Soon after acquiring the Snetterton circuit in 2004, Jonathan Palmer announced that the track itself would undergo considerable changes to make it more attractive to major National and International series.
The original plans were rejected but by September 2010 it was full steam ahead on revisions that would create a completely new 2.97 mile layout, to be known as the “300” while still incorporating much of the most recently used 1.95 mile track that would now take the name “200”. A further short 1 mile test and sprint circuit would be known as the “100”. The old Sear corner which led onto the Revett Straight would be changed into the Montreal Hairpin which to be followed by a sequence of left and right corners that would eventually bring the cars back onto the renamed Bentley Straight. The most controversial change for both competitors and spectators has probably been the removal of the entertaining right and left after Coram at Russell, and the tightening of Coram itself into a single left hander which leads onto the Start/Finish (Senna) Straight. Our first visit to the “300” came on 24th April 2011 when Anthony George (156 Turbo) led home Steve Dymoke (156) and Alastair Iles (147) while Neil Smith (147) won Class E ahead of the 156s of Mel Healey and Ray Foley.
As already well documented, Alfashop are not be continuing their title sponsorship in 2016 but we were pleased to see Philip Clay (with an Alfashop van) at Snetterton on Sunday, showing that relations still remain warm. Another major change is that Yokohama have taken on the role of tyre supplier through their agent Black ‘n Rounds. This means that their popular A048 has replaced Toyo’s R888 as our Twin Spark Cup control tyre. For a season and a half we had used the split grid arrangement for our race starts but although it had been successful in many ways, there were also drawbacks. Having looked at it further, we asked the BRSCC if we could have a time delay between the two groups of between 5 and 10 seconds. This would be implemented for the first time at Snetterton and there was considerable discussion as to the actual procedure, in particular the flag start for the Twin Spark cars. The way it would work was explained at a drivers briefing by Clerk of the Course, Andrew Butcher, but only practice would make perfect! We were delighted to welcome back Judith Hibbins as our “on-the-day” co-ordinator and she would make the operation of the weekend much easier for all of us. Finally, we were equally pleased to have an MSA Registered Eligibility Scrutineer once again, Kevin Lewis having agreed to undertake this role.
It seemed to have been a long winter, with only the Championship dinner in November and the Autosport Show in January offering chances for getting together with other competitors and panel members. However, for some, even 6 months isn’t long enough to complete preparation for the new season, in particular if you intending to race a Modified class car and special parts are on a long lead time with specialist suppliers. As a result, our entry for the opening races was notably thin in the Modified and Power Trophy classes, whereas the Twin Spark Cup was its usual burgeoning self. Roger McMahon was an early Modified entry with his “Happy Days” 147 GTA Cup, now looking very smart following refurbishment after its accident at Croft last September. Chris Oxborough’s 75 was another that had suffered at that meeting but was all ready to run (complete with a set of new Yokohama slicks) albeit minus its familiar green stripes that had disappeared in the re-paint. Third Modified entry was Andy Robinson’s 156 complete with new gearbox and front spoiler. We had hoped to have an entry from Graham Seager but the late arrival of engine parts was cited as the reason for his non appearance. In the Power Trophy, Ray Foley (also now on Yokohamas) was hoping that his 147 GTA would be a match for the only other entry in the class, Nick Anderson’s 33 8v.
There was a strong 16 car entry for the Twin Spark Cup, headlined as “The Great Italian Race Off” and with “Bake Off” star Paul Hollywood. Paul needed to gain a signature to upgrade his licence to International C for planned races with an Aston Martin GT4 with the Beachdean team later in the year and, through Andy Hancock, had come to an arrangement to hire the Bianco 156 driven at times very successfully by Tom Hill. As usual, the Bianco team was at full strength. Tom Hill was at the wheel of his black and gold 156, Andy Hancock his pretty white and blue Grove and Dean sponsored car while Steve Potts had entered his face lift 156. Simon Cresswell’s ex Tom Herbert 156 had been rebuilt after its accident at Croft and Simon was looking forward to racing again. It was good to see Gethin Llewellyn, at last having the opportunity to race his Horley Motor Engineering supported 156 and, as I wrote in my preview, I saw him as something of a “dark horse”. James Bishop’s championship winning 156 had been bought by Mike Tydeman who last raced in a Mk 1 Ford Fiesta back in the 80’s but hoped that it was all like riding the proverbial bicycle. Also in the Bianco line-up were the 147s of Stacey Dennis and James Browning – both cars beautifully turned out. James’s car had benefitted from a “face lift” front which he felt made it look ten years younger even if he had been a bit sceptical at first. Richard Ford was entered with his re-worked 146 but a test session at Cadwell had ended prematurely with a broken driveshaft.
We were pleased to see Clive and Christine Hodgkin overseeing not only Chris Oxborough’s 75 but also the Twin Spark 156s of Andy Inman and Paul Webster, being able to count on the help of Graham Fletcher and Phil Snelling. Jeremy Chilton was setting himself targets with his familiar green and black 156 while Richard Stevens’ 145 had enjoyed much t.l.c during the winter. A second 145 was that of newcomer to the Championship Mark Hope, this being the ex Tom Eastwood car. Finally, we had the 916 GTV of Andrew Bourke. We knew that Andrew now had a Bianco built engine in the car but he had also fitted long overdue competition springs and lightened it somewhat. Sadly missing were Dave Messenger and James Ford. Dave was on holiday in the States but will be with us Silverstone while James was in the throws of moving house although he and Gemma came along to keep any eye on what was happening. James certainly hopes to be racing later in the year.
Several drivers had tested on Friday, including Paul Hollywood who had suffered an early gearbox failure in his “race” car and borrowed Andy Hancock’s for one of the afternoon sessions. Asking where Harry White was when I arrived I was pointed in the direction to two feet sticking out from under Paul’s car – “does anything ever change” for the irrepressible Harry I asked myself! Reports on the Yokohama tyres were positive, the A048s proving very predictable and giving the impression of being quicker than the Toyos, even if this had yet to be proved.
Our 20 minute qualifying session got underway at the very civilised hour of 11.23 on a dry track. From the word “go” it was Tom Hill out there setting the pace and within three laps putting in a sub Twin Spark lap record lap (1’22.806”) A lap later he would improve to 1’22.552” which would give him the class pole, a clear 1.56” ahead of Andy Hancock with Simon Cresswell a satisfying third quickest TS runner on 1’24.809”. At the top of the time sheets, Roger McMahon, Andy Robinson and Chris Oxborough looked very evenly matched. However, Andy was suffering from problems with his replacement gearbox, ending up doing the session stuck in 4th gear, so his second fast time only 0.272” behind Roger’s pole setting 1’18.897” was a good effort, nearly 1” quicker than Chris. Nick Anderson never even made it to the scrutineering bay as his 33 8v engine was making noises that were diagnosed as “bottom end”, so Ray Foley was a disappointed lone Power Trophy runner, but even he had problems which he thought were either electrical or fuel feed related.
Going back to the Twin Sparks, Steve Potts, Richard Stevens and James Browning were very evenly matched – within 0.15” of each other in the low 1.25s. 7th quickest was Stacey Dennis followed by Andy Inman and then the surprise in the pack, Andrew Bourke’s GTV. Gethin Llewellyn only managed 6 laps after an early pit stop for adjustments but by the end of the session was starting to take chunks out of his time, his best lap being his last by some two seconds. Richard Ford, Paul Hollywood, Mike Tydeman, Paul Webster, Jeremy Chilton and Mark Hope completed TS runners. Paul Hollywood had suffered a broken throttle cable after just 4 laps but still felt he could be more competitive in the race although he would have his eye firmly fixed on a finish and that necessary signature. Jeremy had set himself a lap time target for qualifying but also felt that he would go better in the race. Mark unfortunately suffered brake problems and new discs would be fitted before race 1.
The gearbox problem on Andy Robinson’s car proved impossible to repair in situ, some unpleasant noises sounding from within. This left a sad Andy with no option but to withdraw. Roger Evans was also trying to find the problem with Ray Foley’s 147 GTA. He was eventually confident it would run – until the point that Ray had to start it up again before the race when it frustratingly refused! So we now had the situation where our split grid was down to just two cars starting one behind the other the lights with 16 TS cars lined up three rows back to go on the drop of the flag on the gantry. How would that work? Well, as it transpired, perfectly well!
As the lights went out, it was Chris Oxborough who made the best start from his “second row”, pulling out to pass Roger McMahon before they reached Riches and was still in front as they arrived Murrays at the end of the lap, crossing the timing line just 0.949” ahead. All eyes, however, had been on the Twin Sparks but they made a near perfect start as the flag went down. Tom Hill didn’t make the best use of his pole position and found himself in a three abreast situation with Andy Hancock and Steve Potts into the first corner, Steve losing out on the outside while Tom had to work hard at Montreal to stay ahead Andy. Richard Stevens made a particularly good start, sliding up the inside of Simon Cresswell, although perilously close to the pit exit Armco. Equally well away was Stacey Dennis but she was pushed wide at Montreal, the loss of momentum also letting James Browning past. Into Palmer, Steve Potts was alongside Andy Hancock but also ran wide which allowed Richard Stevens to gain a place in his rejuvenated 145. Gethin Llewellyn had moved up to 8th in class but pulled into the pits at the end of the first lap with a gear change problem which took a minute to fix before he resumed at the tail of the field.
By the end of lap 2, Roger McMahon had passed Chris Oxborough into the lead and it looked as though that was that but Chris had other ideas and on several laps he was right on Roger’s tail into the braking area at Murray’s and then again at Riches but getting past was another matter. Tom Hill quickly established himself at the front of the Twin Spark field, effortlessly pulling away to 4.6” lead over Andy Hancock by the end of lap 3 (which on the 300 circuit is already seven and half minutes racing!). Steve Potts and Simon Cresswell were now ahead of Richard Stevens but whereas Steve had pulled away slightly, Richard was giving Simon a hard time to the point where he, and then James Browning were ahead of the orange 156 at the end of lap 5. By this time, it was all a bit spread out between the top three but there was plenty of entertainment being offered by Richard and James, side by side along the Senna Straight and into Riches. James was on the inside and looked as though he had the corner but Richard is nothing if not brave and swept round the nose of the 147 to a collective holding of breath in the commentary box!
At the end of lap 7, Chris Oxborough was notably closer to Roger McMahon and it seemed that the race at the front was far from over. Tom Hill continued to lead the Twin Sparks by some 6” from Andy Hancock who was a comfortable 3” clear of Steve Potts. Stacey Dennis had got within 3” of Simon Cresswell while an initial scrap between Andy Inman and Richard Ford had been settled in Andy’s favour while Richard had his mirrors full of the surprising Andrew Bourke’s GTV. For Richard, running wide and giving Andrew the chance to get by on lap 3 had been compounded by a gearchange problem at the end of the race which meant that he was nearly caught by the ever improving Paul Hollywood before the flag.
On the final lap it looked as though Chris Oxborough had made a “do or die” effort to re-take the lead at Montreal but in reality he had a stuck open throttle, leaving the road but happily not hitting anything. This left Roger McMahon able to ease off to take an unchallenged win while, for the first time, a Twin Spark driver (Tom Hill) was able to mount the second step on the podium with Andy Hancock alongside him, having his best result to date and setting a fine fastest lap under half a second slower than Tom whose best of 1’23.372” was just a fraction shy of Neil Smith’s lap record. The side by side battle between James Browning and Richard Stevens went right down to the final lap when Richard missed a gear coming out of Murrays, allowing James a 0.97” advantage at the flag. Simon Cresswell was disappointed to have finished behind these two but was still ahead of Stacey Dennis who had driven a competitive race although the 147’s engine was overheating as she drew into parc ferme. Andy Inman had a lonely time in the end to finish 8th in class while Andrew Bourke drew 5” clear of Richard Ford and Paul Hollywood. Mike Tydeman was content with his first appearance in the Championship but Msrk Hope was sure he would do better in Race 2. Jeremy Chilton, Paul Webster and Gethin Llewellyn completed the list of finishers. Paul Hollywood admitted that he had got into a more competitive frame of mind as the race progressed and he got more used to the car, even if the main aim was to finish and get that all important signature. From 2’30” laps in the early laps, he managed a best of 1’26.696”.
As the late afternoon drew on, Roger Evans set to work trying to sort out Ray Foley’s problem which eventually turned out to be a split pipe inside the in-tank fuel pump – a messy job to fix but when the car was switched on in the morning it started without a problem, much to everyone’s relief. With a new header tank cap in place, Stacey Dennis’s 147 was deemed fit to race while Jeremy Chilton was keeping his fingers crossed about his clutch. Gethin Llewellyn and Richard Ford both hoped that their gearchanges had been fixed. Sadly for us, Paul Hollywood had achieved the single signature that he need and decided that with a busy filming schedule ahead he would forego the Sunday morning race, so “00” was left idle. However, we had enjoyed his company and wished him well with his Aston Martin adventures later in the year.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||No Starters|
|Twin Spark Cup||Tom Hill|
During the night there was fairly persistent rain but happily be the morning it had stopped and the circuit was able to dry out. The Twin Spark drivers were now more confident about the flag start and this time fifteen TS cars would line up with three due to take the lights as Ray Foley’s car seemed to be working fine. We did have a worry over Roger McMahon’s 147 as he reported a Lambda sensor problem, thinking he might have to start from the pit road, but all was well as the field appeared at the end of the green flag lap. Once again it was Chris Oxborough who made the best start but it was Ray Foley who slotted into the pursuit spot, a position he would hold for 2 laps before Roger McMahon got into his stride and started to chase Chris and the 75. The Twin Spark start was far from clean this time as Tom Hill was slow away and further back Mike Tydeman almost stalled and we had narrow avoidances by Gethin Llewellyn and Jeremy Chilton as they found a near stationary 156 in front of them. Tom Hill’s hesitation gave Andy Hancock a welcome opportunity to lead the class with Tom, Steve Potts, Simon Cresswell, Richard Stevens and a fast starting Stacey Dennis in line behind. Simon and Richard were alongside each other on the run down to Palmer but Simon had the inside line. Tom Hill made his move for lead with a firm move at Williams (before the Bentley Straight) but he didn’t immediately run away and the top 5 were only 2” apart as they crossed the line and started lap 2. This was again a cracking example of Twin Spark racing.
As the lap proceeded, Tom did start to edge away while Andy Hancock was under pressure from Steve Potts but Steve then lost some time which brought him briefly into the clutches of Simon Cresswell. Stacey Dennis was holding on well to the top group, showing 112 mph as she reached the braking area for Brundle. Simon Cresswell and Richard Stevens were now engaged in a splendid battle for 4th in class and would soon by joined by James Browning who scampered past Stacey Dennis at Williams, much to her annoyance, vocally urging her car on!! Five seconds further back, there was a great battle going on between Andy Inman and Andrew Bourke who were about to be joined by Gethin Llewellyn.
At the front of the race, it looked as though Chris Oxborough was easing away in the 75 so that by the end of lap 4 he was 1.37” clear of Roger McMahon and a lap later had opened it out to 2.10”. A lap later, however, it had all changed as Roger had closed the gap and was trying all through the twisty parts of the circuit to go round the outside (!) of Chris only to find himself outpowered on the long straights. At the end of lap 6, though, the gap was only 1.039” but the 75 is a big car to get around and however hard he tried, Roger just couldn’t make it stick. Eventually, Chris crossed the line 1.36” ahead to take a well deserved win – “my first overall win in the Championship” he told us afterwards. Ray Foley had dropped back but would still be on the podium in 3rd place.
Tom Hill enjoyed his second class win of the weekend, 5.9” ahead of Andy Hancock with Steve Potts a further 3.5” back. James Browning would finish an excellent 4th. The battle between Simon Cresswell and Richard Stevens was the one providing us with the most entertainment but at Montreal on lap 7, Simon lost momentum (missed gear?) on the exit, letting Richard and Stacey past, Stacey’s 147 chasing Richard’s 145 as hard as it would go, so much so that by the time they reached the flag at the end of lap 9, the gap was a mere 0.347”. Andrew Bourke had also been closing on Andy Inman and the two cars passed the flag side-by-side, Andy taking the place by the smallest of margins (0.055”). Gethin Llewellyn had more gearchange problems plus no functioning ABS but was still ahead of a re-vitalised Mark Hope, a recovering Mike Tydeman, Jeremy Chilton, Paul Webster and Richard Ford who suffered a recurrence of his gearchange problems. Looking at the lap times afterwards, it was clear that everyone in TSC had lapped quicker as they became more acclimatised to the Yokohama tyres. Tom Hill had dipped sub 2”23 and set a new lap record in 2’22.618”. Particularly pleased was Jeremy Chilton who had set himself a target and beaten it by some 2 seconds!
The trophies were presented by Judith Hibbins and the Grove & Dean Driver of the Weekend award went to James Browning with a “Highly Commended” to Andrew Bourke. Reviewing everything afterwards, though, I think I would have given a second “Highly Commended” to Stacey Dennis. It was good to see many old friends during the weekend, including panel members Matt Daly and David Thomas, James Thomas, Ted Pearson, Ian Brookfield and Joanne Eastwood, Keith and Sue Ford (Keith took the prize giving pictures as usual) Graham and Andrea Heels, Sarah Heels, Martin Jones, Louise West and Richard Drake. Our thanks to Linda Stearn and her team from the BRSCC East Anglian Section and to Mark Werrell for making me so welcome in the commentary box.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||Ray Foley|
|Twin Spark Cup||Tom Hill|
Tom Hill went away from Snetterton with a 100% points score to lead the Championship overall from Roger McMahon and Andy Hancock.
Rounds 3 & 4 will be at Silverstone on Sunday, May 8th. Make sure you enter in good time to ensure we have a good paddock slot.