It is unusual for the Alfa Romeo Championship to visit the same circuit in the same configuration twice in one season but, due to the complexities of circuit hire and scheduling race meetings – and the relatively unattractive alternative options – we found ourselves back at the Silverstone National circuit on Sunday 29th July.
However, it was still eagerly anticipated: surely after 8 weeks of hot dry sunny weather we could expect more of the same? Wrong! The additional benefit of being allocated pit garages turned out to be welcome to provide shelter from the rain and wind rather than shade from a burning sun.
A number of drivers had made use of the testing day on Friday, including the seemingly ageless Robin Eyre-Maunsell – returning to the Championship after an absence of a few years – Tom Hill, Mel Freeman (also making a welcome return), Cip Nistorica and Riccardo Losselli. The absence of action on the Saturday proved helpful in particular to Bianco as it provided more time to sort out the engine problems Mel and Riccardo experienced in testing. In the event Riccardo switched to Andy Hancock’s 156 in place of his usual 147 and Mel’s 156 had a fresh engine installed.
Nick Anderson’s late withdrawal left us with a 15-car entry, slightly disappointing but nevertheless a highly competitive field. In addition to the regular runners it was a treat to have Graham Seager back on the grid with his mighty supercharged GTV, and brilliant to have Daniel Wood joining the Championship in ‘Big Yella’, the ex-Ian Brookfield 164. Ian himself was present with wife Joanne and looking slightly wistfully at his 2 former cars – the yellow 164 and also Scott Austin’s 155!
The conditions were extremely wet when qualifying got under way promptly at 9.00 AM. It was raining and there was a lot of standing water; cars were throwing up plumes of spray and visibility was limited to say the least, so caution was the watchword in the early stages as Scott Austin could confirm after a harmless but salutary spin at Luffield on his first lap. Graham Seager was the only Modified class entry and was almost immediately into his stride with a time of 1:18.706 on only his second flying lap and 1:15.780 on his third. A potpourri of lap times followed but a 1:14.459 on his final lap secured pole position by 1.8s from the ever improving Scott Austin who was second quickest. Scott’s lap times also seesawed somewhat but an excellent 1:16.254 on his 13th lap saw him grab a front row slot alongside Graham.
Chris McFie was the quickest Power Trophy car in the very early stages, the nimble Abarth sliding in a controlled way under Chris’s expert hands and into the 1:17s on his third lap. His 1:16.391 near the end of the session was only 1/10th shy of Scott’s best time, promising some close racing later in the day. With top-level rallying experience dating back to the 1960s, wet conditions were more than familiar to Robin Eyre-Maunsell although less so the front wheel drive configuration of the 156 GTA prepared by Peak Alfa. A time of 1:17.122 on his final lap would see him line up on the outside of row 2. Newcomer Daniel Wood was the next Power Trophy runner, driving in his first race in the yellow 164, and a time of 1:19.605 was an excellent effort, again on his final lap. Even more important he had enjoyed the session immensely – ‘it was just so much fun’, he enthused, and surely that sums up what club racing is all about. Welcome to the Championship Daniel – great to have you on board! Ray Foley had struggled with visibility in his rapid 147 GTA, pitting twice during the session to have his screen cleared, but recorded a 1:20.121 lap late in the session to line up at the back of the front section of the grid after a tussle inside the car with his own legendary status.
As for the Twin Sparks, Tom Hill laid down an emphatic marker early in the session – as is his wont – and set the Twin Spark pole on only his third lap, a 1:19.272. His laps thereafter were consistently quick but this one proved to be the best. Second on the Twin Spark grid with a brilliant 1:19.882 on his final lap was Riccardo Losselli – a superb effort which reflected the progress he is making this season, the more so as he was racing a borrowed car after his 147’s engine had expired in testing 2 days earlier. Sensationally third quickest was Cip Nistorica in a time of 1:20.119 on his final lap. This was an excellent performance, with Cip beginning to demonstrate what he is potentially capable of, and he was rightly delighted with the result. Close behind Cip was Richard Ford. Richard was on a roll after his double class win at Snetterton and although the tricky conditions caught him out a couple of times his 1:20.155 was a decent effort to line him up 4th quickest in the class.
Kristian Leith was next, his lap times improving steadily as the session progressed, culminating in a 1:20.389 on his final lap. Meanwhile, Dave Messenger had been coming down the Wellington Straight on his 5th lap when his ABS couldn’t decide if it was on or off; the inopportune result being a lock-up which saw him travel far into the gravel run-off and get stuck there. Nevertheless he would line up 12th overall and 6th fastest Twin Spark with a 1:21.755 on his preceding lap. Andy Inman struggled with the conditions early on and pitted after a few laps, but on rejoining got his head down and reeled off 3 laps in the 1:22s culminating in a 1:22.168 to line up on the back row. The final grid slot was taken by Mel Freeman. Mel was our 2010 overall champion, so her quality and racing pedigree speaks for itself, but this was her first race for some years and wisely she played herself in steadily at first. Her lap times then improved continually as she familiarised herself with the car and the conditions. A 1:22.603 was the final result but we knew there would be much more to come and it would be fascinating to watch her progress as the day went on.
By the time our first race got under way a few minutes early at 11.40 the track was a little bit drier… but not much, so concentration and close attention to car control would be the order of the day. The front group got away well and at Copse Robin Eyre-Maunsell slithered past Graham Seager and Scott Austin briefly before Graham got the power down on the exit and disappeared ahead into the mist. Scott recovered but then a lurid moment at Luffield – skilfully rescued – dropped him to 4th and Chris McFie took advantage to move into 2nd place 1.6 seconds behind Graham at the end of Lap 1, followed by Robin, Scott and Ray Foley, who had got ahead of Daniel Wood. On Lap 2 Scott reasserted himself to pass Robin to go 3rd, but sadly Ray Foley missed his braking point at Luffield and went straight on into the gravel and retirement, somewhat to his dismay having brought a group of supporters to the circuit.
Meanwhile, the Twin Spark Cup runners had got away well, Tom Hill taking the lead, followed by Dave Messenger making a characteristic fast start to move from 5th to 2nd at the end of lap 1 and Kristian Leith also making up a place to go 3rd at the expense of Riccardo Losselli who dropped a place and Richard Ford, who dropped from 4th to 7th – after getting too much wheel spin off the start line – with only Mel Freeman behind him at that early stage. Richard began his recovery drive on lap, 2 passing Andy Inman, while up ahead Kristian passed Dave Messenger into 2nd place at Luffield. Dave thought the pass might have been made under waved yellows (for Ray Foley’s car in the gravel) but the camera footage from Riccardo’s car behind showed the 2 cars side by side before Dave braked fractionally earlier, in effect handing the advantage to Kristian. There was a repeat on lap 3, with Riccardo’s pass on Dave being deemed legal in similar circumstances, much to Dave’s disappointment. Dave was still struggling with an ABS system that couldn’t decide whether it was on or off, the light on the dash continually changing and creating a real problem for him on the slippery track surface.
Cip Nistorica had qualified strongly in 3rd Twin Spark Cup place and was rightfully delighted but lost 2 places on lap 1 and spun on lap 2, dropping to the tail of the field, several seconds behind Andy Inman who had been passed by Mel Healey, Andy having lost 3 seconds somewhere on the lap. Cip was understandably very disappointed but his qualifying performance nevertheless reflected the encouraging progress he is making.
Back with the front group, Chris McFie was holding the gap to Graham Seager to around 3 seconds up to the end of lap 6 but by the end of lap 8 Graham had extended his lead to over 8 seconds and Scott Austin, having disposed of Robin Eyre-Maunsell on lap 2, was now right behind Chris. He eventually made the pass on lap 10 but it wasn’t till lap 13 that he began to pull away from Chris’s tenacious Abarth, which kept Scott under pressure till then. Behind Chris, Robin Eyre-Maunsell had been in the 1:15s/1:16s up to lap 5, but then dropped off the pace by a couple of seconds before suddenly getting into the 1:14s on lap 13. Daniel Wood meanwhile was really enjoying himself: although outpaced by a second or two a lap by those ahead he was revelling in the race conditions in ‘Big Yella’ and maintaining the gap beck to the leading Twin Spark.
Tom Hill had established his lead in the Twin Spark Cup early on. Kristian had moved into 2nd on lap 2 but the battle with Dave Messenger had cost him time and by the time he got clear of Dave he was some 6 seconds behind. Tom then continued to pull away by 1-2 seconds per lap and was over 10 seconds ahead by the end of lap 9. At the end of lap 12 the running order was Tom, Kristian, Riccardo, Richard Ford (picking up places now), Dave M, Mel, Andy and Cip. The only change in the Twin Spark order after that came when Cip caught and passed Andy Inman on lap 14. The top 3 Twin Spark Cup drivers were justifiably delighted and it had been an excellent race all round. Back with the front group Graham Seager sealed a dominant win – expected maybe but he still had to do the business with over 400 horsepower going through the front wheels in very wet conditions. Scott won the Power Trophy class with his best drive to date, followed home by Chris McFie, Robin and Daniel. Fastest laps went to Graham (1:11.237), Chris (1:14.809) and Kristian (1:18.654).
Race 1 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
Track conditions were better but still slippery when the cars took to the circuit at 15.25 for the second race. All 14 cars completed the green flag lap but as Robin Eyre-Maunsell slowed to take up his grid position the car stalled and would not restart. All the other drivers successfully avoided his stationary car which was pushed into the pit lane; some juggling with fuses by Roger Evans got the car restarted but Robin elected not to join in at that point, having lost a lot of time.
With the exception of Robin’s misfortune both groups got away in grid order at the start and the only change at the end of lap 1 was Andy Inman ahead of Cip Nistorica at the tail of the Twin Spark field. Graham Seager controlled the race from the front over the first few laps, with Scott Austin some 2-3 seconds behind, and Chris McFie a further 3-5 seconds back. Ray Foley passed Daniel Wood at the end of lap 2 and in the early stages his lap times closely matched those of Scott and Chris ahead of him. In the Twin Spark Cup, Tom Hill had a lead of nearly 3 seconds over Kristian by the end of lap 1 and he too was controlling the race from the front, maintaining or slightly increasing the gap to the 156 behind him. Dave Messenger had got ahead of Richard Ford at the start but Richard reclaimed the place on lap 4 and at the end of lap 5 the running order behind Tom and Kristian was Riccardo Losselli, Richard Ford, Dave Messenger, Mel Freeman, Andy Inman and Cip Nistorica. Mel was undoubtedly beginning to shake off the rustiness after her long absence from racing and was turning in very consistent 1:20 lap times. She had already moved 2 places up from her qualifying position and it will be very interesting to observe her progress in the further 2 race meetings she is planning to do this season.
In the front group, Ray Foley was clearly intent on putting his indiscretion in Race 1 behind him; by lap 6 he was close behind Chris McFie and made the most of his straight line speed to make the pass on lap 8. At this point Scott Austin was some 6 seconds ahead of him but with Scott slowing slightly and Ray going quicker into the 1:14s the gap was down to 3 seconds by the end of lap 11. On laps 12 and 13 Ray was 2 seconds quicker than Scott and made the pass to go 2nd overall and leading the Power Trophy class. At the chequered flag Graham Seager again took the outright win by some 21 seconds from Ray, with Scott 1.5 seconds adrift, followed by Chris and then Daniel, the last remaining unlapped runner.
In the Twin Spark group Richard Ford was emulating Ray Foley’s performance: after a series of steady laps at around 1:20 in the early stages he got into the 1:18s on laps 4 and 5, getting past Dave Messenger in the process, and then banged in a 1:17.672 on lap 6 to close right up on Riccardo Losselli in 3rd place. After a watching brief on lap 7 he set the fastest Twin Spark lap of the race with a 1:17.152 on lap 8, passed Riccardo, and set about closing the gap to Kristian Leith, a couple of seconds further up the road. Kristian was lapping consistently around 1:18.50 but Richard was bettering that and on the start/finish straight at the end of lap 12 they were side by side approaching Copse. Kristian had moved across towards the outside of the track giving Richard just enough room but when he braked for Copse his car twitched on the slippery surface making slight contact with Richard but just enough to send him over the kerb and spinning into retirement in the gravel at Copse. The Clerk of the Course had a close look at it but ruled it a racing incident, he and Richard accepting Kristian’s explanation that his car had simply lost traction under braking. As a result, Riccardo regained 3rd place and retained it to the finish, followed home by Dave Messenger, Mel Freeman, Cip Nistorica and Andy Inman, Cip having got past Andy on lap 6.
Race 2 Results
|Twin Spark Cup
So ended an action-packed day of close and exciting racing in difficult conditions. The ever-improving Scott Austin was awarded Driver of the Day, it was terrific to see Graham Seager back on track and taking 2 overall wins in his mighty GTV, and Tom Hill was again the class of the Twin Spark Cup field, extending his Championship lead over the absent Paul Webster and the unlucky Richard Ford.
We are now looking forward to the Festival Italia meeting at Brands Hatch on 19th August. For us, the Festival isn’t just ‘another race meeting at Brands’ – it has grown into a major event over the past few years and is the biggest opportunity of the season to showcase and promote our Championship in front of a huge crowd. To achieve our overriding goal of increasing our grid numbers and building a stronger and thriving Championship I hope as many drivers as possible will be there on the entry list. I look forward to seeing you all there!