Easter always used to be regarded as a “must” weekend for going racing and for me Easter Monday at Goodwood was a meeting that I would never miss.
Later on, the British Saloon Car Championship would offer a hectic few days and I recall back in 1976 being at Oulton Park on the Thursday and Good Friday with the Alfa Romeo Dealer Team Sud Ti’s before moving on to Thruxton for Saturday qualifying and racing on the Monday. One intrepid team member didn’t think that was enough and took his 2000 GTV to Snetterton for a race on the Sunday! So maybe, we all have it a bit easy now……………
However, the announcement of the 2015 calendar didn’t exactly bring whoops of joy when we realised that the first two rounds of the Championship would be at Easter and on the Silverstone International circuit which is where we finished off in October last year. The only consolation, perhaps, is that the final two races will be at Donington which has always proved popular for our end of season gathering. When the Silverstone timetable was eventually released it was to show all our activity – qualifying and two 20 minute races – would be on the Sunday. A plus would be use of the Wing Garages, vacated by the Fun Cup and Historic Racing Drivers Club cars after they had raced on Saturday. Mind you, earlier in the week, we had wondered if we would be going at all as news filtered through of damage to part of the Wing’s roof following some gale force winds. Luckily, this was not a bad as at first feared and arriving in the paddock you had to look hard to see exactly what had happened.
At one point the Silverstone entry had reached 21 cars but the late withdrawal of James Browning’s 147 and the Mito of Dave Peddie brought it down to 19. Of these 10 had Bianco Auto Developments involvement and they made a fine site lined up under the bright lighting in the cavernous garages with Gary Walker and Harry White overseeing preparations. All ten were entered in the newly named “Twin Spark Cup” and were headed by the championship winning silver 156 of James Bishop. Very smart was the white and blue 156 of Andy Hancock, complete with Grove & Dean livery, while other 156s in the team were those of Paul Plant, Tom Hill and newcomer to racing Simon Cresswell. Tom had been hoping to race his own newly built 156 but there had been no time to test it so this weekend he was out again in the trusty Bianco renta’. Simon had bought the orange car that Tom Herbert had used to win two races last year.
The final Bianco 156 was the matt black and green example of another newcomer, Jeremy Chilton. The 147 was represented by Jon Billingsley, a past winner at Silverstone, and Stacey Dennis in the ex Andrew Bramah car. Jon’s had retained its easily identifiable green paintwork while Stacey’s had received a stunning new black and pink livery over the winter.
It is always good to see another 145 make an appearance. Richard Stevens, who runs classic specialist Cheshire Alfa, has built up a new car with plenty of advice from Bianco and was another driver looking forward to making his racing debut although his only time in the 145 so far has been at a very wet Oulton Park test session. The final Bianco affiliated car was the 146 of Richard Ford, brother of front runner James who was missing this meeting.
There was a single Avon Racing entry, the renta’ 156 to be driven by Paul Webster under the watchful eye of Clive and Christine Hodgkin, helped as ever by Graham Fletcher. Paul had made his debut on the same circuit last October and was looking forward to racing again. Clive, of course, was also keeping a watchful eye on the smooth running of the day from our perspective. Two more 156s were entered for Dave Messenger and Luther Blissett and there was a second 146, the yellow ex Thomas family car of Russell Anderson. Dave has a particularly good record on the International circuit and was certainly hoping to be a front runner again with his Darnells/Solo Italia car. Luther Blissett’s 156 had been rebuilt after its unfortunate accident in October and featured unusual matt grey paintwork with a Bliss8 (Luther’s football charity) logo on the bonnet. I don’t know whether the grey was just undercoat before a return to the previous apple green but I quite liked it! Russell was busy upholding family honour with his 146 as father Nick’s 33 8v which will be contending the Power Trophy was not ready.
Sadly, the only Power Trophy entry was the 156 GTA of Ray Foley and it looked as though he might be marooned between the Modified cars and the slightly slower Twin Sparks. The race overall would clearly be dominated by the four modified entries. Graham Seager was hoping for an untroubled start to his season with the black ex Peak Alfa supercharged 3.2 litre GTV. Another Peak Alfa prepared car was Andy Robinson’s 156, once more with 3.8 litre engine and being looked after by Roger Evans and brother Kevin. Clearly not to be overawed though were the two 33 16v’s of Bryan Shrubb and Chris Snowdon. Bryan’s 1.8 car looked as pristine as ever in its orange paintwork and had Tom Shrubb in attendance to help keep it that way while Chris was back in John Sismey’s red 2 litre example. After the latter car’s unfortunate accident in the penultimate round last October when Chris was embroiled in an accident that certainly wasn’t his fault, we wondered if we would see the car again as it was not only body and chassis damage that had to be put right but the engine had also been damaged. However, persistence and enthusiasm has always been a John Sismey hallmark (perhaps learned from those days at BRM!) and when the 33 was offloaded from its trailer, you had to admire the work that had gone into getting it racing again.
We have some organisational changes this year. Judith Hibbins has taken over as one-the-day championship co-ordinator from Drew Furlong while husband Mike is now our Eligibility Scrutineer. We have known Judith and Mike for many years and it is good to have their experienced involvement. An addition to our team is Tim Perry who will be undertaking liaison work on race days and looking after the organisation of post race podiums. His efforts will be helped by a smart podium structure that has been built by Bianco Auto Developments and which will be taken to each race meeting. We also have a smart new hospitality tent which will be organised by Linda Robinson and Joy Fairy.
It was an early start on Sunday morning with 7.30 signing-on and 9.00 qualifying but everyone was ready to go as the circuit was opened for the 20 minute session in cloudy but dry conditions. The cars on slicks took a little time to get going but Bryan Shrubb went sub 1’20” on his fifth lap with a 1’19.817” before setting a best of 1’17.078” before pitting three quarters way through the session. Chris Snowdon couldn’t match this, setting a best of 1’17.936” but on his penultimate lap Graham Seager managed to break into the 1’16s with 1’16.308” to grab a satisfying pole. Andy Robinson was never really able to get going before the 156’s engine started to overheat, the engine’s cooling fan not functioning as the result of broken lead. Power Trophy runner Ray Foley was in no-man’s land with a 1’20.875” – three seconds slower than Chris Snowdon (actually quite a good result) and three seconds quicker than the best Twin Spark.
However, rivalry was intense amongst the Twin Sparks, although the car on pole wasn’t quite what we expected. The circuit was definitely quicker than it had been on our last visit and it was Dave Messenger who was setting the pace mid session with a 1’23.697” (as against James Ford’s 2014 lap record of 1’24.918”). Others in the 23s were Paul Plant, James Bishop and Tom Hill but it was Andy Hancock who established himself on a surprise pole with three minutes of the session left with a splendid best of 1’23.647”, telling everyone who cared to listen that the best way round was to stick it in 4th and just concentrate on getting the braking and corner entries and exits right! Dave Messenger held on to his front row slot with Paul Plant and Tom Hill on the row behind. 5th quickest was James Bishop, a mere 0.073” slower than Tom, would find himself further back than we expected, on TS row three with Jon Billingsley. Two excellent performances were those of Stacey Dennis and Simon Cresswell, 6th and 7th quickest both in the 25s, with Paul Webster ahead of Richard Stevens, the grid being completed by Richard Ford, Luther Blissett, Russell Anderson and Jeremy Chilton.
“I couldn’t see the lights gantry because of the sunstrip”
Andy Robinson was optimistic that the overheating on his 156 would not recur and that he could at least get on terms with the 33s in the race. As the red lights went out, Bryan made a great start but it was Graham Seager who was first into Abbey only to lose out to Bryan at the Link, the 33 emerging ahead onto the Hangar Straight ahead of Ray Foley who had got away well and was lying 3rd. Chris Snowdon had made a poor start (“I couldn’t see the lights gantry because of the sunstrip” he told us later) and found himself passed by a couple of Twin Sparks. Andy Hancock had had too much wheelspin and was shuffled back in the pack while Dave Messenger made an excellent getaway and took the class lead at Abbey before leading a very busy group that included Chris Snowdon and Andy Robinson towards Village and the Link. Paul Plant was also ahead of the two Modified cars but once on the Hangar Straight they picked themselves up and went off in pursuit of Ray Foley. Paul Plant, as he showed on many occasions during both races, was much braver on the brakes into Stowe and quickly managed to take the TS class lead away from Dave Messenger.
The shrill wail of a 16v flat four engine heralded the arrival of Bryan Shrubb first through Club and onto the start finish straight, crossing the line 0.86” in front of Graham Seager. A flying Ray Foley had managed to hold on to 3rd, 1.3” clear of Chris Snowdon with Andy Robinson holding on to 5th a further 1.3” back. Then followed the battling Twin Spark cars, still led by Paul Plant with Dave Messenger, Tom Hill, James Bishop, Andy Hancock and Jon Billingsley in pursuit, all covered by just 2.5”. Paul was catching Andy Robinson at Abbey and through Village and the Link but the powerful blue 156 then stormed away down the Hangar Straight. In the meantime, Bryan Shrubb had kept his lead but Ray Foley was still ahead of Chris Snowdon as they completed lap 2. A mere 1.9” now covered the six leading cars in TS and 2” behind them came Simon Cresswell ahead of Richard Ford and Russell Anderson in their 146s, Richard Stevens, Paul Webster and Jeremy Chilton. Luther Blissett had already pulled off with a driveshaft problem.
Lap 3 and Bryan Shrubb was driving beautifully to retain the race lead while Chris Snowdon had at last made it past Ray Foley although Andy Robinson was now down to TS pace and being caught by Tom Hill who had taken over the class lead after Paul Plant had gone wide onto the grass at Stowe and lost enough momentum to let Tom alongside at Vale. James Bishop had now found a way past Dave Messenger and clearly had Paul Plant in his sights, with the gap from 1st to 6th still only 2.2”. Coming through Village and the Link on lap 4, Graham Seager reckoned that his tyres were now up to temperature and the GTV outpowered 16v 33 down the Hangar Straight. Bryan was not giving up easily though and a lap later used his car’s good braking and nimble handling to re-pass Graham at Vale while at this stage Chris Snowdon was making no impression on the cars ahead.
Tom Hill continued to lead the TS Cup but Paul Plant had been demoted by James Bishop and Dave Messenger through Abbey and the Link, while Andy Hancock also went by on the Hangar Straight pushing the black and white 156 briefly down to TS 5th, Paul regaining the place at Stowe. Andy wasn’t giving up though and both he and Jon Billingsley were determined to keep Paul busy. Up at the front on lap 6 Graham Seager again used the power of the GTV to get into the race lead but Bryan Shrubb was not to be deterred and once more at Vale was able to retaliate and lead out of Club, crossing the timing line with a slender 0.137” advantage. Graham then decided he had had enough of this, passing Bryan into Abbey and maintaining his advantage until he could power away down the Hangar Straight. Not that he got far away as the gap was still under a second at the end of the lap. Chris Snowdon had dropped to being 6” back while Ray Foley was running lonely 4th and Andy Robinson had spun and was running very slowly at the back of the field. Stacey Dennis was a lonely 8th in class ahead of tightly matched group that were having their own fun – Richard Ford, Russell Anderson, Richard Stevens and Paul Webster. By lap 7 Paul Plant had started to drop away from Dave Messenger who was not giving James Bishop much peace although it looked as though Tom Hill had a comfortable (2” anyway!) gap at the front. Paul was being given a hard time by Jon Billingsley and Andy Hancock. Andy was ahead at Stowe but was then overtaken again at Vale, at which point Jon Billingsley passed Paul down the inside. Also joining in the fun was Simon Cresswell.
At the end of lap 8 Bryan Shrubb was delayed in traffic and that was effectively his chance of a challenge over, dropping some 3” back from Graham Seager but still comfortably ahead of Chris Snowdon. The intriguing battle between Paul Plant, Andy Hancock and Jon Billingsley continued apace with Paul being pincered down the Hangar Straight (watch the in-car videos!!) On Lap 11, Andy got the Grove & Dean 156 ahead into 4th in class and this is where he would stay. Russell Anderson had passed Richard Ford and pulled steadily away leaving the second 146 to continue a close contest with the 145 of Richard Stevens and the 156 of Paul Webster, Jeremy Chilton completing the field. Tom Hill lost time when he was being lapped by Graham Seager and this gave James Bishop the chance he needed to get right on Tom’s tail as they started the final three laps. With two laps still to run James made his move and returned to the front of the class as he had done so often last year. Lap 10 had seen the retirement of the impressive Simon Cresswell when his throttle pedal jammed open on the Hangar Straight, fortunately without dire consequences.
Graham Seager eased off in the last third of the 16 lap race, so much so that he crossed the line only 1.055” ahead of Bryan Shrubb but he had set down a marker on lap 10 with a time of 1’14.753”, very close to Anthony George’s lap record. Chris Snowdon managed to close in to 2.058” of Bryan at the flag. Ray Foley came home 4th and then we waited for the Twin Spark cars that had given us so much entertainment. As the leaders appeared through Club, it was James Bishop who still held the narrowest 0.34” advantage over Tom Hill to cross the line first. Dave Messenger was an excellent 3rd just a couple of seconds behind Tom and had the added satisfaction of setting a new class lap record.
Andy Hancock finished some 16” back in 4th but still with Paul Plant and Jon Billingsley, who never gave up, on his tail. There were no changes in the rest of the order, apart from the late retirement of Paul Webster who went over the kerbs at Club and cracked his sump. Andy Robinson had passed the pits slowly with three laps to go and pulled off although he was classified as a finisher. With Parc Ferme over under the watchful eye of Mike Hibbins, Tim Perry got everyone together for the first podium of the year which proved to be a popular addition to race day procedure.
Race 1 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
There was plenty for everyone to chat about after an action packed race of continually changing fortunes but there would be a couple of cars that would not make it out for race 2. Andy Robinson’s 156 had a cracked gearbox casing, ending a really disappointing day while Paul Webster’s 156 was put away in the Avon truck needed a new sump. Luther Blissett required a new driveshaft for his 156 and happily Dave Messenger was able to help out while in the Sismey camp, Adrian Smith had brought out a Stanley knife to make the 33’s sunstrip a little thinner in an effort to give Chris Snowdon a better view of the lights.
17 cars made their way onto the track for race 2 with the grid set in the order of finishing race 1. This put Graham Seager and Bryan Shrubb on the front row for the Modified and Power Trophy cars with James Bishop and Tom Hill heading up the Twin Spark Cup. Graham Seager was determined that he would lead from lap 1 this time but Bryan Shrubb and Chris Snowdon (no problems with the lights this time!) were chasing him hard, making a splendid sight and sound as the three cars came through Club onto the pit straight. Chris had been asked by John Sismey not to rev beyond 8500 rpm unless he really needed to although John reckons the engine is safe to 9500 rpm.
Ray Foley was already established in fourth but all eyes were now on the Twin Sparks. James Bishop had made a good start and had established himself in the lead, helped by a briefly sideways Dave Messenger at Abbey, but it was all pretty frantic behind at Farm, Village and the Link out of which a (probably) surprised Jon Billingsley emerged in 2nd place ahead of Tom Hill, Dave Messenger and Paul Plant. Andy Hancock passed Paul down the Hangar Straight while Tom Hill, taking a neat inside line, kept Dave Messenger at bay. At the end of the lap James Bishop already had a 1” advantage over Jon Billingsley who was being pressed hard by Tom Hill with Dave Messenger, Andy Hancock and Paul Plant next in line. Further back, Richard Stevens had got away well in his 145 and was heading Richard Ford, Russell Anderson, Simon Cresswell, Stacey Dennis, Luther Blissett and Jeremy Chilton.
Bryan Shrubb and Chris Snowdon were not going to let Graham Seager leave them behind and the trio crossed the line at the end of lap 2 separate by just 0.748”. James Bishop was just where he wanted to be, 1.5” clear of Jon Billingsley who, in his turn, had a 1” advantage over Tom Hill. Meanwhile Paul Plant was working a way to get ahead of Andy Hancock. Lap 3 and Graham Seager was beginning to speed up slightly as he got some heat into his tyres but couldn’t shake off the 33s which changed positions a lap later, Chris Snowdon taking up the chase and crossing the line at the end of lap 5 a mere 0.682” away from the GTV’s rear spoiler. Jon Billingsley had dropped behind Tom Hill and Dave Messenger on lap 3 and then had a busy time alongside Paul Plant at Village a lap later, Paul also having got himself in front of Andy Hancock. However, Jon is never one to give up and was alongside Paul into the braking area at Stowe (showing 112 mph on his read-out) and again into Vale. With 6 laps completed, the three race leaders were now lapping in the 16’s and 17’s, having left Ray Foley well behind but he was still 10” clear of the Twin Sparks. James Bishop, Tom Hill and Dave Messenger were all pushing on, lapping not far off Dave Messenger’s new lap record and leaving Paul Plant, Jon Billingsley and Andy Hancock some 6” adrift. Richard Stevens had some clear road to concentrate on his braking points and lines while Russell Anderson, Simon Cresswell and Stacey Dennis had their own private fight to keep them busy.
As the race entered its second half, Graham Seager started to pull away from the battling 33s while Tom Hill continued to chase James Bishop hard in the Twin Spark Cup. Dave Messenger was a comfortable 3rd in TS while the positions of Paul Plant, Jon Billingsley and Andy Hancock remained unchanged.
Further back, Simon Cresswell had got himself ahead of Russell Anderson with Russell himself now fending off Stacey Dennis. With 16 laps completed, the flag came out to give Graham Seager his second win of the day, 9.049” clear of Chris Snowdon who had Bryan Shrubb tucked up right behind him but was satisfied to have reversed fortunes from Race 1. Ray Foley came home to win the Power Trophy and had the satisfaction of not being lapped. Tom Hill never gave up pressuring James Bishop, 0.786” being the gap across the line but he had the consolation of making fastest lap. Dave Messenger had dropped 6” back but was well clear of the ever battling trio of Paul Plant, Jon Billingsley and Andy Hancock. Simon Cresswell nearly caught Richard Stevens on the line, the happy pair of Russell Anderson and Stacey Dennis finishing ahead of Luther Blissett, Richard Ford and Jeremy Chilton – 17 starters and 17 finishers! There had been some excellent driving by the whole field and the championship as an entity should feel well pleased with itself.
Race 2 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
Alfashop’s Philip Clay was on hand to present the trophies at the Race 2 podium and subsequent race 1 prize giving. He was helping us to celebrate the start of Alfashop’s tenth year as our headline sponsor. The Grove & Dean Driver of the Day Award went to Bryan Shrubb while a trophy was also presented to Katy Read as Alfa Championship 2014 Photographer of the Year in recognition of her photographic efforts on our behalf.
Highlights video featuring Quali, Races 1 & 2 plus a pit garage tour
Graham Seager left Silverstone leading the Championship overall with a full-house 44 points from James Bishop 41 and Tom Hill 37, Chris Snowdon and Bryan Shrubb tied on 4th with 34.
For maximum points to be scored in each round there must be three or more “starters” in the class. If you win race 1 of a double header, you get an extra point for pole position in race 2. Dropped scores include any poles or fastest laps in that particular race. Please refer to the regulations for a full explanation.
Rounds 3 & 4 are at Rockingham over the weekend May 2 / 3 when we shall be part of the Avon British GT programme. If you plan to race, please get your entries in asap so we have enough space in the paddock. It’s going to be busy!
Our thanks to the BRSCC team at Silverstone who were managing to run meetings on both the International and National circuits over the same weekend! And then last weekend they were due to be involved in the running of the opening round the 6 Hour WECC and 4 Hour ELMS races plus European F3 on the Grand Prix circuit. Plenty of variety at least.
PS: Last Friday morning I joined Graham Seager, Dave Messenger, Ray Foley, Russell Anderson and Jeremy Chilton with their respective cars for an “Auto Italia” photo shoot and track test at Bruntingthorpe which had been arranged by Tim Perry. This was at the invitation of editor Phil Ward with ace photographer Michael Ward taking the pictures. Our thanks to all those who made the effort to be there and we look forward to reading the feature in due course.