The forecast for the Easter weekend was for warm sunny weather and so it proved: a cloudless sky and enough of a breeze rippling the Snetterton flags to take the edge off the heat without turning the air chilly.

It was lovely weather and race conditions were near perfect. A late entry from Gary Miller took our entry numbers to 15 – 3 Modified, 4 Power Trophy and 8 Twin Sparks – and the competition looked strong throughout the grid.

A lengthier-than-usual driver briefing at 11.15 left the drivers just enough time to get back to their cars and set off for the Assembly area for qualifying. Work had been going on with Paul Webster’s car after scrutineering; although the car has raced for some years, a serious flaw in the welding of the roll cage above the driver’s head just under the roof had been discovered for the first time and the chief scrutineer was adamant that the car would not be allowed on the track until this had been rectified. To get at the area concerned necessitated slicing open and peeling back the roof just above the problem joint and Paul Plant’s welding skills then came to the fore, the scrutineer passing the repair in time for qualifying.

Simon Cresswell would be running in a new engine in the early stages of qualifying, the installation having only been completed by Bianco the previous day. Ben Sharich’s MiTO had been behaving itself all morning but as Davie Peddie turned the key to start it to go to the Assembly area the gremlins in the electronics manifested themselves again and it refused to budge. As the air went blue the frantic work to get it going again fortunately succeeded in time for Ben to make the start of the qualifying session. We welcomed 2 new entrants to the Championship – Jamie Thwaites’ superb looking red 155 3-litre in the Power Trophy class and Martin Jones in his 147 Twin Spark – and we also had 2 returning drivers, Anthony George and Jon Billingsley, having guest outings in Twin Sparks.

Alfa Romeo Championship - Snetterton 2019Alfa Romeo Championship - Snetterton 2019

Tom Hill’s 156 Twin Spark and Barry McMahon’s Modified 156 Turbo were at the front of the qualifying queue and both made good use of the clear track in front of them to establish themselves at the front of their respective classes. Tom set the Twin Spark pole of 2:23.180 on his second flying lap, which was just as well because an intermittently malfunctioning ECU saw him in the pits 2 laps later, and although he rejoined he only completed 2 more slow laps before returning to the paddock.

After a couple of sighter laps to bed his tyres in Barry started to turn up the wick and on lap 5 recorded a 2:08.132 to set the overall and Modified class pole. It was far from easy though with Richard Thurbin’s Delta Integrale breathing down his neck. What would have been Richard’s quickest lap of 2:08.687 was unfortunately disallowed for exceeding track limits at the exit to Riches but his 2:08.892 was close enough to indicate that the race result was far from a foregone conclusion, and some observers were convinced that the Integrale was quicker than Barry’s 156 in a straight line. Mervyn Miller’s 156 was the third Modified class entrant and he circulated in the 2:20s for nearly the whole session before recording a 2:19.826 for what would be 4th quickest overall, Paul Webster’s Power Trophy 156 getting in ahead of him with an impressive lap of 2:16.627 to take 3rd place on the grid.

Tom Hill’s Twin Spark 156 was 5th quickest overall – a characteristically impressive performance – just 1/10th quicker than Gary Miller’s Power Trophy Abarth. However, this was Gary’s first experience of Snetterton, in addition to which his tyres were very old and worn, so in the circumstances his 2:23.289 represented a very strong performance. A long line of Twin Sparks came next, headed by Andrew Bourke’s 156. Andrew’s testing times the previous day had been comparatively modest but he was quickly on the pace here, recording 2:23.957 on only his third lap to share the front row of the Twin Spark grid with Tom.

Jon Billingsley had borrowed Gethin Llewellyn’s 156 Twin Spark for the weekend for his first Alfa Championship outing for some considerable time, but it was like he had never been away, just 2/10ths shy of Andrew with a best lap of 2:24.135 and looking a good each way bet for the race. Richard Ford was 4th quickest Twin Spark, recording a 2:24.800 in his 156 and looking to swap tyres for the race as he felt the car was not performing as well as it should be given his previous strong Snetterton performances.

There was then a 2.5 second gap in lap times to Martin Jones, having his first ever race in the Championship in his ex-James Browning 147. A best lap of 2:27.210 was an extremely creditable debut qualifying time. He was followed by Simon Cresswell a further 8/10ths back. As he was running in a new engine Simon was sticking to a maximum of 4000 revs for his opening laps before getting the green light from Bianco to stretch this to 7000. However, high oil temperature persuaded him to be more conservative in the light of his recent engine problems so he would line up 6th on the Twin Spark section of the grid.

The final 2 Twin Spark positions would be occupied by Anthony George and Steve O’Brien. Anthony had never hired a car to race before as he has 2 race cars of his own, both Modified class cars. However, neither is race ready at present so he opted to hire the ex-Andy Hancock 156 for a race on his home circuit. It proved to be quite a change from the lashings of power he is used to – plenty of time on the straights etc – and each of his 8 qualifying laps was quicker than the last, concluding with a best lap  of 2:28.213. Steve O’Brien was the final Twin Spark runner; after 2 laps his clutch failed and after completing 2 more laps in 4th gear to ensure he would qualify he returned to the paddock and so would line up at the back of the Twin Spark grid.

The above analysis leaves 2 Power Trophy entries unaccounted for, both of whom ran into problems. Jamie Thwaites completed an out lap but then pulled off the circuit on his first flying lap with a broken gear linkage, so he would need to complete an extra lap at an appropriate juncture in the timetable to be allowed to race. He duly completed this after his team fixed the problem. Ben Sharich completed the out lap in his MiTO before crossing the line on lap 2 in the pit lane as he returned to the paddock with a recurrence of the electrical problems which had delayed his arrival in the Assembly area. He too would line up at the back of the front section of the split grid for Race 1. Our thanks go to Linda Robinson and Sue Ford for setting up a tea and coffee stall (with biscuits), all free of charge to drivers, preparers and supporters. The plan is to repeat this at all future Championship rounds. We know that many have their own facilities but this is a chance to enhance the social aspect of the Championship so we hope everyone will come along to the stand for a drink and a chat.

Race 1

Prior to the start of Race 1 Jamie Thwaites completed the final lap of the 3 he was required to complete in front of the Safety Car in order to be cleared to start and then the cars gathered in the Assembly area on time for the scheduled start at 14.55. As at Brands in March, Richard Thurbin’s Integrale rocketed ahead of the Modified and Power Trophy field as soon as he engaged 2nd gear. However, this time Barry McMahon was more prepared for this and made a much quicker start than he had at Brands and managed to get past Richard on lap 1 instead of several laps into the race.

Alfa Romeo Championship - Snetterton 2019

In the Twin Spark field Andrew Bourke got the jump on Tom Hill at the start to lead into Riches and despite momentary contact with Jon Billingsley’s fast starting 156 he held the lead at the end of lap 1, with Tom back in third behind Jon. Richard Ford, Simon Cresswell, Martin Jones, Anthony George and Steve O’Brien followed through in that order in the Twin Spark Cup.

Behind Barry and Richard at the front Mervyn Miller held third ahead of Paul Webster, Gary Miller and Jamie Thwaites, but Ben Sharich’s MiTO was sadly already in difficulties, completing lap 1 in over 5 minutes before pitting and rejoining but then failing to complete another lap before retiring. Modern car manufacturers simply do not want their road cars turned into racers! As soon as someone wants the car to perform in a way that is different to the way its production systems want it to, it receives contrary electronic instructions and grinds to a halt as a result. This is the obstacle the MiTO Project team needs to clear. They will succeed in time but in the meantime are experiencing endless frustration. Keep at it folks – you WILL succeed!

Meanwhile, the other new Power Trophy runner, Jamie Thwaites, was settling in. He was 12 seconds ahead of the leading Twin Spark at the end of lap 1 but this had reduced to 8 seconds by the end of lap 2, 4 seconds by the end of lap 3, and 3 seconds at the end of lap 4. However, just as it seemed that he was settling in and holding the gap the drive belt snapped and forced him into retirement. New car gremlins again – the intense pressure of racing always finds the unforeseen weak points in a car’s preparation!

At the end of lap 2 Richard Thurbin had held the gap to Barry McMahon ahead to around 3 seconds, but lap 3 was to prove sensational. Adie Hawkins’ lap record (achieved in his Modified 33 now racing successfully in Thundersaloons) had stood for many years but with the Turbo on full boost Barry smashed it to smithereens with a time of 2:04.721, eclipsing Adie’s record by some 1.8 seconds. It was breathtaking and a great tribute to Barry’s driving skill as well as the awesome performance of his car. Richard Thurbin later conceded that, try as he might, he could not achieve a lap in the 2.04s. Nevertheless his time would come… Mervyn Miller was back in 3rd place, maintaining a gap to Paul Webster without being able to pull away, and Gary Miller was 5th – losing a few seconds per lap to his Dad and Paul but steadily pulling further ahead of the leading Twin Sparks.

The Twin Spark Cup running order at the end of lap 5 was Andrew Bourke leading, with Jon Billingsley right on his tail in 2nd, followed by Richard Ford who had moved up to third into Brundle on that lap, Tom Hill, Simon Cresswell, Martin Jones, Anthony George and Steve O’Brien. However, the starter motor on Anthony George’s 156 would not disengage; it overheated and the result was electrical failure, Anthony pulling off the circuit on lap 8 to await recovery at the end of the race.

In addition, fate was about to intervene with the leading Twin Sparks… Coolant had been dumped on the track at Hamilton and Andrew spun on it. Jon went to the right to avoid him but Andrew was rolling backwards across the circuit in that direction and Jon just clipped him as he took to the grass to avoid the 156. Jon managed to regain the track ahead of the field through Oggies but ran wide at the exit to Williams allowing Richard Ford to take the lead along the Bentley Straight into Brundle. Andrew rejoined in 4th behind Tom, albeit some 10 seconds behind the new leader.

Alfa Romeo Championship - Snetterton 2019Alfa Romeo Championship - Snetterton 2019Alfa Romeo Championship - Snetterton 2019

Jon was not to be denied however. On the next lap, Richard also had a moment at Williams that resulted in Jon pulling alongside and retaking the lead into Brundle. Thereafter, the running order remained unchanged for the final 2 laps with Jon taking the flag by 0.2 seconds from Richard with Tom third. Fastest lap went to Andrew Bourke.

Up ahead the result was far from a formality. After breaking the lap record early on Barry McMahon had a 10-second cushion to Richard Thurbin. However, by lap 6 the gap was down to 4 seconds, then 3; it went back up to 4 at the end of lap 8 as both drivers were lapping cars, but at the finish Barry won by 1 second, the 156 not quite itself after its exertions earlier in the race – it was nail biting but he held on.

Behind Richard, Mervyn Miller brought his 156 home in 3rd ahead of Paul Webster and Gary Miller, the remaining two Power Trophy runners. Paul had broken his own Class lap record by 1/10th of a second on lap 4 with a time of 2:15.884 but after that he eased off considerably and Gary Miller progressively lowered the gap to Paul from 25 seconds on lap 5 to under 5 seconds at the end, although Paul still had things under control. It had been a hard fought and eventful race with plenty of excitement through the field. All cars were intact and, where relevant, mechanical repairs could easily be made, with the one exception of Ben Sharich’s MiTO sadly. The team felt that the electronic problems could not be solved at the circuit and elected to withdraw and return to Fife to tackle these with all their facilities at hand. Our best wishes go with them in addressing and solving the complex problems facing them.

Race 1 Results

ModifiedBarry McMahon
Power TrophyPaul Webster
Twin Spark CupJon Billingsley

Race 2

The excellent weather continued on Sunday with conditions virtually unchanged. The remaining 14 cars and drivers were all ready to go at the allotted start time of 12.15 but there had been a delay due to a number of Formula Fords hurling themselves at the scenery and having to be retrieved, so we took the start 15 minutes later than scheduled.

As the lights went out to start the Modified and Power Trophy cars Richard Thurbin got a characteristically rapid start to take the lead. The others all seemed to get away well initially but, unexpectedly, at the end of lap 1 Barry McMahon was still in 3rd place behind Mervyn Miller and Richard Thurbin had a lead of nearly 10 seconds. It appeared that all was not going to plan for Barry. He did pass Mervyn on lap 2 but did not come round at all at the end of lap 3, the marshals reporting that he had pulled off the circuit. The marshals had to wait for the whole field to pass before they could get across to him but when they did the car suddenly started and Barry set off again. He was not the only one in difficulties. Jamie Thwaites’ 155 had started well enough and recorded a respectable 2:25 on lap 2 but then his gearbox failed and he made his way slowly back to the paddock unfortunately to record a second DNF. Such are the problems with new race cars and Jamie was left contemplating how best to address his gearbox issues.

The Twin Sparks meanwhile all made a good clean start when the flag dropped and the running order at the end of lap 1 was Jon Billingsley, Richard Ford, Andrew Bourke, Tom Hill, Simon Cresswell, Martin Jones, Anthony George and Steve O’Brien. However, at the end of lap 2 Anthony came into the pits; a quick adjustment by the Bianco team sent him on his way again, but he was by then a minute behind the rest of the field. He continued to the end, finishing 7th in the Twin Spark Cup and doubtless contemplating the contrast between the performance of a 156 Twin Spark and the cars in his own stable. Nevertheless he certainly seemed to have enjoyed the outing. The only other change in the Twin Spark running order in the opening laps was Steve O’Brien passing Martin Jones on lap 4.

In the front group although Barry McMahon had rejoined all was clearly not well. After a few laps in the 2:15s area he slowed again and completed his final lap in well over 3 minutes and dropped right to the tail of the whole field. His clutch had gone and a misfire complicated things still further but he did record a finish. Ahead Mervyn Miller, Paul Webster and Gary Miller were circulating 2nd, 3rd and 4th overall while Richard Thurbin’s Integrale was sailing serenely on at the front – or was it…? Not quite so serenely towards the end as it turned out. He too was having clutch problems – it was slipping and he had slowed noticeably. However, fortunately he had plenty of time in hand and he finished a minute clear of Mervyn Miller in second.

In the Twin Spark Cup, Jon Billingsley held onto his lead throughout, Richard Ford keeping him honest but never getting quite close enough to mount a challenge, so Jon completed a remarkable race double – remarkable because he has raced an Alfa Romeo very little of late and it is most unusual to see an ‘occasional’ driver at or near the front of the Twin Spark field, so it was an excellent performance. Richard finished only half a second adrift at the flag. Andrew Bourke was 3rd and it was a very close thing for 4th – Tom Hill and Simon Cresswell crossed the line almost in a dead heat, Tom shading it by just 0.034 seconds. Behind them were Steve O’Brien and Anthony George, 6th and 7th in class respectively. Martin Jones had unfortunately had to pull off the track on the penultimate lap with no gears, gear cables having come adrift it was later discovered.

Race 2 Results

ModifiedRichard Thurbin
Power TrophyPaul Webster
Twin Spark CupJon Billingsley
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Fastest laps in Race 2 went to Richard Thurbin, Paul Webster and Jon Billingsley, reflecting the 3 Class winners, and so ended an excellent weekend’s racing. Barry McMahon leads the points table at present from Gary Miller and Tom Hill but there is a long way to go yet this season. Cadwell Park now beckons us on 11th/12th May for Rounds 5 and 6.

Andy Robinson and Keith Ford, ARCA.