Only twice in its history has the Rockingham Speedway been used for the kind of racing for which it was originally designed – CART Indycars or its successors.
It opened in 2001 with probably more scepticism than solid expectation and immediately ran into problems with facilities that were not finished and a track that saw water seeping up through the new surface from below ground. Nonetheless the race that did take place featured a great battle in fading autumn light between winner Gil de Ferran and Kenny Brack. The following year, most of the problems had been put right and there was a “home” win for Dario Franchitti. But the crowd was poor and the CART board decided to drop the race for 2003, leaving a huge facility with the largest permanent grandstands of any UK circuit with possibly no future. The lap record stands at 211.144mph and is likely to stay at that.
Happily, however, there is an infield layout that over the years, and with one or two changes, has emerged as a regular venue for most of the British organising clubs and championships. The full oval is only occasionally used but part of it is incorporated in the International Long Sportscar Circuit which provides a lot of variety in its 2.05 mile layout and takes the cars onto the oval between the Brook Chicane at the end of the pits buildings, through turn one and down to the Dene hairpin. The majority of drivers appear to like the circuit layout but it is not so popular with the team personnel as it involves long distances from the outer paddock, where we were this time, and the race administration in the inner paddock. On the other hand, the stands and commentary box give an all-over view of the racing, and scrutineering is done in-situ, so there are compensations. Added to which the inner paddock is always over full.
As we come out of summer into autumn, it always seems that the Championship’s entry levels improve. We had 24 cars at Rockingham, including no fewer than 15 in Class E, and expect to have a very strong turnout at Silverstone (International) in October. Graham Seager was the pre-race weekend favourite in his Oulton and Anglesey winning supercharged GTV and he was joined in Class A1 by the 156s of Clive Hodgkin and Vincent Dubois. Clive’s example was the 3.2 litre GTA that he shares with Robin Eyre-Maunsell and which he had taken to 2nd place and Grove & Dean Driver of the Day award at Oulton in May. Vincent was giving his Turbo Q4 engined car another outing after a strong run into 2nd place at Snetterton behind Anthony George. Andy Robinson had withdrawn as although his 156 had been rebuilt it had suffered bent valves during the second Anglesey incident when the damaged bodywork had hit the cambelt and a new engine was not yet ready. Roger Evans had hoped to have his new A1 147 GTA at Rockingham but he had suffered delays with welding the cylinder head on the 3.8 engine. Hopefully it will be in action at Silverstone.
Class A2 had its largest entry of the year at Rockingham. Silverstone race winner Chris Snowdon was entered in the John Sismey prepared 33 2 litre 16v, Chris hoping for a somewhat quieter weekend than he had been subjected to at the Goodwood Revival. He would be joined by the similar 1.8 16v car of Bryan Shrubb which also now features fuel injection and had followed up its wins at Cadwell with two second places at Anglesey. We were looking forward to seeing how the two cars compared. Class points leader Nick Anderson had entered his Mayfield Farm Bakery 33 8v while it was good to see Louise West back with her similar car after a year away following her gearbox problems at Thruxton last August. The car had now reverted to its 8 valve engine. Class B and Class C only had single representatives – Malcolm Chapman running his ex Avon Racing 75 3 litre in B while Ray Foley was running his 3.2 GTV in C, still with happy memories of his recent outing at Zandvoort.
The 15 car entry in Class E shows just how strong the class is at the moment and every indication is that it will continue to grow in 2015. It is perhaps appropriate that this year’s overall championship battle was being fought out between two of the class’s leading lights – James Bishop and James Ford. That they shared a win apiece last time out at Anglesey is probably indicative that race wins can go to either of them at the moment but it is JB’s consistency that has placed him ahead of JF in the points table, never having finished lower than third in the ten races so far. JF by comparison had won four times but also suffered bad weekends at Cadwell and Snetterton. Nonetheless he was helped by the dropped scores rule which left him just 10 points behind James Bishop as qualifying got underway at Rockingham. They were not the only possible winners though and we were expecting strong showings from Tom Herbert (156) who had gained from some three hours of track time at Zandvoort and Stephen Potts (156), a pole sitter and third place finisher in Wales.
Another to be showing race by race improvements was Andy Hancock, already with two podiums to his name with his Grove & Dean liveried 156. Other 156s in the entry were those of Chris Healey, Andy Inman, Dave Messenger. Luther Blissett and Stacey Dennis. A couple of years ago Dave enjoyed a tussle for the class lead with Neil Smith’s 147 and he was expected to show well again this time. Stacey had also been part of Luther’s 360 Club endurance race team at Snetterton in August. Jon Billingsley’s 147 had been rebuilt after its contretemps with Tom Herbert at Snetterton and he had been another to be part of the Bianco Zandvoort party. Having also missed Anglesey, Steve O’Brien was back in action with his 147, still happy after his third place at Snetterton. It was very good to see Tom Eastwood out again with his Spur Motorsport 145 joining the similar car of Kristian Leith. Luther Blissett would only be there on Sunday as he was involved with a football commitment on Saturday.
It was somewhat murky as the cars left the outer paddock to go to the assembly area for qualifying. There was drama before the session even got underway when both Vincent Dubois and Bryan Shrubb failed the mandatory noise test and were not allowed on track although they were both able to sort out their exhausts and qualify out of session later. We were sharing the grid with the Smart Car Championship as we have done before at Rockingham and it wasn’t long before one of the eight cars entered had made hard contact with the barrier, bringing out the red flag. When qualifying resumed it was Clive Hodgkin who set the pace with a best of 1’44.055” until Graham Seager had got his tyres up to temperature and made sure of pole with 1’42.489 on his penultimate and 8th lap. Chris Snowdon only did 5 laps before coming into the pits, satisfied with his second row starting position and not wanting to stress the car unduly. Nick Anderson was running strongly in his 8v 33 and would finish the session as a satisfied 4th, only 1.5” slower than Chris. Malcolm Chapman, Louise West and Ray Foley completed the A1/A2/B and C part of the grid, Malcolm and Louise having finished 7th and 8th overall just behind the Class E 156s of James Bishop and James Ford. Championship leader James Bishop was the only Class E driver to beat the 1’50” barrier with a 1’49.975”, just half a second quicker than his main rival.
The rest of Class E were tightly bunched led by Andy Hancock and Tom Herbert, although Andy managed to throw his car into the gravel at the Brook chicane just over half way through the session. As his best at this stage was a 1’50.572” he might have got ahead of James Ford in the remaining laps. Tom Herbert’s best was a 1’51.004”, just getting the better of Jon Billingsley and Stephen Potts although the latter managed to split his sump riding over a kerb which would require attention from the ever patient Harry White. Going better than he had at Anglesey, Kristian Leith slotted himself into 7th in class ahead of Andy Inman, happier back in his own car, Chris Healey, Tom Eastwood and Stacey Dennis. The class was completed by Russell Anderson and Dave Messenger who only managed 2 laps before his newly built engine failed.
4.15 was the start time for the Saturday race, so there was plenty of time for any fettling required and also to hold a Panel meeting to discusss, and possibly decide, on the basics of the class format for next year. A report on this will appear elsewhere on the website in due course. Although it was still grey as the cars made their way to the grid, you could at least see clearly to the far side of the circuit. As the red lights went out, it was Clive Hodgkin who went off like a jack-rabbit pursued by Graham Seager, Chris Snowdon, Vincent Dubois and Nick Anderson who had been in second place for a few yards. The Dene Hairpin was fraught as usual and saw James Ford running into the back of Ray Foley although hardly delayed himself. At the end of the lap Clive Hodgkin had a half second lead over Graham Seager with Chris Snowdon 1.8” further back and now clear of Vincent Dubois and Nick Anderson. James Bishop and James Ford were tied together leading Class E and about to be passed by Bryan Shrubb who was making up time in the BLS 33. Tom Herbert and Stephen Potts were 3rd and 4th in E, with Louise Wests’s A2 car in between them and 5th placed Jon Billingsley’s 147. Kristian Leith, Andy Inman, Malcolm Chapman (75) Tom Eastwood, Chris Healey and Andy Hancock were next in line, Andy having also been involved in a front bodywork damaging incident.
We had expected Graham Seager to go rushing past Clive Hodgkin but this was not to be and Clive was putting in a splendid drive in the 156, setting his fastest lap on lap 2 (1’41.877”) as he used all his available grip to pull away. The gap was nearly 2 seconds and Clive said that before the braking area at Dene he was pulling almost 140 mph! Chris Snowdon was still in third place but had Vincent Dubois edging closer while Bryan Shrubb was now up to 4th although 7” down on Vincent. Lap 3 was the first turning point of the race as Graham Seager outbraked himself at the Tarzan Hairpin – a straightforward “driving error” he said afterwards – and slid into the gravel, happily without hitting anything. This left Clive Hodgkin 3.8” clear of Chris Snowdon as they completed the lap, dropping Vincent Dubois who was being caught by Bryan Shrubb. In E, James Bishop had eked out a half second lead over James Ford with Tom Herbert a comfortable third, well clear of Jon Billingsley, Stephen Potts, Kristian Leith, Andy Inman and Tom Eastwood. It was good to see Russell Anderson in only his second race running ahead of Stacey Dennis and Steve O’Brien in the yellow ex Thomas family 146.
As Clive and Chris completed lap 5, it looked as though the 156 was going to take a reasonably comfortable lights to flag win, having a 4.1” advantage. However there was now a good deal of oil on the circuit and this certainly affected the heavier 156 more than the 33. A smart car had also fallen over at Piff-Paff corner which almost brought Vincent Dubois to a halt, the oil also catching him out at Gracelands where Chris Healey had earlier slid into the gravel and out of the race. By the end of lap 6, Chris Snowdon had taken back all 4” that Clive Hodgkin had had in hand and the next third of a lap saw some of the best side-by-side racing we have had in the championship for some time with Chris just managing to edge ahead on the far side of the circuit. That all needed both trust and judgement which was much appreciated by everyone watching. Bryan Shrubb was now in third place but 14” back but like everyone else was finding the oily surface a problem.
James Ford had continued to pressure James Bishop in E and finally made a pass stick on lap 5 while Tom Herbert, Jon Billingsley and Kristian Leith retained their relatively lonely 3rd, 4th and 5th places ahead of Louise West’s A2 33. A splendid battle was being joined by the 156s of Andy Inman, Stephen Potts and Andy Hancock while Russell Anderson had stayed ahead just of Stacey Dennis. A loser in all this had been Tom Eastwood who had spun on the oil and was now running in company with Steve O’Brien. By the end of lap 7, Tom had passed Steve and was charging along in pursuit of Stacey Dennis with Andy Inman, Louise West and Andy Hancock the next potential targets. Nearer the front of the Class E, Kristian Leith was making inroads into the third place advantage of Jon Billingsley, the gap being under half a second at the end of lap 8. Andy Hancock had pulled clear of Andy Inman who was now being pressured hard by Tom Eastwood. Through to the end of the race, Clive Hodgkin never gave up chasing Chris Snowdon but the lap times were now well off those set early in the race and Chris was able to keep a 2.57” gap to the end, the flag coming out with no warning two and a half minutes early!
I love recovering places!
With two laps to go, Bryan Shrubb had retired from third place with an alternator problem letting Vincent Dubois back into a podium position. Nick Anderson had dropped back from 4th place to finish behind the first two class E cars, James Ford taking the win this time, two seconds clear of James Bishop. Tom Herbert cruised untroubled to third in E and on the last lap, Kristian Leith took away 4th place in the class from Jon Billingsley. Andy Hancock was next home and a delighted Tom Eastwood – “I love recovering places!” – got himself ahead of Andy Inman and right on the tail of Louise West’s A2 33. Really unlucky was Russell Anderson who suffered broken front wheel studs on his 146, parking at the exit of the Brook chicane, while Stephen Potts retired with an overheating engine.
Race 1 Results
|Overall – Chris Snowdon|
|A1 – Clive Hodgkin|
|A2 – Chris Snowdon|
|B – No finishers|
|C – Ray Foley|
|E – James Ford|
Kevin Eastwood presented the trophies later, accompanied by “Happy Birthday to You” for the delighted winner Chris Snowdon – Rockingham seems to be one of his luckier circuits! It had certainly been a scintillating race at the front and we all looked forward to what Sunday would bring. In the Championship stakes, James Bishop continued to hold his 10 point lead (after dropped scores) over James Ford. When Chris Snowdon saw on the results sheet that Bryan Shrubb had posted the fastest lap in A2 his comment was “irritating”. He appreciated that it had been a good lap though!
Race 1 Prize-giving
The first surprise on Sunday morning was the return of the Dave Messenger’s smart trailer containing his Darnells/Solo Italia 156. On getting back to base from the disaster of qualifying, the team had put together and installed a new engine – rebuilt from the one used last year. Now that’s dedication and we all hoped that their efforts would be rewarded. Luther Blissett had also arrived with his green 156 and would qualify out of session. Louise West and Russell Anderson had managed to replace the wheelstuds on the 146 and Russell would be able to start race 2. Although the temperature was slightly lower, everyone was pleased to see blue skies and sunshine as everyone prepared for the mid-day start.
The start of race 2 wasn’t quite a repeat of race 1 as Nick Anderson appeared to jump the lights from the second row , confusing everyone as he passed the cars on the first row, but in reality he had a major gearbox problem and wanted to get out of the way – a little difficult on the Rockingham oval! See below…
Nonetheless everyone managed to avoid him and it was once again Clive Hodgkin who shot off in front. This time, however, he was challenged straightaway by the fast starting Graham Seager into the first corner but still managed to hold on in front and crossed the line at the end of the lap with a 1” advantage over Graham with Chris Snowdon already a couple of seconds back and being chased by Vincent Dubois and Bryan Shrubb. Ray Foley had avoided any problems and was 6th.
There was a surprise in Class E as Jon Billingsley had made a blinding start, as had Kristian Leith, and somehow found the way open to him into Dene, passing both James Bishop and James Ford on the entry to the corner. Between Yentwood and Chapman, James Ford was fighting back, the 147 and 156 making contact, damaging James’s offside wheels and putting him out of the race. Tom Herbert had inherited 2nd place while James Bishop had also been delayed and was lying 4th behind the flying Kristian Leith’s 145 with Andy Hancock and no less than Dave Messenger a couple of seconds back.
Although we could see the power of Graham Seager’s GTV bringing him closer to Clive Hodgkin on various parts of the circuit, overall Clive kept his small lead and the top 5 were covered by just 4.8” at the end of lap 2. On lap 3, Chris Snowdon slipped by Graham Seager and a lap later was once again hounding Clive Hodgkin with the first five cars now with only 4.4” between them. In Class E, there were changes as Tom Herbert took over the class lead from Jon Billingsley who now found himself in the clutches of James Bishop. Kristian Leith, Andy Hancock, Dave Messenger and Louise West were also providing some good entertainment with Tom Eastwood, initially Stacey Dennis and Chris Healey just behind, Andy Inman and Stephen Potts having retired on lap 1.
Clive Hodgkin had a “don’t know where its going” moment
On lap 5, Clive Hodgkin had a “don’t know where its going” moment at Yentwood, the corner after Dene, and this was enough to let Chris Snowdon into the lead and put Graham Seager back on Clive’s tail. In E, James Bishop was closing up on Tom Herbert , both lapping in the 1’49s, with Jon Billingsley now a lonely third in front of the battling Kristian Leith, Louise West, Dave Messenger and Andy Hancock. Chris Healey and Tom Eastwood were both running strongly a second apart with Steve O’Brien, Stacey Dennis, Russell Anderson and Luther Blissett completing the class.
Chris Snowdon was starting to pull away but there was a tricky moment on the entry to turn one at the start of lap 8 with a misunderstanding on track position between Chris Hodgkin and Graham Seager that saw contact between the two cars, some collective intake of breath, but happily no accident as a result. Graham ended the lap with a 0.12” advantage but was already 6” behind the leader.
Vincent Dubois was still going strongly and actually lapping faster than Graham and Clive so that a 3rd place overall looked a possibility, taking Bryan Shrubb along with him. Despite having a 6” lead, Chris Snowdon set his fastest lap of the race on lap 10 (1’41.491”) and another quick one on lap 11, so that his lead over Graham was now 7”. Not that the GTV was hanging around and the final lap saw Chris’s lead slashed to just 1.93” as he judged the run to the flag to perfection to take his second win of the weekend – and we couldn’t remember if the John Sismey 33 had ever done that before. Clive Hodgkin kept up the pressure on Graham Seager to come 1.58” behind with Bryan Shrubb driving splendidly just on his tail to take 4th. Vincent Dubois dropped right off the pace over the last couple of laps with a severe front wheel vibration having lost a large chunk of tyre but still finished 5th, ahead of Ray Foley.
James Bishop stopped chasing Tom Herbert for the Class E win towards the end, content to maintain his season long run of podiums and 100% finishing record. Running well just behind the two 156s was Louise West in her 33 and given another lap she might well have passed them. Jon Billingsley held on to his third place in E but there was some shuffling around in the group behind, including an incident at Tarzan that squeezed Kristian Leith down the order and allowed Andy Hancock and a delighted Dave Messenger to finish 4th and 5th. Chris Healey was just able to stay ahead of Kristian to the flag with Tom Eastwood, Steve O’Brien, Stacey Dennis, Russell Anderson and Luther Blissett completing the finishers. Tom Eastwood and Steve O’Brien both did their fastest laps on Lap 10 to show how hard they were trying, Steve being particularly pleased with his 1’50.920” which was on the same pace as the cars finishing 3rd, 4th and 5th.
Race 2 Results
|Overall – Chris Snowdon|
|A1 – Graham Seager|
|A2 – Chris Snowdon|
|B – No finishers|
|C – Ray Foley|
|E – Tom Herbert|
Louise West presented the trophies after the race and the “Grove & Dean” Driver of the Weekend Award went to double winner Chris Snowdon much to the delight of longtime championship supporter John Sismey who had first appeared with a modified Sud Ti for his son Nick back in 1983. On reflection it was a welcome change to have a weekend when the modified cars provided us with the closest and most spectacular racing. We look forward to some more of the same at Silverstone.
Race 2 Prize-giving
It was good to see several friends and supporters of the Championship over the two days including Ron Davidson (talking about the 164 race car he is building), Graham Heels, Phill Snelling, Matt Abell (who hopes to race his 33 again next year), Keith ,Tom and Lynn Waite (helping Vincent Dubois), David Cannard (with BLS as usual) and Gethin Llewellyn at Bianco (and building a 156 for Class E).
Championship Winner Confirmed
After triple checking (!), we are really happy to confirm that James Bishop is the 2014 BRSCC Alfashop Alfa Romeo Championship title winner as he cannot now be overtaken in the points table. He has enjoyed a splendidly consistent season taking five wins, five 2nd places and two thirds in what is the largest and most competitive class. The runner-up spot remains to be decided after Tom Herbert’s excellent weekend although James Ford remains the strong favourite. Mathematically Stephen Potts, Roger Evans and Graham Seager could all have a say in the matter.
James Bishop’s championship win is also a tribute to the care and preparation offered by the Bianco Auto Developments team and the constant support of his father Martin.