place overall, some 10” behind Graham Seager, but with Andy Robinson and Vincent Dubois now right on his tail. But where was Darelle Wilson. He eventually appeared some 30” later, having also been passed by Roger Evans, another broken turbo pipe consigning him to a run to the finish at relative “walking” pace. In E, James Ford continued to pull away from the closely matched Steve Potts, Andy Hancock and James Bishop but lap 8 would be disastrous for Andy as a plume of smoke heralded the end of his race on the run down to Knickerbrook with a split sump. It seemed that he had been experiencing brake difficulties and had run over one of Oulton’s notorious high kerbs with predictable results but it was a disappointing outcome which had heralded another strong force in an already strong class. Would Andy’s disappearance allow James Bishop to close up on Steve Potts though? Clive Hodgkin, Andy Robinson and Vincent Dubois were now running within 1.3” of each other and Andy certainly figured that second place could be his. Unfortunately on lap 9 he ran out of road on the left hand curve approaching the Shell Hairpin and although he didn’t hit anything, he couldn’t get the car re-started and his race was over. Another disappointed driver although, this time, it was by an error of his own making. A shame, also, as it broke up what was one of the best modified contests for some while.
As the race ran to its conclusion, Graham Seager had opened a comfortable 13” advantage over Clive Hodgkin as the “Last Lap” board came out with 10 laps completed. The black supercharged GTV would eventually pass the flag 14” to the good with Vincent Dubois a satisfied third, a further 4” back from Clive. Finishing 5th, Roger Evans had had a very lonely time although he was still able to take away the valuable points for winning Class C. In E, Steve Potts never gave up in his chase of James Ford and actually set two of his fastest three times on the final and penultimate laps, ending just 2.093” adrift of the red 156. James Bishop knew that he couldn’t catch Steve and always had to keep his eye on Kristian Leith who took an excellent 4th place in his best race yet, 1.117” clear of Dave Messenger who never gave up trying to take the place away. 6th home in E was Jon Billingsley chased by Andy Inman after Tom Herbert had dropped right back (plus incurring a 5” penalty for exceeding track limits). Darelle Wilson trundled home to take Class B while it was good to see Andrew Bourke finish his first ever race.
The double podium didn’t work out quite as expected – although well attended for a change – as the overall 1-2-3 were late arriving and the Class E group, who appeared first, seemed bemused by the togetherness they were required to demonstrate. We’ll sort them out for next time……..
Sue Bland presented the trophies later on, the Grove & Dean Motorsport Insurance award going to Clive Hodgkin for his run into 2nd overall – his first success with a front wheel drive car. Our thanks go to the BRSCC North West Centre, led as ever by the irrepressible Tom Dooley, for looking after us so well. The winner at Oulton even gets a bottle of champagne!