Why is it that whenever we go racing the weather gods decide that the sunny weather we have been enjoying should be replaced by one of those dispiriting low pressure systems so beloved of the forecasters we all watch so avidly.
In fact, I can’t recall a recent race meeting spent sunbathing between sessions (unless there is work to do of course!) or enjoying a cold beer or glass of wine as we sit happily outside chatting or barbecuing on a warm evening. Or perhaps my memory is just faulty! Whatever the case, as we approached our return to Rockingham as part of the Avon Tyres British GT support programme, it looked as though we would be lucky to get away with no rain at all, Sunday morning looking the most likely time for a drenching.
From the Championship’s point of view, it is good for our image to be included in such a prestigious meeting but it does mean that we have little chance to avoid such things as another 7.30 signing on time and 9.00 qualifying, or a second race at 9.50 on Sunday morning. But then I do recall going to an Alfa Challenge race at Spa with Avon Racing in the late 90s and having a race (in the rain!) at 8.35 in the morning, so all good things come at a price! For all its down sides, Rockingham seems to be a circuit that the drivers enjoy and we attracted an 24 car entry for rounds 3 & 4 – a gratifying improvement over Silverstone at Easter. In particular, there were three more Modified cars and a second in the Power Trophy while the Twin Spark Cup entry was up one to 15 although the mix of cars and drivers was slightly different.
A notable absentee was championship points leader Graham Seager whose GTV required a newly machined auxiliary engine pulley that arrived too late. However there was a new car from Peak Alfa in the shape of Roger Evans’ latest project, the 147 GTA 3.8 litre that we first saw at Silverstone last October. If the specification was anything to go by, this was going to be another winner for Roger but he also been making a big effort to sort out Andy Robinson’s similarly engined 156. Testing at Rockingham had shown major problems with the rear brakes and brake balance but Roger was confident that this had been fixed and that Andy would be able to develop some of the confidence in the car that had previously been lacking.
Chris Snowdon and Bryan Shrubb were both entered in the 33s that had given us such entertainment at Silverstone and from the lap times achieved last September, when Chris took wins in both the double header races, they were obviously going to be in contention.
A dark horse, though would be the Q4 turbo engined 156 of Vincent Dubois. This exciting car had undergone more development over the winter, with a proper racing diff replacing the previous Torsen version while a smart body kit had been added to cover new 18” Wolfrace wheels fitted with 9” Dunlop slicks.
Finally, there was the Proalfa prepared Mito with which we had expected Dave Peddie to join the Power Trophy. However Dave told me that he thought there were some things on the car that meant it didn’t comply with the regs as currently written. I asked him for a list! What it did have by race time was the correct Alfashop sunstrip.
Mito or not, Ray Foley was not to be alone in the Power Trophy. Nick Anderson arrived with an empty trailer but was expecting Dave Ashford (Brunswick Motorsport) to appear with his 33 8v which had been the subject of considerable work on engine, suspension, brakes, wheels and tyres. Sadly a lot of it was a bit last minute, so there had been no chance for Nick to test the car but he was relieved to see Dave’s white truck drive into the Rockingham on Friday evening with the 33 inside. By then, thanks to a BRSCC “posse” who moved a Mazda team that had camped themselves in our already crowded area of the outer paddock, we were able to keep most people together, motorhomes and trucks included.
Inevitably the largest space requirement was that of Bianco Auto Developments for their 10 Twin Spark Cup cars, headed by the Silverstone double Silverstone winner, James Bishop’ 156. Tom Hill now had his newly built 156 in the black and gold colours that matched his karting helmet and boots (so his parents informed me) while the 156 renta’ that he had used in all his previous outings was to be driven by Tim Perry. Tim was hoping to be able to repeat the third place finish he had on his last appearance at Rockingham in 2013 with Paul Plant’s 147. After missing Silverstone, Stephen Potts returned with his smart silver and orange 156 sporting the first face-lift front in the Championship, and very smart it looked too. Another who missed the opening rounds was James Ford but it was good to see him back and determined to give James Bishop a good run for his money. In their usual Bianco run 156s were Andy Hancock and Simon Cresswell (with Tom Herbert on hand to give advice) while the team was completed by three 147s. Those of Jon Billingsley and Stacey Dennis we are familiar with but this time they were joined by the white and beautifully presented ex Steve O’Brien car of James Browning.
Further up the paddock we would find three more 156s. Avon Racing were looking after Andy Inman’s purple and yellow car this time with Graham Fletcher taking a major role with daughter Anna while Clive and Christine Hodgkin kept a watching brief. Luther Blissett arrived on Friday evening and was able to get his car scrutineered early as he and Lauren Fox were having to miss Saturday to celebrate Watford’s promotion to the Premier League. He would return for Sunday’s race. Jeremy Chilton had entered his black and green 156 and was camped alongside the 145 of Richard Stevens. Richard had been out testing on Friday and had suffered a major clutch problem being helped with advice from Bianco and parts, for which he was very grateful, from Clive Hodgkin. Finally, there was the lone 146 of Russell Anderson, fellow 146 racer Richard Ford being on a long planned holiday in Thailand.
An early start, with signing-on by Judith Hibbins taking place in the Welcome Centre, was quickly followed by in-situ scrutineering with Mike Hibbins leading the way in typically efficient manner. There seemed to be no major problems as I made my way to the commentary box, joining old friend Ian Titchmarsh, as the cars made their way the assembly area past a mandatory noise check. Ian is a long term Alfa enthusiast and owner, as is BTCC commentator David Addison who edited the Rockingham programme which featured three colour photographs from Silverstone provided by Katy Read.
For the Modified and Power Trophy cars, this qualifying was going to be a bit of a slow burner while several of the Twin Spark Cup drivers had set their best times on their second or third laps. Leading the way was James Bishop who was quickly under the lap record, his 1’48.510” beating the best he had set in September (1’49.528”). This was over half a second clear of James Ford (1’ 49.086”) with Tom Hill a fraction slower with 1’49.104”. That the general pace of the Twin Spark Cup has increased was shown by half the field being under the 1’50” mark. Tim Perry showed no signs of being rusty by setting the fourth quickest time ahead of Simon Cresswell, impressive again, Andy Hancock and Stephen Potts. Jon Billingsley and Dave Messenger had both hoped to be quicker but although only 10th fastest, Andy Inman was still 1.6” faster than he had been in September. James Browning made a promising debut with a best lap of 1’51.041” and the class was completed by Stacey Dennis, Richard Stevens, Jeremy Chilton and Russell Anderson.
With the end of the session approaching we had begun to wonder whether the race was going to be dominated by Roger Evans’ 147 GTA or if the other potentially quick modified cars would be able to get near to him. In the end we needn’t have worried as the final few minutes brought a frenetic dash for pole which left Roger Evans, Vincent Dubois, Bryan Shrubb and Chris Snowdon all within 0.176” of each other, Roger taking pole on his penultimate lap with 1’41.139”. A great race was in prospect! Andy Robinson enjoyed a relatively calm session, settling for fifth quickest time with 1’44.001” in the 3.8 litre 156, but happy to be able to get to know the car better. However, he was almost matched by an on-form Ray Foley’s 156 GTA, leading the two Power Trophy cars with 1’44.001”. Nick Anderson was finding his feet with what should have been a revitalised 33 but the brake bias was all wrong while the handling on the new Avon slicks was giving him no confidence, so his best time was amongst those set by the slower Twin Spark cars. With the split grid arrangement, though, he would still start ahead of them. Unlucky was Dave Peddie who couldn’t get out to qualify as the Mito was suffering a clutch hydraulics problem. Easily fixed and he would be able to qualify out of session and make the start of race 1 later in the day.
It was worrying as we returned to the paddock to find an Ambulance and paramedics tending to Linda Robinson who was feeling seriously unwell and would be taken to Kettering General, Joy Fairy accompanying her as it was agreed that Andy would stay at the circuit and hopefully race in the afternoon. Happily he did and Linda returned the following morning. The good news is that although she had a brief hospital stay for checks during the following week, she was released on Thursday and happy to be home with no lasting ill effects expected.
The qualifying session had brought a number of problems – Dave Messenger had suffered a cracked exhaust, Stacey Dennis needed her clutch replacing and Jon Billingsley needed a new power steering pump. Andy Hancock reckoned that he didn’t have the right tyre pressures while Vincent Dubois reported that he had had no grip at all to start with – but then this seemed to be the common problem with the slick shod cars that were getting no temperature into their tyres. One of the most interesting things about involvement in a major meeting is the amount of extra information that is available from the timekeepers. In addition to the usual lap times we have sector times and speed traps, not to mention wind speed, track temperature and humidity. The best sectors analysis also gives the “perfect lap” time which, in our case, would have been 1’40.759”. An “ideal time” for Roger Evans would have been 1’41.053” and for James Bishop 1’48.159”. Also illuminating were the top speeds at the end of each sector – sector 1 on the Steele Straight, Sector 2 on the School Straight and Sector 3 across the start/finish line. Taking Sector 3, fastest of all was Andy Robinson’s 156 at 104.3 mph, with Roger Evans (103.7 mph) and Bryan Shrubb (103.4 mph next. Surprisingly, Chris Snowdon’s top speed at this point was only 100.7 mph. Amongst the Twin Sparks, James Ford’s 88.6 mph was comfortably ahead of Tim Perry and James Bishop (87.3 and 87.2 mph) with Jon Billingsley and Andy Hancock shown at 87.1 mph, all the last four tightly matched but at the sector 1 timing point, James Bishop was only 0.2 mph faster than James Ford. A top Aston Martin or Ferrari speed amongst the British GT’s at the start/finish line would be just over 120 mph. Too much information to divert one’s attention perhaps!!
The Saturday race got underway just after 2 o’clock in cloudy conditions but with a dry track. As is the norm now, we had the three row gap between the Modified/Power Trophy cars and those in the Twin Spark Cup. As lights went out, it was Nick Anderson from row three who was quickly on the move but was almost immediately pushed back by Vincent Dubois, Chris Snowdon, Roger Evans and Bryan Shrubb and found himself engulfed by the Twin Spark cars before the braking area for the Dene Hairpin. A big loser at the start was James Ford who couldn’t see the lights and dropped back into the pack from his front row grid position. Chris Snowdon managed to complete the first lap in the lead with Roger Evans and Vincent Dubois right on his tail, a fine sight as they raced towards the exit of the oval. Bryan Shrubb was a couple of seconds back with Ray Foley 5th, just ahead of Andy Robinson who was taking a cautious approach until he felt his tyres were giving him the confidence to push on. Behind them, there had almost been what the French would call a “carambolage” at Dene as the Twin Spark cars caught up with Dave Peddie and Nick Anderson. James Bishop had taken the lead but was tucked up behind the Mito while Dave Messenger had gone down the inside and grabbed second place ahead of Tom Hill. Just behind, Tim Perry and Stephen Potts came to blows with Tim on the grass but both drivers keeping control ahead of Andy Hancock and Nick Anderson although Tim had lost momentum and dropped back to battle it out with Jon Billingsley and James Ford.
We could see that Vincent Dubois was about to take the lead away from Chris Snowdon on the exit of the Oval at the end of lap 2 and with a clear track ahead his third lap would be his best of the weekend so far (1’40.134”). However, Chris was not giving up and at Kirby, on the far side of the track, it looked as though he and Vincent had made contact but Chris assured me afterwards that they hadn’t. Roger Evans had temporarily dropped a few car lengths back, Bryan Shrubb was a comfortable fourth while Andy Robinson had passed Ray Foley and was beginning to show the 156’s potential. Initially, James Bishop had found himself battling with Dave Peddie, and there had been a touch between 156 and Mito at the end of the School Straight but by the end of lap two Peddie had managed to build a small gap and TS leader James was left to concentrate on managing his TS class gap to Tom Hill who had taken over second place from Dave Messenger on lap 2. Dave was now being hounded by Nick Anderson’s Power Trophy 33 while the contest between Stephen Potts, Jon Billingsley, James Ford and Tim Perry was in full swing right on Nick’s tail.
As Chris Snowdon passed the pits at the end of lap 3 there was smoke coming from the rear of the 33 and Chris pulled off at Dene and the way was now clear for Roger Evans to mount a challenge, the 147 gobbling up the gap on lap with a 1’39.824” that brought him right onto Vincent Dubois’ tail by the end of lap 5. Bryan Shrubb and Andy Robinson were running 3rd and 4th with Bryan pulling away slightly on each lap. Unchallenged in 5th place was Ray Foley with Dave Peddie running well in the Mito, 6th. In the Twin Spark Cup, James Bishop had a 2.5” lead over Tom Hill but both had now been passed by Nick Anderson’s Power Trophy 33. Dave Messenger had dropped back slightly and had a good view of the battle behind in which James Ford had now passed Stephen Potts and Andy Hancock. Andy had Tim Perry to contend with but Jon Billingsley was now being pushed hard by Stephen Cresswell. An impressive James Browning was 10th ahead of Andy Inman, with Stacey Dennis, Richard Stevens, Russell Anderson and Jeremy Chilton having their own lively contest not far behind.
Vincent Dubois showed that he could still find time in the 156 by lapping quicker than Roger Evans on lap 6 with a 1’39.744” and opening the gap to 0.542” but on lap 7 Roger was not to be denied, crossing the line ahead although there was no way that Vincent was going to give up. Looming large in Roger’s mirrors for the rest of the race it looked as though he a missed gear on the exit if Dene and this ended the 156’s chances although the gap at the flag was still only 1.044” after what had been an enthralling duel. Bryan Shrubb had cruised home some 25” back but Andy Robinson had gradually speeded up and got near enough to try a passing manoeuvre on the orange 33 but dropped 3” back at the finish, having set his best lap of 1’41,793” on lap 9. Ray Foley would again win the Power Trophy but Nick Anderson had been happier with the 33’s brakes and handling and had closed in on Dave Peddie who he passed on lap 8 but a misfire then dropped him back behind the leading TS duo before the finish. Nonetheless he did make fastest lap, marking the first challenge to Ray. Dave Peddie unfortunately ended in the gravel at Gracelands with 2 laps to go.
James Ford had passed Dave Messenger into third in class on lap 6 and started to close the gap to Tom Hill, a best of 1’48.717” on lap 9 taking him within 3.3”. At this point the top 10 TS order across the line behind Dave was Stephen Potts, Tim Perry, Andy Hancock, Stephen Cresswell, Jon Billingsley and Andy Inman. Stephen Potts would get by Dave Messenger before the finish but there was an unfortunate coming together between Andy Hancock who was hit by Tim Perry at Yentwood on the final lap which pushed Andy sideways across the track, delaying Tim and letting Simon Cresswell by into 6th place. An unhappy Andy recovered to finish 7th just ahead of Jon Billingsley and Tim Perry. Andy Inman grabbed the final 2 championship points just a couple of seconds back after an excellent drive while the finishing order was completed by James Browning, Richard Stevens, Stacey Dennis, Russell Anderson and Jeremy Chilton, none of whom had been far off the pace. However, it was again James Bishop who had dominated the class but there was an interesting comment from Chris Snowdon who was watching the race at Dene after his retirement. He reckoned that by far the most committed driver was Tom Hill whose new car was obviously giving him that extra bit of confidence. James Ford, of course, had been unlucky at the start but had the compensation of a new lap record on his way to a final third place, the only driver to get into the 48’s. Stephen Potts put in a steady drive to finish 4th while Dave Messenger was disappointed to end 5th, almost being passed by Simon Cresswell on the final lap. Tim Perry and Andy Hancock were called to the Clerk of the Course but only had their knuckles rapped. The podium and prize giving saw the trophies handed out by Heather Green, the overall and Twin Spark winners once again receiving trophies made by Micky Bolton who delivered them personally earlier in the day on his way to the HSCC Historic Festival at Donington.
|Twin Spark Cup
There would now be plenty of time to fettle the cars for race 2 at 9.50 on Sunday morning bearing in mind that the weather forecast was definitely not good. Late in the night I knew we were in for a difficult time as rain battered on the motorhome roof and it is a credit to the Rockingham, the BRSCC and marshals out on the circuit that everything got underway on time. Vincent Dubois had decided that he would not race because he was worried that his gearbox might explode, pouring oil onto the circuit, not only getting onto his tyres but causing major problems for others. Bryan Shrubb also withdrew because he reckoned that his tyres were not up to the job – the first time, he told me, that he had ever withdrawn from a race. Elsewhere, Luther Blissett arrived on Saturday evening while others worried about tyres, pressures , shock absorber settings and keeping windscreens de-misted. As the race would be held in different conditions from qualifying and race 1 there would be two green flag laps.
“the ignition switch failed in the assembly area which resulted in Hotwire Harry sorting the car out in the rain”
Unfortunately James Ford’s difficult weekend continued – “the ignition switch failed in the assembly area which resulted in Hotwire Harry sorting the car out in the rain and me starting from the pitlane. I was initially told that I’d have a green flag lap (which I would have preferred) but it didn’t materialise. So the first I knew of the race was all the cars passing at speed, the pit light going to green and the marshals waving that I was ok to go now. By that time the rain that had got in the car during repairs was already condensing on the inside of the windows. I had about two laps where I could make out my apexes and braking points, but after that I was just following lights. Not really racing! Russell Anderson was another who had to start from the pitlane after seeing a marshal’s assistance to clear his screen – not that it seemed to have much affect!
Meanwhile, the rest of the field were quickly realising how bad the conditions were and you have to wonder, looking at the in-car videos, if it was really safe. Photographs on the website also show the amount of standing water at places like the Tarzan Hairpin. Nonetheless, the race carried on with Roger Evans coming through at the end of the0 first lap with a 2” lead over Andy Robinson with a fast starting Nick Anderson (leading the Power Trophy), Chris Snowdon and Ray Foley next in line. James Bishop had again established himself at the front of the Twin Sparks , followed by Tom Hill, Dave Peddie (Modified), Stephen Potts, Andy Hancock, Jon Billingsley and Simon Cresswell.
“quite easily the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in”
Andy Hancock reported. I spent the whole time within sight of Stephen Potts’ bumper – primary reason was I didn’t think I would be able to see if I didn’t follow a set of rain lights. I knew I was slightly faster but felt that completing the race in 5th was the best option to get some worthwhile points from the race”.
Up at the front, Roger Evans was concentrating on opening a gap , initially to Andy Robinson and then Chris Snowdon who moved into 2nd place on lap 5. Nick Anderson had lost time and the Power Trophy lead to Ray Foley and was back to 8th behind James Bishop, Dave Messenger and Tom Hill but still a couple of seconds ahead of Dave Peddie. Steve Cresswell and Tim Perry were running behind Stephen Potts and Andy Hancock but with little chance of catching them. Chris Snowdon was pushing hard and set the fastest lap of the race on lap 5, cutting the gap to Roger Evans to 5.3” but then spun a lap later, dropping to third before putting the 33 in the gravel for good at Gracelands on lap 7, bringing out the red flag – probably much to the relief of most. Roger Evans was credited with the win, 15.03” clear of Andy Robinson, with Ray Foley a fine third. In 4th place, showing why he is the current champion, was Twin Spark winner James Bishop, a full 16” clear of Dave Messenger who had managed to stay ahead of Tom Hill.
Dave Peddie and Nick Anderson came next followed by the twelve remaining TS cars in the order, Stephen Potts, Andy Hancock, Simon Cresswell, Tim Perry, Andy Inman, Richard Stevens, James Ford, James Browning, Luther Blissett, Jon Billingsley, Jeremy Chilton and Stacey Dennis – a remarkable finishing record in the conditions. Apart from Chris Snowdon, the only other retirement was Russell Anderson’s 146 which expired after 3 laps. As the cars came off the track, Mike Hibbins was concerned about the amount of misting up and serious lack of vision indicating that we need to look at the rules regarding the removal of heaters and the fitting of heated screens.
|Twin Spark Cup
We gathered in the Bianco marquee for the prize giving afterwards, Philip Clay handing over the trophies and champagne. Probably the most delighted of all were Ray Foley who mounted the podium for 3rd overall and Dave Peddie who had found himself classified as 3rd in Modified. The Grove and Dean Driver of the Weekend award went to Andy Robinson after his two good runs in the 156 3.8.
Our thanks must go to Rockingham, the BRSCC, marshals and officials for keeping the meeting going in such difficult conditions. I am also grateful to Keith Ford for taking pictures of the race 1 podium and prize giving. Unfortunately my camera suffered the same misting-up fate as many of the cars on Sunday, so we have no printable race 2 prize giving pictures.
James Bishop has taken over the Championship points lead (84) from Tom Hill and Ray Foley equal on 71 and Dave Messenger fourth (63). Bryan Shrubb now heads the Modified class from Andy Robinson. The full points table can be found elsewhere on the site. We now go to Oulton Park on Saturday, May 23rd for round 5.
PS: There were Alfa racers in action elsewhere over the same weekend. Ian Brookfield took his Alfasud Ti to Castle Combe finishing 11th in race 1 and then a resounding 8th overall in the rain in race 2, despite a missing fourth gear. Meanwhile at Donington, Neil Smith had a couple of highly competitive races in the Classic Super Touring series with two 3rd places in his WTCC 156. Steve Dymoke (156) finished 10th in race 2.
Here are some more great shots by John Isgar. You can view more and purchase from his website. Also, keep scrolling for galleries and in-car videos!