With no break in the hot dry weather for some weeks our race meeting at Snetterton on 7th/8th July we were sure would test drivers, tyres, engines, brakes, and stamina to a significant degree – and so it proved.
The drive from the A11 into the circuit emphasised the point: the normal lush green of the surrounding fields was instead an arid brown, and the dense heat of early Saturday morning promised to bake the drivers alive by the time qualifying came around at 11.00 and then to broil them during the first race at 15.15.
16 cars were entered, with Nick Anderson’s late withdrawal being compensated by a late entry from Stacey Dennis for her first race of the year. Stacey had narrowly missed selling her car the week before and decided instead to use the free race entry she had won in the Awards evening raffle last November, donated by the BRSCC. She was limping somewhat from a recent hip operation but was sure she would have little difficulty managing to race, and her confidence would prove to be well founded. Also making his first appearance of the season was the legend that is Ray Foley with his 147 GTA. Ray had a succession of DNFs last season due to seemingly insoluble engine problems but these appeared to have now been cured by Peak Alfa and Ray had everything crossed for a couple of finishes…
The Panel is doing its utmost to promote competitive, clean racing in the Championship where every driver races hard but fairly and has confidence in each other to do the same, and we are strong in the belief that this ethos is being shared by the drivers. The nature of motor racing is such that it is impossible to eradicate car contact altogether, and at every level in the sport drivers can make mistakes at times, but the goal is ‘excitement without damage’!
For the first time this year we had more than one entry in the Modified class with Barry McMahon’s mightily impressive 156 Turbo, boasting somewhere in the region of 500 BHP from its 1750 cc engine, joining Chris Oxborough’s supercharged 75. As the session began, Barry had a huge moment on cold(ish) tyres at the first corner but caught it safely and wisely decided on a couple of cautious laps initially to ensure the grip he needed was there before stepping up the pace. On his 4th lap he was in the 2m16s and on the 5th in the 2m14s – good enough for a clear pole position – but then a large plume of smoke and a less-than-healthy sounding engine signalled a major problem and Barry returned to the pits to investigate. Sadly he would prove to be a non-starter, depriving us of the pleasure of seeing this mighty racer in full flow.
For his rivals in the Modified and Power Trophy classes, quick times were at a premium for the first few laps as the drivers accustomed themselves to the conditions. The effect of the intense heat on tyres was to prove to be a limiting factor in terms of getting anywhere near class lap record times. Ray Foley was the first to break the 2:20 barrier, recording a 2:19.555 on his 4th lap, and Chris Oxborough achieved a 2:19.792 on his 5th. In the light of Barry McMahon’s subsequent withdrawal it appeared that they would make up the front row but Paul Webster had other ideas. After a succession of laps in the 2:22 – 2:28 range he suddenly banged in 2 laps in the 2:17s and his final lap of 2:17.635 would see him snatch pole position right at the end.
Although the Snetterton layout isn’t particularly favourable to the Abarth Puntos of the McFie brothers, Chris set a time of 2:20.552 to be 5th quickest, again recording his quickest times in the middle of the session, tyre wear again being an issue even on his hard compound slicks after that. He was followed by Scott Austin, whose lap times got progressively quicker during the session, setting a 6th best time of 2:21.268 in his 155 on his penultimate lap. So where was Simon McFie? Simon had been on a fine run recently with two outright race victories, but luck wasn’t on his side this time. Shortly after he went out onto the circuit there were reports of smoke from the rear of his Abarth, but this was not to prove the major issue. Straight away he could feel the engine ‘moving about’ as he went round and he did the minimum of 3 laps he needed to qualify before pitting. His best time was 9th overall which put him at the back of the Modified/Power Trophy group, but when the problem was investigated he found that an engine mounting had failed, necessitating a search for an alloy welder to make the repair. Fortunately a workshop on the neighbouring industrial estate came to the rescue and the problem was solved.
Tom Hill was again the first Twin Spark car onto the circuit and he had a quick lap in the bag early on – his 2:23.639 on only his second lap being good enough to take the Twin Spark pole. His quickest rival was once again Richard Ford who worked his way steadily down to a best time of 2:24.276 to go second quickest, with the additional compensation of reducing the gap to Tom from a whole second at previous circuits to 6/10ths here. Kristian Leith was again showing strong form and was third quickest in 2:25.220, a second adrift of Richard but showing definite signs of getting to grips with a circuit that was totally new to him. He was followed by Dave Messenger. Dave’s times were generally in the 2:26s with one slower lap and another disallowed for exceeding track limits, but his final lap of 2:25.493 saw him take 4th place on the Twin Spark grid.
There was a 3-second gap covering the remaining Twin Spark Cup runners who were fairly evenly spaced. Stacey Dennis hadn’t raced since last November but quickly shook off any potential rustiness with a series of good laps culminating in a time of 2:25.598 to go 5th quickest. She was followed by Simon Cresswell in 2:25.966, still a little off the pace he has shown in recent seasons, and Cip Nistorica in 2:26.699. Cip was delighted to be back on track again after missing Cadwell and had taken advantage of the early morning free practice session to familiarise himself with the circuit, shaving a couple of seconds off his lap times by the end of qualifying. Next was Riccardo Losselli, recording a best lap of 2:27.393 in the middle of the session, and finally Chris Healey, a little disappointed to be in the 1:28s but not allowing this to affect his characteristic good nature.
By the scheduled race start time of 3.15 the heat of the day had intensified and the temperature for the drivers in their overalls, helmets, etc. inside the cars must have been approaching 50 degrees. There had been no incidents in qualifying and no major surprises in the grid order that resulted. However, Race 1 was destined to shake things up somewhat…
I had checked that all drivers had heard the summons to the Assembly area before making my way to Race Control – or so I thought – but I had forgotten Scott Austin who was parked up some way away from the other drivers. As the cars gathered prior to the start Scott was missing, and it turned out that he had fallen asleep in the back of his van and awoke to the sound of the commentator welcoming the Alfas onto the circuit! A frenzied dash saw him make the start but he missed the Green Flag lap – two start line marshals were directing him in opposite directions and, not knowing which one to obey, he made his way down the pit lane and would start from there.
The front group got away smoothly when the lights went out, with Scott joining at the rear before the Twin Sparks were sent on their way. When the flag dropped for their start, Richard Ford was quickest away and led through the first two corners but was to lose places to Kristian Leith and Tom Hill at Palmer, a development that was to prove an advantage by the end of the lap! As the field rounded Coram and approached the tight bend at Murrays towards the end of the lap, Dave Messenger found himself off line and, braking hard for the corner, locked up and went across the grass on the inside of the corner. There he had no traction and was effectively a passenger as his car regained the circuit on the exit, hitting Kristian (who had taken the lead) and causing Tom Hill to collide with him as well, badly damaging Tom’s front bumper. Kristian pitted for a quick check of his car and then rejoined but further around the lap it transpired that his rear suspension had broken and he lost a wheel, forcing him to retire. The rest of the Twin Spark field were delayed in varying degrees as they sought to avoid the incident and the running order at the end of the lap looked rather unusual…
Richard Ford had seen Dave coming across the grass from the corner of his eye and wisely braked hard and took a tight line around the inside of Murrays. Dave crossed his bows before hitting Kristian and Richard was then able to get the power down and crossed the start/finish line in the lead, followed by Simon Cresswell and Stacey Dennis. 4th was Tom Hill, then came Chris Healey, who had also gained places, Riccardo, Cip and then Dave Messenger, who had recovered from the incident albeit having lost significant time.
At the front of the first group Ray Foley was in the lead at the end of Lap 1 by 1.3s from Chris McFie, Paul Webster and Chris Oxborough, in that order, with Simon McFie moving ahead of Scott Austin into 5th by the end of the lap. Paul moved up into second by powering past Chris’s Abarth on the Bentley straight on lap 2, and Chris Oxborough eased ahead of Chris on the run into Hamilton on lap 3. Chris then lost 3 seconds on lap 5 which allowed Scott Austin through to 4th place. That running order remained the same for the next few laps.
The action among the Twin Spark Cup runners was, however, somewhat less predictable. With Kristian’s retirement on Lap 2 and with Dave Messenger having dropped to the tail of the field, some 13 seconds behind Cip, Richard Ford began to extend his lead over Simon Cresswell by a couple of seconds per lap. However, on lap 5, Richard slowed, briefly confused by the frantically waved oil flags on the start/finish straight, wondering if they were directed at him. His car was running well though and when he saw Simon and Stacey in his mirrors approaching at undiminished speed he sped up again to re-establish the gap. Meanwhile Tom Hill’s front bumper’s attachment to the rest of the car had looked progressively more tenuous since the first lap incident and was becoming a significant problem by lap 4 so he pitted at the end of the lap to have it removed, rejoining in 13th place with only Dave Messenger, who had also pitted for further assistance, behind him. However, Tom’s luck was really out on this occasion: his engine cried enough on lap 6 and he had to retire the car.
On lap 6 Stacey got past Simon to take second place. By the end of lap 6 the Twin Spark field had become somewhat spread out, with Richard leading Stacey by 4 seconds. Simon was 2 seconds further back, 10 seconds ahead of Riccardo who was 2 seconds clear of a close dice between Cip Nistorica and Chris Healey. On lap 7 Simon pulled off the circuit with a major engine problem which, on investigation later by the Bianco team, turned out to have been a spark plug core exploding, forcing him to retire. On lap 8 Cip and Chris Healey had a slight coming together on the approach to Agostini after which Cip’s engine cut out forcing him to retire, leaving only 5 Twin Sparks running and of those Dave Messenger was circulating slowly over a lap down.
As the chequered flag was waved, Ray Foley took a magnificent and emotional victory just a second clear of Paul Webster, who had the consolation of fastest lap. Chris Oxborough was a few seconds back in 3rd, he in turn a few seconds ahead of Scott Austin in 4th. The 2 Abarths were next, with Simon ahead of Chris by a couple of tenths having moved ahead of brother Chris on the very last lap. Richard Ford took his first Twin Spark win, ahead of Stacey Dennis, Riccardo Losselli and Chris Healey, with the delayed Dave Messenger a lap adrift in 5th.
An investigation by the Clerk of the Course into the first lap incident concluded that it was ‘a racing incident’ – Dave Messenger held his hand up and apologised to all concerned for his error under braking and the matter rested there. It had been a very eventful race! Ray, Richard and Stacey in particular were over the proverbial moon with their results, while Bianco looked forward (?) to a busy evening.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||Ray Foley|
|Twin Spark Cup||Richard Ford|
Bianco did indeed have a busy evening – and night! The team worked hard until 4.30 AM changing the engines in Tom Hill’s and Simon Cresswell’s cars and repairing Kristian Leith’s rear suspension, among other more minor jobs, then got up early to finish things off. It was a magnificent effort for which they deserve huge credit and it meant that we would have the full complement of Twin Sparks taking the start. Sadly, however, we had lost Simon McFie’s Abarth with piston ring failure, the Southgate team being unable to repair the car at the circuit, so 14 cars would take the start.
Sunday morning was – wait for it – hot, dry and sunny once again, so conditions were unchanged and the cars were called to the Assembly area a few minutes early ready for the start just after 10.45 AM. When the red lights went out the front grid cars made a good even start, Paul Webster leading briefly before Ray Foley asserted himself to take the lead through Riches. Chris Oxborough passed Paul on lap 1 to take second place, followed across the line at the end of the lap by Paul, Chris McFie and Scott Austin in close order.
When the flag dropped for the Twin Spark Cup start Richard Ford and Stacey Dennis both made good starts from the front row and got away in that order. Dave Messenger made up several places to take 3rd place by the end of the lap, followed by Simon Cresswell, Tom Hill (anxious to make up places from the back of the grid as quickly as possible), Riccardo Losselli, Cip Nistorica, Chris Healey and Kristian Leith. Kristian had had to start right at the back due to his early retirement from Race 1 and, like Tom, was aiming to move up the order as quickly as possible. However, his good early work was undone when he locked up (driving without ABS for the first time) at the end of the Bentley Straight and the resulting excursion across the grass dropped him back to the rear of the field again, much to his chagrin.
At the front, Chris Oxborough had got his head down and was pressing Ray Foley hard; on lap 3 he got through into the lead and initially established a 1.8s gap to Ray which widened further to 2.8s by the end of lap 7. However, Ray began to close in again over the final 2 laps and was less than half a second adrift at the flag, setting the fastest overall lap of 2:18.026 right at the end. Both drivers were delighted with the resulting 1-2. Behind them, an excellent dice had developed between Chris McFie and Paul Webster lasting several laps – Paul’s greater power would assert itself on the straights but then Chris would duck out of the slipstream and pass Paul under braking. The order changed numerous times and it was thrilling to watch – ultra competitive, ultra clean racing – Chris edged it by a margin of about a metre at the end but it was a credit to both drivers. Behind them, Scott Austin continued his progress in developing the 155, lapping 2-3 seconds off the pace of the cars in front of him but with great consistency, all in the 2m22s and twice venturing into the 2m21s. He knows what development work the car needs and will be progressing this steadily within the constraints of his budget; in the meantime this was another good drive.
The Twin Spark Cup running order had settled into a pattern and remained unchanged for the first 3 laps. On lap 4 Tom Hill passed Simon Cresswell to make up another place and started to close in on Dave Messenger. On lap 6 Tom made the pass but Dave was not giving up the place easily and re-passed Tom on the start/finish straight. Tom got by again on lap 7 and this time made it stick but by this time he was some 9 seconds behind Stacey who had been matching or bettering his lap times throughout, so his progress through the field ended there, although he had reduced the gap by a couple of seconds at the flag.
Further back, Kristian Leith had made progress after his first lap indiscretion. He had passed Chris Healey on lap 3 but it was a further 4 laps before he could get within striking distance of Cip Nistorica and Riccardo Losselli. At the start of the final lap he was still just behind them but passed Cip through Riches and got down the inside of Riccardo at the hairpin to move into the class 5th position at the end. This, together with having briefly led the whole Twin Spark field in Race 1, was some consolation for a disappointing weekend. Unfortunately, Simon Cresswell’s replacement engine had failed on lap 7 and he had another DNF, but surely his luck will change soon.
Richard Ford meanwhile had sailed serenely on at the front, setting a fastest lap of 2:23.833 on lap 4 and managing the gap to Stacey thereafter to take the Class win.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||Ray Foley|
|Twin Spark Cup||Richard Ford|
View the latest standings
There were many positives to take from the weekend in terms of the goodwill between drivers which the general reaction to the incident in Race 1 showed, and in terms of the quality of racing, especially in Race 2. Stacey Dennis was awarded the Driver of the Weekend trophy for her 2 class second places, a significant improvement in her previous finishing positions, and especially as it was her first outing of the season – hopefully she will decide to keep her car and continue racing when budget permits! We also had a visit from Mauro Portelli, a Maltese race driver who is planning to commute from Malta to race with us in the Twin Spark Cup next season. We gave him a warm welcome and progress was made towards sealing a deal with Bianco – brilliant news. We are now looking forward to Silverstone on 28th and 29th July when all our action will be on the Sunday and we will be running from the pit garages. See you there!