At last – the long wait between the end of our 2021 season and the start of our 2022 season was over and we gathered at the Silverstone National circuit on 30th April for the first of our six double header meetings of the season.
We were rewarded with a day of glorious sunshine and just a tinge of coolness in the air to make it a perfect spring day and perfect conditions for racing. An allocation of pit garages by the 750 Motor Club was also welcome, with plenty of space to work on the cars, and it was noticeable how superb all the cars looked. Some subscribe to the saying ‘It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it just matters how fast it goes’. That may suit some championships but 8 different models of Alfa Romeo in a group of 17, all beautifully prepared, made an impressive sight and gave our field of cars an extra dimension.
We were giving a warm welcome to 3 new drivers to the championship – Andreas Georgiou, Toby Broome and Robin Hall, all in Twin Spark 156s – as well as our returning drivers, with another 10 drivers already registered to join us as the season progresses. Also new for the season was the Championship’s V6 class with five high quality cars entered: 2 GTs, 2 156 GTAs and a 147 GTA would be competing for honours.
Our qualifying session commenced on schedule at 9.20 AM in cool sunny conditions. Tom Hill in the Revs Italia-prepared Alfa GT was first out onto the circuit and the first to post a competitive time – others were playing themselves in, warming their tyres and getting ‘into the zone’ but Tom dispenses with such preliminaries and drives flat out virtually straight away. From his first flying lap through to the end he was lapping in the 1:06s/1.07s, posting a best time of 1:06.62 on his ninth tour. However, he was not to have everything his own way…
After 3 careful opening laps Scott Austin posted a time of 1:03.88 in his thunderous supercharged 156 GTA, then worked down to 1:02.74 – only 3/10ths outside Gareth Haywood’s race lap record – on his 6th lap to post a dominant overall pole before running over a high kerb to avoid a back marker, suffering a puncture and limping back to his pit. Second quickest with a time of 1:06.35 late in the session was the evergreen Andy Page in his everblue Modified Giulietta 116 Turbo. It is absolutely marvellous to see Andy racing regularly again after a few years’ hiatus and to see that rare 40-year old Alfa saloon still doing the business on the track in Andy’s more than capable hands.
That left Tom Hill 3rd overall and leading the new V6 class; or did it…? His closest challenger was Graham Seager in the Revs Italia 147 GTA. Graham got down into the 1:07s on his fourth lap but seemed unable to get below that until his penultimate lap when he just crept into 1:06s. However, as the chequered flag came out to end the session he posted a 1:06.52 lap to snatch the V6 class ‘pole’ from under Tom’s nose by 0.1 seconds! As he was waiting in parc ferme in the queue for the weighbridge afterwards I went over to congratulate him; he rolled down the window, I gave him the good news and he said ‘Oh! I was just preparing my list of excuses.’
Fifth quickest overall was Dave Messenger in the Darnells sponsored 156 GTA but that bare fact masked what was a trying qualifying session for Dave. In the assembly area prior to the session the marshals asked the drivers to switch their engines off as they waited. Dave did so but when he went to start it again but the car refused to cooperate – it just wouldn’t budge. Finally he was given a tow, jump started it and managed to join the session halfway through. In the circumstances a best lap of 1:06.88 was a fine effort. Next was Gabs Iaccarino in his self built Alfa GT. Gabs has been a hugely popular addition to the Championship and made excellent progress with his driving and his car in what was his novice season last year. If evidence of this were required all that was needed was to point to his best qualifying lap here of 1:06.99 which put him 6th overall on the grid. Remarkably too the best lap times of the first 5 V6 class cars were separated by less than half a second, giving a promising indication that its goal of close exciting racing could well be achieved.
Andy Inman was a couple of seconds adrift of the rest but relishing the performance of the 156 GTA as always and had company very close behind him. Paul Plant had agreed a one-off deal for Stacey Dennis to race the recently built modern Giulietta Turbo Type 114, a considerable change from her 147 Twin Spark which is currently being repaired, and Stacey was relishing the opportunity. She approached the qualifying session very sensibly, driving with great maturity to post a best time of 1:08.43 towards the end of the session – only .08 seconds adrift of Andy Inman – to take the final grid spot on the front section of the split grid. To say she enjoyed the experience would be a huge understatement!
In the always-competitive Twin Spark class, the lap times were very close as expected and also it was unsurprising to see 2018 Champion Andrew Bourke heading the time sheets. Usually his lap times are all very close but that wasn’t the case here – nevertheless a best time of 1:11.91, set mid-session, earned him the class pole by a couple of 10ths. Second quickest was newcomer Andreas Georgiou, having his first ever saloon car race and first ever experience of racing a front wheel drive car. He went progressively quicker as the session went on with the last few laps in the 1:12s and a best time of 1:12.13 would see him line up second beside Andrew on the front row. Defending 2021 Class winner Richard Ford was 3rd quickest in 1:12.29, 16/100ths of a second behind Andreas, and not quite what Richard had been hoping for; nevertheless there was plenty of time to address that during the races.
Fourth quickest Twin Spark was a frustrated Jon Billingsley in his 147. The frustration was, however, directed at the Scrutineering Bay weighbridge, not at his car or his own driving. When he was testing the previous day he and the car had been weighed and to his amazement deemed to be significantly underweight. Bianco duly fitted the required amount of ballast to take Jon up to the limit. This had never happened before – Jon has a not insignificant physique – but the weighbridge does not lie. Or does it? It turned out on race day that the weighbridge had not been calibrated and when the car was weighed after qualifying was ‘found’ to be significantly overweight. So the ballast was removed again and Jon felt he would have been further up the grid order had the ballast not been there in qualifying, not unfeasibly as he was less than half a second off the class pole.
Toby Broome had done a few races in the Alfa Championship in 1994 but nothing since by his own account other than some karting and track days. So 5th on the Twin Spark grid was an excellent performance to say the least. He too was in the 1:12s – 1:12.78 – just 7/100ths quicker than another newcomer to the Championship, Robin Hall. Robin actually posted two best laps in exactly the same time (1:12.85) and a third in 1:12.86, demonstrating remarkable consistency as well outright pace. The competition in the Twin Spark Cup is shaping up to be very close!
It was a considerable surprise to see former class winner and perennial front runner James Ford off the pace but all was not well. After several slow laps he pitted for a long discussion with the Bianco technicians before rejoining and recording a time of 1:13.70 on his 8th and final lap for 7th on the Twin Spark grid. Andy Winterton was next in his privateer ex-Dave Messenger 156 in a time of 1:13.77, and it is encouraging to see Andy getting closer and closer to the front runners in the class. Last but not least was Peter Sloan, returning to the Championship after several years’ absence for an outing in the Revs Italia 145. He took the final grid spot with a time of 1:18.01 being plagued by a sticking throttle during the qualifying session. This was rectified afterwards and Peter was looking forward to improving his times come the race.
At 12.10 our first race started on schedule and both sections of the grid made clean starts, all getting away well initially. In the front group Scott Austin harnessed the superior power of the supercharged 156 to open up a a 3-second lead by the end of lap 1 and the rest followed through in grid order. However, on lap 2 Stacey Dennis took her Giulietta past Andy Inman to take 7th place and an intriguing battle between the two developed over the next 5 laps until Andy found a way back through to retake the place on lap 7. Thereafter he was able to pull away by a second or two a lap to retain the place. Having got clear of the field, Scott was able to control the race from the front, maintaining a pace well within the car’s limits, throwing in a quicker lap here and there to maintain a comfortable gap back to Andy Page in second.
In the V6 class, Tom Hill had taken the class lead on lap 1, followed closely by Graham Seager, Dave Messenger, and Gabs Iaccarino, ahead of the Inman/Dennis battle. Tom was running 3rd overall behind Scott and Andy Page, Andy maintaining a consistent gap of a second or so back to Tom. The V6 running order was to stay the same right through to the penultimate lap (lap 17); it sounds static but was anything but. Graham Seager was never more than half a second or so behind Tom and often much closer looking for a way through. The pressure was constant and eventually bore fruit on lap 17 when Graham pounced: he was in the lead at the end of the lap but the overtake had left him exposed to a counter attack at the next corner an opportunity that Tom grasped with both hands to retake the class lead and 3rd overall from Graham.
That 3rd place quickly became second. Andy Page had driven superbly throughout to maintain a narrow but decisive gap back to the V6 battle but approaching Becketts on the final lap he was struggling to get the car into 3rd gear in the braking zone: eventually selecting 1st gear instead he spun. He recovered quickly but not quick enough to stay ahead of Tom and Graham and dropped to 4th narrowly ahead of the fast approaching Dave Messenger. Dave had gradually dropped back 6 seconds from the fierce Hill/Seager battle and was just unable to capitalise on Andy’s error. Gabs Iaccarino had also gradually dropped back from the others as he lapped a second or so slower than the leaders, lapping cautiously fearing he might have over revved the engine after selecting 3rd gear instead of 5th and also as a reult of a tyre rubbing against the wheel arch. Towards the end he dropped back into Andy Inman’s clutches but just managed to stay ahead by 0.36 seconds at the chequered flag. So Scott Austin took a dominant win, some 5 seconds clear of Tom Hill and Graham Seager in the other podium places, Graham having the consolation of fastest lap in the V6 class, beating George Osborne’s old Power Trophy lap record by nearly half a second.
The Twin Spark Cup battle was equally exciting. Andrew Bourke got an excellent start from pole to establish an early lead, while Richard Ford behind him hesitated for a split second. Jon Billingsley was able to pass both Richard and Andreas Georgiou on lap 1 to grab second place and began to close on Andrew Bourke ahead. Richard took third ahead of Andreas, and James Ford passed both Toby Broome and Robin Hall who in turn completed lap 1 ahead of Andy Winterton and Peter Sloan in that order.
By lap 3 Jon Billingsley had closed to within half a second of Andrew Bourke and from there spent the rest of the race staring at Andrew’s rear bumper and trying to find a way past. The gap varied between 2/10ths and half a second all the way to the finish, Andrew (not for the first time) demonstrating great skill in keeping a car behind him fairly and cleanly – a masterclass in defensive driving and consistent pace. Both drivers drove superbly, drawing steadily further ahead of Richard Ford by around a second a lap at the same time, not holding each other up as is often the case with close battles. Jon claimed the extra point for fastest lap in class on lap 3 (1:11.55) but could not get past Andrew and had to settle for 2nd place.
Richard Ford was a lonely third with a couple of seconds in hand over the battle for 4th behind him between James Ford, Toby Broome, Andreas Georgiou and Robin Hall. They in turn were steadily pulling away from Andy Winterton at a rate of a second or so a lap, as Andy himself was doing ahead of Peter Sloan. On lap 14 Richard had some 7 seconds in hand on his brother James but on the next tour something was clearly wrong. Escalating water temperature had caused him to back right off and he had been passed by all the other Twin Sparks except Andy Winterton and Peter Sloan. He then brought the car into the pits – a blown head gasket being diagnosed as the problem and sadly that brought a premature end to Richard’s day, a blow to his hopes of defending his 2021 class title.
James Ford had passed Toby Broome and Robin Hall on lap 1 and on lap 2 he passed Andreas Georgiou, as did Toby Broome to go 4th and 5th in class respectively. Andreas had completed that lap around a second slower than the other two but after that he settled into a strong consistent rhythm in the 1:13s. James Ford is an experienced and quick driver and some might have expected him to pull away from the others but both Toby and Andreas passed him on lap 5. He repassed Andreas on the following lap but Toby was proving a difficult proposition; they completed lap 6 side by side and James got through on lap 10. Toby exerted constant pressure after that but James held onto the place by just over a second at the chequered flag, which had become 3rd place on Richard Ford’s demise.
Andreas Georgiou was 5th in class, driving consistently well but just losing a 1/10th or 2 here and there to the cars ahead. Robin Hall had been equalling Andreas’s pace behind him but lost 4 seconds on lap 9 – although he recovered 3 of those seconds at the chequered flag it wasn’t enough to mount a challenge. All 3 of these drivers new to the championship – Toby, Andreas and Robin – had been very much on the pace in their first outings and the battle for success in the Twin Spark Cup this season is going to be very competitive indeed. Andy Winterton and Peter Sloan rounded out the field, Andy mulling over why he was a second or so off the pace of the others and enlisted some help from Bianco after the race. Peter had the satisfaction of improving his qualifying time by 4 seconds on his quickest lap but was unable to compete on pace with the rest of the field on his return to the championship. No doubt that will come.
Race 1 Results
|Twin Spark Cup||Andrew Bourke|
We lined up for our second race slightly earlier than scheduled at the end of the afternoon with Richard Ford our only non-starter. Once again Graham Seager and Tom Hill were quicker off the line than Scott Austin and there was confusion at Copse when Andy Page spun. He seemed to save it at least 4 times but ended up dropping to the back of the group with a lot of ground to make up. Scott passed Graham and Tom between Copse and Maggots but then ran wide at Becketts and they repassed him. So at the end of lap 1 Graham Seager led with Tom Hill and Scott Austin close behind. There was a 1-second gap back to Dave Messenger then Gabs Iaccarino (who had missed a gear when Andy Page spun) ahead of Andy Inman and Stacey Dennis, with Andy Page some 9 seconds further back just ahead of the Twin Spark field. Scott then once again asserted his authority over the rest and breezed past Graham and Tom on the start/finish straight and led by 2 seconds at the end of lap 2, 5 seconds at the end of lap 3, 7 seconds at the end of lap 4 (still well within the car’s limits) and kept increasing it in this way till he started to ease off a bit more on lap 10. Barring car problems he looked uncatchable.
At the Twin Spark start Andrew Bourke had crept forward a metre or so then stopped but still got away quickly and immediately established clear air between himself and the pursuing Jon Billingsley. The officials noted the ‘creeping’ but did not consider it warranted a penalty and what then unfolded was a carbon copy of the first race, Jon swarming all over the back of Andrew’s car but unable to find a way past. He could get alongside in places, most notably approaching Brooklands, but then Andrew inevitably had the better line for the corner and shut the door again. They were closely matched and neither made any mistakes as such and Andrew again took the win and also pipped Jon to fastest lap this time.
Behind them James Ford held 3rd at the end of lap 1 followed in grid order by Toby Broome, Andreas Georgiou, Robin Hall, Andy Winterton and Peter Sloan. The latter two again slipped steadily back from the 4 ahead but much closer together this time. Peter lost a couple of seconds to Andy on lap 7 but then held the gap to 3 seconds, closed it to 2 seconds on lap 10 before dropping back again, Andy being 7 seconds ahead at the chequered flag as they took 7th and 8th in class respectively.
The middle group remained in grid order until lap 6 when James Ford lost a place to Toby Broome and the contact that occurred between the cars during Toby’s overtaking manoeuvre dropped him behind Andreas Georgiou as well. He repassed Andreas on lap 8, later in the lap withstanding a late braking attempt by Andreas to repass going into Brooklands but could not get close enough to Toby to challenge for 3rd again and Toby claimed the place at the flag with James 4th. Meanwhile Robin Hall had been lapping strongly in the 1:13s and took 5th place on lap 8 also at Brooklands as Andreas ran wide. They were then nose to tail until near the end when Robin lost 5 seconds on lap 17 and Andreas took the place back at the finish.
Back in the front group, Scott Austin had a big lead, Graham Seager held second with Tom Hill climbing all over the back of him and Dave Messenger also joining in the scrap behind Tom. The battle continued in this way until lap 7 when Graham seemed to hesitate momentarily getting the power on at the exit to Copse; Tom was able to get alongside him approaching Maggotts and kept the inside line for Becketts, taking the class lead and 2nd place overall. It didn’t end there – the roles were reversed for a few laps with Graham trying to find a way back past until lap 11 when Tom was able to establish a 2-second gap and then increase it to 3. For the last couple of laps, Tom was experiencing clutch problems but managed to hold on as Graham closed to within 1 second at the chequered flag to finish 2nd in class and 3rd overall. Tom took fastest lap but was unable to beat the new lap record Graham had set in Race 1.
Behind these two, Dave Messenger had a fine race. Early on Tom was having to watch Dave closely in his mirrors as well as trying to find a way past Graham, and when Graham did lose the place he was having to do the same. It wasn’t until lap 10 that Graham was able to breathe a little easier and by lap 13 Dave was over 3 seconds back. It was 9 seconds at the flag as Dave backed off having over 20 seconds in hand over those behind him. Gabs Iaccarino was running in 5th place overall but lost 2 seconds to Dave during the incident at Copse and by lap 3 the gap was 5 seconds. The impressive Gabs held the gap there for several laps until they began lapping cars when it widened to 9 seconds and then to 17 seconds on lap 15 when Gabs’s lap time increased to 1:12. He still had 8 seconds in hand over Andy Inman and 22 seconds in hand over Stacey Dennis, but Andy Page was on the march after his lap 1 dramas. On lap 11 he caught and passed Stacey Dennis and from then on he was flying in the 1:06s; he passed Andy Inman on lap 15 and Gabs on lap 17, a fine recovery drive to claim 5th place overall.
Andy Inman was lapping in the 1:08s most of the time, not far adrift of Dave and Gabs but the odd slight mistake cost him time here and there; nevertheless Andy enjoyed the race immensely as did Stacey Dennis. She was thrilled to drive the Giulietta and it rejuvenated her view of the racing season, so we very much hope we’ll see her on track again very soon.
It was a great day’s racing, and it isn’t just me saying that. The commentators said it was the best Alfa racing they’d seen since we moved over from the BRSCC to the 750 Motor Club and that’s going some because we’ve had some fabulous races. Scott Austin, Tom Hill and Andrew Bourke took the main honours but there was excellent driving right through the field. There were a number of potential candidates for driver of the day but the award went to Andrew Bourke for his effective display of defensive driving for the duration of both races to successfully fend off Jon’s challenge. Scott has laid down the gauntlet to the Modified class cars who were absent with 3 wins in the last 4 races. Will any of those missing drivers/cars be willing to take him on? We’ll see – I hope so.
Race 2 Results
|Twin Spark Cup||Andrew Bourke|
We now move on to Croft on 28th/29th May where we will be welcoming guests from our headline sponsor HITEK for the weekend, so strong grid numbers are a must for us as always. Come and race and come and support us!