Snetterton is where it all began for the Alfa Championship
13 cars gathering for the opening race on Good Friday 1982 at the invitation of the BRSCC. As we have mentioned before, the early races were run to a handicap formula and I had the doubtful pleasure of organising the grid. Most of the time this worked out well. At that first Snetterton meeting, I got the first two cars home ( Richard Gamble’s 1750 GTV and Peter Hilliard’s Alfetta GTV) within 6 seconds of each other. They had started on the 1lap + 50 secs and scratch + 10 seconds marks respectively. By the second round, also at Snetterton, the margin was down to 2.9” at the flag. However,there were occasions when I got caught out, most notably being hoodwinked by Pietro Cacciaviello at Brands that same year – but that’s another story! By 1984, scratch races had become the norm.
The 1982 version of the Snetterton circuit still had the Russell flick at the end of Coram onto the pit straight but this was eventually considered too dangerous as speeds increased. In 1990 Russell was re-profiled into a right left esses, this being changed again slightly in 1996. The most dramatic changes in recent times came from Jonathan Palmer’s team that resulted in the current 100,200 and 300 choices that were introduced in 2011. In 2012 we raced on the 200 circuit for the first time and 2014 would see us return, the general view being that the 1.98 mile track is the best suited to our type of racing. With lap times varying from 1’20” to 1’35” it also means that spectators at some parts of the circuit, notably at Murrays, see the cars more frequently than when the 300 is in use. For round 8 on July 12 were able to gather 23 entries for whom there was the added bonus of a 20 minute Practice session at the start of the day’s programme.
However, there was to be an innovation at this meeting. Following a request from Class E competitors who had on several occasions found themselves embroiled with slow starting modified cars it was agreed that the starting grid would be split. Classes A1/A2/B and C would make up the first part of the grid (in this case four rows). There would then be a three row gap back to Class E. In the past Snetterton has brought both startline and Riches incidents and it was hoped that this would help but it is not viewed as a short term measure and, if successful here, should continue for the rest of the season.
Class A1 had come alive again with the return of Anthony George’s 156 Turbo for its first outing of the year. Barry McMahon did race at Donington but that was in his hard worked GTV. He now had his pristine 156 with 1750 Giulietta Turbo engine and smart Martini decals. This was detuned to around 220bhp, Barry hoping that he would get some reliable track time. Vincent Dubois (156 Turbo) and Graham Seager (GTV s/ch) were both back after missing Cadwell, Vincent’s car having had its turbo rebuilt and a limited slip diff fitted.
Andy Robinson had taken his first finish in race 1 at Cadwell but the 3.8 engine had overheated in race 2 causing his retirement. Roger Evans had produced a 3.2 unit as a temporary replacement. And finally, we had the 147 GTA Cup car that had been sourced in the Balkans by Bianco for Arthur McMahon, details of which appeared in the July “News & Gossip”.
Nick Anderson was back in his Class A2 33, accompanied by his son Russell who had bought the ex David and James Thomas 146. We had a new entry in B, Malcolm Chapman who had bought one of the Avon Racing 75 3 litres, well known as “old no.44”. It was good to see Ray Foley after his travels with Heather on “Route 66”, joining Roger Evans in Class C with GTV 3.2 and 156 GTA respectively.
And so to Class E which was in its usual healthy state – led as ever by the Bianco line-up. Championship leader James Bishop headed the list with his Club Ricambi backed 156, other 156’s in the team being in the hands of James Ford, Tom Herbert, Andy Hancock and the happy-to-be-back Stacey Dennis. Steve Potts and Jon Billingsley had their usual green 147s plus the blue car of Steve O’Brien. It was good to see Chris Healey again with the Spur Motorsport 156. Tom Eastwood had originally entered his 145 but had hurt his back at work and was advised to rest it, so racing didn’t seem wise. Andrew Bourke had entered his 2 litre GTV again, hoping that all would go more smoothly than it had at Oulton. Finally, we had the aforementioned Russell Anderson, his yellow 146 now carrying Mayfield Bakery School logos. Russell has spent the last ten years in the army, including stints in Afghanistan, and is currently involved with tanks.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon, testing had already produced a problem for Arthur McMahon’s 147. He had gradually been getting used to left hand drive and the sequential gearchange but after some 25 laps, the engine had ingested something unfriendly, bringing its lappery to a close. It was later decided that a replacement cylinder head was required which Tom Herbert would bring up to Snetterton from the Bianco workshops during the evening. Andrew Bourke suffered from overheating and a blown head gasket was diagnosed ruling him out of Saturday’s activities. Otherwise, the usual red flag interruptions seemed to have limited running by several competitors.
The 147 had impressively blown its engine, leaving a trail of oil
The offer of a “free” Practice session was warmly welcomed, even if the 7.30 signing on time was not! Hard work by the Bianco team found Arthur McMahon’s 147 amongst the 20 cars that took to the track but with only three laps about to be completed we saw a huge cloud of smoke on the entry to Coram, bringing out a red flag. The 147 had impressively blown its engine, leaving a trail of oil that saw Steve Potts rotating wildly and Andy Robinson off track into the barrier backwards. The session was eventually resumed with Anthony George left topping the lap times, well clear of Roger Evans while James Bishop and Andy Hancock led Class E. Unable to get out on track was Malcolm Chapman who had discovered that the alternator of his 75 was not charging and decided to withdraw his entry as he could not locate a replacement. Kevin Evans surveyed the rear end damage on Andy Robinson’s 156 on its return to the paddock and reckoned it could all be fixed in time for qualifying later in the morning.
Qualifying got underway with the remaining 19 cars at 11.45. Anthony George needed only 5 laps to set his pole position time of 1’ 19.390” just a fraction quicker than Adie Hawkins’ lap record. Graham Seager would eventually join Anthony on the front row with 1’24.663”, just 0.065” clear of the ever improving Vincent Dubois. Barry McMahon had his fastest time disallowed for exceeding track limits but his next best was still quick enough to give him a spot on the second row. Roger Evans had established a clear 2.67” advantage over Ray Foley in Class C and they would share row 3. Andy Robinson and Nick Anderson would complete the A1 to C part of the grid, Nick having moved up from 10th fastest overall under the new arrangements.
In Class E, James Bishop seemed to have the edge over James Ford throughout most of the session but JF made a big effort at the end to come within a whisker of JB, their respective best times being 1’30.960” and 1’31.183”. Steve Potts took most of the session to get down to his best time (3rd quickest with 1’31.768”) but then threw the 147 into the barriers at the Esses on what would have been his final lap, causing considerable damage to the front car and bringing his day to a disappointing end. Tom Herbert had almost matched Steve Potts’ time with 1’31.921” and Andy Hancock maintained his recent surge in form with 1’ 32.098”, 5th quickest. The grid was completed in the order, Steve O’Brien, Chris Healey, Stacey Dennis, Jon Billingsley, Luther Blissett and Russell Anderson in various states of happiness or unhappiness – Stacey (very happy), Jon (not happy at all!), Luther (I am sure feeling he had suddenly made decent progress), Chris (suffering a clutch that was coming to the end of its life).
The only question mark about the new starting arrangements was that the three row gap would be respected but the startline marshals were well up to the task, showing clear yellow flags as everyone arrived back for the start. As the lights went out it was Vincent Dubois who made the best start, edging into the lead between Anthony George and Graham Seager while also quick away were Roger Evans and Ray Foley. Into Riches, the leading Class E cars had already closed the gap to the faster cars ahead but this was short-lived and the split grid seemed to be working well as the field arrived at the Montreal hairpin.
Back on the Senna Straight to complete lap 1, Anthony George was able to get ahead of Vincent Dubois, crossing the line just 0.181” clear but there was no sign of Graham Seager whose clutch had expired or Barry McMahon who eventually came through at the tail of the field after an “off” at the Esses. Roger Evans was holding a secure 3rd place, a couple of seconds ahead of Ray Foley with Andy Robinson, right on Ray’s tail, and Nick Anderson completing the top six. James Bishop had used the clear road ahead from the E start to establish himself in front but James Ford was sadly involved in a misunderstanding with Andy Hancock at the Esses, leaving him stranded on the grass and out of the race. Jon Billingsley and Tom Herbert were challenging Andy hard while Steve O’Brien was running strongly ahead of Chris Healey and Stacey Dennis.
It looked as though nothing would stop Anthony George and by the end of lap 2 his lead over Vincent Dubois had extended to 5.8”. Behind Roger Evans, Ray Foley was doing a fine job holding off Andy Robinson . James Bishop had established a 2.8” lead in E over Andy Hancock who had Jon Billingsley and Tom Herbert fighting it out just behind while a couple of seconds back Steve O’Brien and Chris Healey were engaged in a battle of their own. Stacey Dennis, Luther Blissett and Russell Anderson completed the field. Race Control then decided that they needed to clear away James Ford’s 156 and brought out a Safety Car which slowed the race at the end of lap 3, Barry McMahon bringing his 156 Turbo into the pits at the same time with a fly-by-wire throttle that wasn’t flying. Two laps behind the Safety Car followed but when the cars were released at the end of lap 5, it was Vincent Dubois who accelerated past Anthony George, but before the line! Not permitted for re-starts under the rules. Not that it worried Anthony, as he quickly accelerated back into the lead on the Bentley Straight so that he completed lap 6 2.1” clear. Still there in third place was Roger Evans but Andy Robinson had now passed Ray Foley in fourth with Nick Anderson chasing Ray in sixth.
The Andy Hancock, Jon Billingsley and Tom Herbert battle continued unabated until lap 8 when Jon and Tom made hard contact on the Bentley Straight, sending Jon to the tail of the field with front end damage while Tom continued his pursuit of Andy Hancock. Anthony George was now 12” ahead of Vincent Dubois, setting his fastest lap in 1’21.182”, 2” off his qualifying pace. Roger Evans and Andy Robinson were secure in third and fourth places but Ray Foley was now coming under threat from Nick Anderson. James Bishop was looking comfortable at the head of Class E, although only 2.2” clear of the impressive Andy Hancock who now had a slightly more secure advantage over Tom Herbert – if you can call 1.7” that! Lap by lap, though Tom was starting to edge closer and by the end of lap 11 he was in a position to challenge for second place. By this time, Anthony George had built his lead over Vincent Dubois to 31” but Vincent was now having to watch the progress of Roger Evans, the Class C 156 GTA moving to within 5” of the A1 car but in the end only able to get a fraction closer. Nick Anderson had to abandon his chase of Ray Foley, diving into the pits to have a loose bonnet pin fixed although he quickly re-started to be classified as a finisher and winner of A2, with valuable points attached. Further back, we noticed that Luther Blissett was at last getting to grips with his 156 as he had moved ahead of Stacey Dennis and was only 1.8” behind Chris Healey who had now dropped away from Steve O’Brien.
A remarkable last minute (and popular!) fourth was Luther Blissett
Anthony George was well into lapping Class E cars as he crossed the line having completed 13 laps. Vincent Dubois and Roger Evans completed the podium ahead of Andy Robinson and Ray Foley. James Bishop had a comfortable 3.8” advantage in E at the flag but the Andy Hancock/Tom Herbert fight continued to give us great entertainment. Tom had got ahead on the final lap but Andy got a much better exit from Murray’s to outdrag him to the line by a foot or two. Sadly for Tom, he would be excluded from the results for his earlier incident with Jon Billingsley but this would elevate fellow team member Steve O’Brien to his best ever result. A remarkable last minute (and popular!) fourth was Luther Blissett ahead of just ahead of Chris Healey who he had passed on the final lap. The class was compled by Stacey Dennis, a disappointed Jon Billingsley and Russell Anderson. Vincent Dubois was another to be called to the Clerk of the Course but a “slap on the wrist” for his re-start misdemeanour left him 2nd overall.
Philip Clay made the presentations after the race, including the Grove & Dean “Driver of the Day” award to sponsor Andy Hancock – nothing like receiving your own trophy! A vote was taken on whether or not to continue the split grid idea and there appeared to be unanimous approval, so it will be tried again at Anglesey (since confirmed by Drew Furlong).
I suppose that if you run a number of cars as Bianco do, with highly competitive drivers, there will be occasions when on the return to base you are faced with a mountain of work to do before the next outing. One had to feel sympathy, though, for Gary, Harry and Paul for there was not only heavy bodywork damage but also the blown-up engine in Arthur McMahon’s 147. However, they are a resilient lot down there in Surrey and I am sure we shall see a strong turnout next time out.
The Championship table now showed James Bishop (154 points) with an extended lead over his main pursuers, several of whom failed to score. Steve Potts has now been joined by Roger Evans in second equal, both with 103 while James Ford stays 4th on 101 ahead of Tom Herbert (90) and Nick Anderson (83). Anglesey, of course, is a double header with plenty of points at stake.
Our thanks to Linda Stearn and her team from the BRSCC East Anglian Centre – sorry we don’t see you again this year. Diana and I ended our day at Snetterton in the company with the Andersons enjoying some fabulous scones with cream and jam, courtesy of the Mayfield Farm Bakery – and the sun was shining!
PS: As I finished this report, I heard the sad news of the recent death of Nigel Rosser after a long battle with cancer. Nigel competed in the very first championship race referred to at the start of this report with an Alfasud Ti, finishing 5th. However, his racing was starting to wind down at this point after several active seasons in the 70s. He came to see us at Oulton two years ago and although already very ill, he was taken round the circuit in one of the Course cars. We send our condolences to his wife Anne and other members of his family.