As had been planned by the BRSCC far in advance, the Alfa Romeo Championship was sharing qualifying and both races with the Toyo Tires Porsche Championship at the Silverstone International circuit on 5th and 6th October.
Both Championships had significantly more entries than on the previous occasion this sharing arrangement took place at Croft earlier in the season, the Alfas having 18 on the grid and the Porsches 10. This time, however, the Alfas were to start on the lights and the Porsches on the flag in order to balance out the priority given to the Porsches at Croft.
The event was billed as an MX-5 race weekend, presumably because the numbers they provided gave them an entitlement to priority billing. They are nice, nimble little cars, albeit their visual interest is diluted by their ubiquity. We were blessed with a strong entry in all 3 of our classes, with 5 Modified, 5 Power Trophy and 8 Twin Spark Cup cars. In view of recent numbers shortages it was particularly gratifying to have 5 Modified cars present; Graham Seager’s supercharged GTV, Bryan Shrubb’s evergreen orange 33, Mervyn Miller’s rapid 156, George Osborne’s stunning 75, and Simon McFie’s beautifully presented Fiat Punto Abarth.
In the Power Trophy we welcomed back Paul Webster after a 2-meeting hiatus due to family commitments and broken ribs respectively. Ben Sharich and the Scuderia MiTO team brought their unique and iconic MiTO, and Jamie Thwaites’ 155 seems to look – and go – better at every meeting in Jamie’s capable hands. The 156 GTAs of Dave Messenger and Andy Inman ensured that the field would be ultra competitive, notwithstanding the fact that Dave already had the class win for the season sewn up; however, there was still the overall Championship victory to play for.
A strong Twin Spark Cup entry comprised Championship leader Tom Hill, Andrew Bourke, the Ford brothers James and Richard, Steve O’Brien, Simon Cresswell, and making particularly welcome return was Kevin Gallagher with a new red 156 built to replace the similar car so unfortunately written off at Anglesey last year.
The skies were overcast, the weather exuding the first chills of autumn as the drivers went out to qualify at around 9.15 AM on Saturday. Although there was a definite nip in the air, it would be prime racing conditions once there was heat in the tyres. A lengthy and well presented driver briefing meant that the drivers had to hurry back from it to set off straight away to the Assembly area.
Tom Hill was first in the queue as always but, unusually, he did not set his quickest time until his 10th lap – a time of 1:22.571 which put him on the Twin Spark pole, some 4/10ths clear of Andrew Bourke who broke into the 1:22s on his 13th and final lap to join Tom on the front row of the Twin Spark grid. Matt Daly was 3rd quickest in his yellow 145 just 2/10ths behind Andrew with a best lap of 1:23.190 towards the end of his stint. James Ford was 4th quickest in his 156, a decent effort in the light of James’s admission that his car does need some work on it to get it fully up to speed. Simon Cresswell was next with a time of 1:24.284 followed by Steve O’Brien in 1:24.628, both solid efforts, Steve’s best lap being half a second better than his next quickest. They were followed by Richard Ford in 1:25.689 – Richard was still suffering from a lack of power with other Twin Sparks passing him on the straights and it is a problem that neither he nor Bianco had yet been able to resolve. They would try something else before the race to see if it made an improvement. Finally the last spot on the Twin Spark grid went to Kevin Gallagher with a time of 1:26.663, a fine effort in what was almost his first race and much closer to the rest of the field than he had been at Anglesey in 2018, a significant improvement which augurs well for his competitiveness in the class.
It was a great pleasure to see five very quick Modified cars on the entry list, all different models and all very well prepared and presented cars, a pleasure that was enhanced by two of the four being significantly quicker than the Porsche Boxsters! Graham Seager led the way in his supercharged GTV, building his pace through the session to record a lap of 1:15.371 to take overall pole position. In contrast, Bryan Shrubb took it steady in his superb 33 for a good 9 laps, recording times in the 1:20s before stepping up the pace and recording a 1:16.211 to share the front row – a good half a second quicker than the fastest Boxster. George Osborne took a similar approach in his 75, recording a few cautious laps before pitting part way through the session. After that he began to get his tyres more up to temperature and recorded a 1:17.713 on his final lap to go third quickest. Mervyn Miller also took several laps to warm up his 156 but again in his final 3 laps banged in times in the low 1:18s with a best time of 1:18.164. He would line up 5th overall with Dave Messenger’s Power Trophy car just pipping him to line up ahead alongside George. Simon McFie’s Punto Abarth was making a welcome second appearance of the season and looking immaculately prepared as usual. Simon would line up 5th in the Modified class with a time of 1:20.113.
Dave Messenger’s time of 1:17.925, set mid-session, put him nearly a second ahead of Jamie Thwaites’s 155, boding well for Dave’s Championship chances but it was also an impressive time by Jamie, the car looking and sounding superb on the circuit. Paul Webster was making a welcome return to the Championship after missing Brands (family holiday) and Mallory (broken ribs sustained when his son Jack’s girlfriend crashed into him when they were karting on holiday; this chronicler does not record whether or not she is still Jack’s girlfriend…lol). Paul’s best lap of 1:19.540 put him third quickest Power Trophy car. Andy Inman’ 156 GTA was next. Andy had pitted after only one lap but rejoined and worked his way steadily down to a time of 1:20.380 right at the end of the session. That left Ben Sharich’s MiTO. Ben was in difficulties, however, and pitted after only 3 laps; he rejoined but pitted again after 7 laps and it transpired that the car had shed 2 litres of oil, so the team wisely cut short the session to try and sort out the problem. Ben’s best time of 1:23.436 would put him at the back of the Modified/Power Trophy section of the grid.
All the cars were ready and looking in fine fettle as we were called to the grid a little ahead of schedule. Scuderia MiTO had solved the oil loss problem, Richard Ford was hoping that a solution to his lack of power had been found, and the rest had only needed the usual general preparations. The weather was still dry, though more heavily overcast than earlier but there thankfully seemed no prospect of rain.
When the red lights went out the front portion of the grid made a good clean start and the Twin Sparks simultaneously did likewise separated by the customary three grid spaces with the Porsches starting over 10 seconds later on the flag. At Abbey, however, Jamie Thwaites’s 155 got a bit sideways, he corrected it, but then the car snapped the other way in the middle of the pack and he spun onto the outside of the circuit. Brand new, cold, unscrubbed slicks were the culprit. Fortunately everyone avoided him, but Andy Inman had had a heart-in-mouth moment and was delayed, finding himself surrounded by Twin Sparks as a result, a situation that was to have consequences a couple of corners later… Jamie got going again as the field of Porsches was bearing down on him and began a recovery drive. As the Twin Spark field approached Vale, Andy Inman made a last-ditch decision to try and go down the inside of Matt Daly on the entry, Matt didn’t see him coming and turned in, Andy locked up, there was contact and Andy went straight on and off the circuit retiring there and then; Matt made it around the chicane but then pulled off into the pits. The 145 stayed there for a few laps with the bonnet open but the engine was now not running at all cleanly and Matt had to retire.
Meanwhile, at the front of the field George Osborne had a narrow lead ahead of Mervyn Miller, Graham Seager and Bryan Shrubb, with Dave Messenger leading the Power Trophy class next ahead of Paul Webster, Simon McFie’s Modified class Abarth and Ben Sharich. However, on lap 2 George – seemingly running cautiously early on to ensure he got his tyres up to temperature – was passed by Mervyn, Graham and Bryan, and on lap 3 Graham Seager got through into the lead. Mervyn didn’t make it easy for him, squeezing him for space on the straight, but the mighty GTV was through and Graham began to pull away from his pursuers building a gap of over 12 seconds by lap 7. Mervyn was running second for 7 laps, defending robustly with Bryan Shrubb all over the back of him. Bryan bided his time and kept the pressure on and it paid off; he went round the outside of Mervyn on the exit to Becketts and got through, albeit at the expense of a slight crunch of bodywork contact as Mervyn ran wide, perhaps in a late attempt to try and block the move. George Osborne then took up the challenge behind Mervyn and for lap after lap they circulated in close proximity, Mervyn defending doggedly and George waiting for the right opportunity to pass. Eventually Mervyn left the door open enough on the entry to Becketts on lap 15 for George to get through into 3rd place. Shortly afterwards Mervyn was forced to pull off the circuit into retirement having lost drive, much to his disappointment.
In the Power Trophy, Dave Messenger got a good start from his strong grid position to take the class lead and was keeping in touch with the Modified cars ahead while steadily building a gap to Paul Webster (helped by Paul being delayed by Jamie Thwaites’s spin) who in turn had Simon McFie’s Modified class-entered Abarth behind him with Ben Sharich next in the MiTO. As the laps went by, Dave built his lead to around 8 seconds and then held it at that till towards the end Paul reduced it to 6 seconds, though Dave had things well in hand. Ben meanwhile had his hands full keeping Tom Hill’s leading Twin Spark behind him, which he successfully did, the MiTO showing good pace and fortunately no longer losing oil.
Tom Hill was showing characteristically dominant form, starting quickly from the class pole to build a 1.8s lead over Andrew Bourke by the end of lap 1 and by lap 7 the gap had increased to 8 seconds. Andrew meanwhile was being kept close company by James Ford behind him in third place in the class. The gap ebbed and flowed somewhat till James got past on lap 9 only for Andrew to retake the position a lap later. It was close thereafter but James was unable to get near enough to mount another serious challenge for the position. Simon Cresswell had been right behind James on lap 1 but spun going through Farm corner on lap 2: he braked late and light to get the momentum needed to catch James and started to go around the outside of James but ran out of tarmac and spun, then had to wait for some Porsches to pass before he could regain the circuit. He had caught up with the train of Steve O’Brien, Richard Ford and Kevin Gallagher again by lap 6 and then passed Kevin and Richard, but was unable to catch and pass Steve O’Brien who was driving extremely well.
At the finish Graham Seager took the overall win breaking Anthony George’s Modified class lap record in the process with a 31-second margin in hand over Bryan Shrubb in second, and with George Osborne some 10 seconds back in third. Dave Messenger won the Power Trophy by some 5 seconds from Paul Webster, with Jamie Thwaites third in class after an excellent recovery drive and Ben Sharich fourth. Tom Hill took the Twin Spark Cup win by a margin of some 14 seconds in the end from Andrew Bourke, James Ford, Steve O’Brien, Simon Cresswell, Richard Ford and Kevin Gallagher. Richard was unable to show his normal pace as his engine problems continued but it was an excellent effort by Kevin Gallagher, his best lap being only a couple of tenths off Richard’s, which showed great promise for the future.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||Dave Messenger|
|Twin Spark Cup||Tom Hill|
Our second race was due to start at 10.05 on Sunday morning. All the cars were ready to race, Gary and Mervyn Miller having worked long into the evening to repair Mervyn’s 156. Matt Daly’s car was back running smoothly after some telephone technical support did the trick, and Andy Inman’s suspension damage had also been repaired.
There had been prolonged heavy rain overnight but the rain had stopped around 7 AM, so the track was drying but how quickly was the question? The start/finish straight certainly looked wet but it was in the shade of the Wing, whereas the rest of circuit was in the sun – yes, the sun had actually come out. There was a breeze to help dry the circuit but it did feel damp and humid despite this. The track surface had been re-laid months earlier and in the process all the cambers had been reset so there was no standing water. It was a real quandary for the Modified and Power Trophy runners – slicks or wets? George Osborne and Mervyn Miller opted for wets, while Graham Seager compromised with slicks on the front and wets on the rear. Everyone else opted for slicks. When I got into race control before the start and looked at the screens there seemed little doubt over who had made the right decision – the track surface looked wet everywhere, and the point was underlined when the Clerk of the Course specified two green flag laps… For the Twin Sparks of course there were no such worries.
The track was very slippery irrespective of tyre choice and due caution would need to be exercised by all. After the green flag laps Bryan Shrubb became acutely aware of this and elected to start from the pit lane. It was a cautious start by all in the front section of the grid and at the end of lap 1 the running order had a slightly unusual look: George Osborne had a 3-second lead over Graham Seager, with Paul Webster third from Dave Messenger, Jamie Thwaites, Simon McFie, Ben Sharich, and then the Twin Sparks. Andy Inman was behind four of the Twin Sparks, Mervyn Miller had dropped back behind all the Twin Spark runners, and Bryan Shrubb was behind all the Alfas and all the Porsches.
The Twin Sparks had got away well, Tom Hill again taking the lead ahead of his seemingly perpetual shadow Andrew Bourke, with Simon Cresswell third. Matt Daly had had to start at the back following his retirement from the race the previous day but passed 4 cars on the opening lap to take 4th in class, followed by Steve O’Brien, James Ford, Richard Ford and Kevin Gallagher. On lap 2 Dave Messenger passed Paul Webster, Matt Daly passed Simon Creswell, and James Ford passed Steve O’Brien. On lap 3 Tom Hill and Andrew Bourke passed Ben Sharich’s MiTO and Matt Daly followed them through on the next lap. Sadly all was not well with the MiTO: after dropping further down the order on lap 5 Ben was in the pits. After remaining there for some time they retired the car back to the paddock – a great shame. On lap 6 Bryan Shrubb retired also, deeming it too risky to continue after circulating at the rear of the field with so little grip. Meanwhile Mervyn Miller was on the move after his first lap problem. He steadied himself on lap 2, then started overtaking cars and by lap 6 he was 7th overall.
Also on lap 6 the Safety Car was deployed. Kevin Gallagher had spun into the gravel on the exit to Becketts and his car was deemed to be in a dangerous position. The car was still running but was stuck, so a tractor was deployed to tow him out. Once out he was allowed to rejoin the race but the safety car continued as James Ford had ground to a halt with an electrical problem further up the Hangar Straight and the tractor was deployed to tow him to safety. This of course caused the entire field to bunch up, opening the race up into a second phase. When the safety car pulled off the circuit at the end of lap 9 who would be the one to capitalise?
The clear answer was Mervyn Miller. On lap 10 he passed Tom Hill, Jamie Thwaites, Paul Webster and Dave Messenger to go third overall behind George Osborne and Graham Seager, then for the final 2 laps he was lapping 3-4 seconds quicker than anyone else. He eased passed Graham at Vale on the final lap making full use of his tyre superiority under braking, and had narrowed the gap to George to 2.2 seconds; another lap and he might have claimed victory as George felt his tyres were going off rapidly. Nevertheless George claimed a superb win and Mervyn was delighted with his recovery drive to claim a fine 2nd place ahead of a philosophical Graham Seager. The other Modified finisher was Simon McFie, down among the Twin Sparks with no grip from his slicks – a shame for Simon as a different tyre choice would surely have put him right in the mix for the top positions on the evidence of his excellent performance in race 1 at Brands in similar conditions.
Dave Messenger maintained a cushion to Paul Webster to take the Power Trophy; all the runners had opted for slicks so no one had gained an advantage. Jamie Thwaites was third in class ahead of Andy Inman both mingling with the Twin Sparks. As for the latter, Tom Hill took another excellent win although it was much closer this time with the Safety Car giving his pursuers an opportunity to catch up and challenge but he had a second in hand over Andrew Bourke at the finish, with Matt Daly third. Further back Steve O’Brien had been hopeful of challenging Simon Cresswell for 4th in class, but when the Safety Car was deployed he found himself separated from Simon by Andy Inman and two Porsches so he had to settle for 5th behind Simon and ahead of Richard Ford and the delayed Kevin Gallagher.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||Dave Messenger|
|Twin Spark Cup||Tom Hill|
In the Championship standings Tom Hill eked out a further 1-point advantage over Dave Messenger but the gap is only 6 points so there is all to play for at Donington. The Driver of the Weekend award went deservedly to Tom and we now look forward to an exciting finale and our final races under the auspices of the BRSCC.