The long wait for Alfa racing to resume has been a strange time for all our drivers, preparers and supporters – as indeed it has been for all categories of racing – but when it did resume at Snetterton last Saturday what a great day’s competition it proved to be, with 8 different Alfa Romeo models plus 3 Punto Abarths and a Lancia Delta Integrale gracing paddock and track. 24 cars were entered, the highest for a long time and over 40% more than the number we had at our first 2019 meeting. Hopefully it heralds a return to the larger grids which are so important to our future as a Championship and to the great visual spectacle of the marque(s) we all love on track.
It was also our first race meeting as part of the 750 Motor Club, an eagerly awaited event in itself, and we felt genuinely welcomed and valued as an addition to their roster. I was forewarned a year ago that 750 MC paddocks are very crowded due to their popularity as a racing club and so it proved on Saturday: with 250 race cars across all categories present, paddock space was at a premium and there was an overflow of cars in the adjacent fields. However, by early Saturday morning we were all settled into the spaces we needed, albeit a little more spread out than usual.
Barry McMahon had warmed up for the event racing in the Britcar Championship at Croft the previous weekend and lapped in an impressive 1m 31s there on control tyres, so his appearance in the green and white 1750 engined 156 Turbo was eagerly awaited.
He and Richard Thurbin had had 2 sensational races early last season and Richard was back in the mighty Lancia Delta Integrale to renew their rivalry here. Over the past 18 months Jamie Porter at Alfa Workshop has been building a new modified Alfa MiTO featuring a 4C turbo engine bored out to 2.0 litres. Reports of the car in testing were extremely impressive, Ted Pearson lapping within 1 second of Barry McMahon’s lap record in a shakedown test on a chilly day in February. Unfortunately Ted was admitted to hospital for surgery 2 days before the meeting but a phone call from Jamie to Ricky Losselli bore fruit and thankfully Ricky agreed to step into the breach, having also tested the car previously.
2015 Champion Graham Seager was back in his well known supercharged 3.2 litre black GTV looking to add to his impressive tally of race wins against some tough opposition. Last but not least Scott Austin was making a welcome return to the Championship after a 12-month absence. The installation of a Fiat 20-valve turbo to replace the well worn 3.0 litre V6 in his black 155 meant a move from the Power Trophy into the Modified class. The presentation of the revised set up was first class but Scott had only driven the car for the first time when loading it onto the trailer to come to the circuit so he was going to be taking it steady initially to make sure everything on the car was working as it should.
After the end of last season triple Champion Tom Hill made the decision to move up from the Twin Spark Cup to the Power Trophy class, following the similar moves made by Dave Messenger and Andy Inman a year ago. Discussions with Roger Evans, now operating under the ‘Revs Italia’ banner, led to an agreement to build a new 3.2 litre Alfa Romeo GT for Tom and the build was duly completed over the winter. In testing Roger had been highly impressed with Tom’s feedback and meticulous approach to setting the car up (as he preferred it – with a touch of oversteer) and Tom in turn was delighted with the performance of the car and looking forward to renewing his rivalry with Dave Messenger who had such an impressive season in 2019.
Dave himself was back in his 156 GTA hoping to go one better from second in the Championship to winning it this season, the 156 GTA looking as impressive as ever in its Darnells-sponsored livery. Also running under Roger Evans’s Revs Italia banner was the experienced and irrepressible Andy Inman, looking forward eagerly to getting back onto the circuits for the second season in his 156 GTA.
Pictures of Jamie Thwaites’s beautiful 155 had appeared on social media over the spring in its new and unique half-black half-red colour scheme to great admiration. The car also had a new 3.2 litre V6 installed, replacing the 3-litre that Jamie raced with last season, Jamie looking for the extra torque that all his V6 rivals have, and much attention also had been given to a revised suspension set up.
Also looking as stunning as ever was the only rear wheel drive car in the field – George Osborne’s 3.2 litre 75. George had developed the car over the winter installing a new straight-cut gearbox and a suspension set-up that mimicked the original Dealer Team 75s, utilising Alfa 6 uprights. He had also completed the necessary power runs to ensure compliance with the Power Trophy regulations as he had raced in the Modified class last year.
The remaining Power Trophy runners were the Southgate Racing-prepared Fiat Punto Abarths driven by brothers Chris and Simon McFie, and newcomer Luke Praoline having his first ever car race. As always the cars were beautifully turned out and although the 2 long straights of the Snetterton 200 circuit suggested that they might be adversely affected by a power disadvantage they have confounded those assumptions before, and in any case these guys just want to get out and race wherever!
Twin Spark Cup
The Twin Spark Cup field’s standard 2-litre engined cars were a mixture of 156 and 147 models, and there were returning drivers, drivers returning after a break from Alfa racing, and new drivers. Taking these in reverse order, we welcomed Jonathan Tortolani and Luke Powell to the Championship. Jon had purchased the ex-Luther Blissett 156 and spent the winter (and spring) refettling it and it looked very nicely done with semi matt black paintwork. Luke Powell would be having his first ever car race; he has raced karts successfully but a front wheel drive 147 is a different proposition in terms of driving technique so it would be interesting to see how quickly he would adapt.
Neither Gethin Llewellyn nor Jeremy Chilton had raced with us for a year or two so it was great to welcome them back in their Bianco-prepared 156 and 147 respectively – both popular characters in contrasting ways. Geth may be sharing the car with Jon Billingsley this season and neither he nor Jeremy have yet been able to commit to a full season; fingers crossed that they will.
The Ford brothers, James and Richard, both very good drivers with class wins under their belts (and in James’s case a class winner for the season a few years ago) had entered their respective 156s and were sure to be in the mix for podium finishes. The rest of the field were Bianco-prepared cars for Simon Cresswell, Steve O’Brien, Andrew Bourke, and Martin Jones, although Martin had kept his car at home up in Yorkshire over the winter. With Tom Hill having moved up to the Power Trophy class, the pre-season favourite in this unpredictable class was probably 2017 overall champion Andrew Bourke with his silver and turquoise 156. Andrew finished 3rd overall in the Championship last season which was a fine achievement but was disappointed at being unable to register a class win due to Tom Hill’s dominance so he was returning this year with renewed determination.
Simon is invariably in the leading group of Twin Sparks – always competitive in his orange 156 and enjoys his racing. Steve and Martin had their first full season in Twin Sparks last season in 147s. Steve had distinctive new livery on his this year while Martin had switched to a 156, both keen to improve further on the solid results they both achieved in 2019, including a class win for Martin at Croft.
Jamie Thwaites had come out of the hat for scrutineering and it was discovered that his fire extinguisher had lost pressure. An urgent search to replace it was under way when James Winstanley from 750 MC produced one from the back of his van. It was replaced in time for Jamie to join part way through the qualifying session. A rear brake problem on Luke Powell’s car was also remedied by Bianco at the last minute in time for Luke to make the start of the session.
The pit lane was busy during the qualifying session with drivers coming in and out to have things checked or a problem to be investigated before rejoining. Sadly, Martin Jones was an early casualty, completing only 3 laps before a blown engine ended his participation in the meeting – very disappointing. Also clearly with a problem was Richard Thurbin: the Integrale is normally at or very near the head of the time sheets but instead he was at the opposite end. He’d suffered clutch slip in testing prior to the event so all the seals around the engine and gearbox were replaced to ensure no oil leaked onto the clutch. However, the clutch was still slipping. After 4 very slow laps he returned to the paddock to investigate.
In the Modified/Power Trophy group, Barry McMahon posted a 1m 21.28s on his first flying lap which itself would have been enough for pole but he worked down to 1:18.14 before pitting due to a loose undertray and returning to the paddock after 6 laps. Graham Seager was next up with a best time of 1:23.60 on his final lap, over 5 seconds slower than Barry but good enough to join him on the front row. 1.3 seconds further back was Ricky Losselli in the MiTO, the car looking superb on the circuit and giving Ricky a trouble-free run. Fourth quickest was a very impressive Tom Hill. As always Tom was straight into his stride posting quick times, his best of 1:26.04 in the glorious-sounding V6 being set on his 10th and final lap to be the quickest Power Trophy car. Next up was Vincent Dubois in 1:26.50 but something was clearly amiss. He pitted after 4 laps, then completed only 1 more flying lap before retiring to the paddock, a soft brake pedal being the problem. Dave Messenger was 6th quickest, another to set his best time on his final lap, working his way steadily down to 1:27.46, followed by Andy Inman a further second back.
8th and 9th fastest were the McFie brothers’ Abarths, Simon leading the way with a best time of 1:29.67. Chris was half a second slower, feeling rusty from his break from racing last year and bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t put a better lap together. The remaining 5 Modified/Power Trophy runners were, for various reasons, down among the Twin Sparks on the timesheets. Having cleared the replacement fire extinguisher with the scrutineers Jamie Thwaites was able to join the session halfway through and completed 4 laps but the predictability of the car’s handling last season had evaporated and he even spun at one point. This he put down to changes they had made to the rear suspension which they were now going to change back. George Osborne was the second Power Trophy runner with a surprisingly slow time; he said he was experiencing some clutch slip but diagnosed the main issue as “I need to be braver”. Luke Praoline’s Abarth was next recording a very respectable 1:36.92 in Luke’s first ever race qualifying session. More importantly he was enjoying himself immensely! Scott Austin treated the qualifying session as, in effect, a test session to bed the car in, so he wasn’t going for a quick lap and would line up second last in the front group ahead of the troubled Richard Thurbin (see above).
In the Twin Sparks, Andrew Bourke was the class of the field, posting a time of 1:30.22 to take the class pole, some 2.4 seconds clear of James Ford, who was second quickest. Simon Cresswell was 3rd quickest, 2/10ths behind James with a time of 1:32.85, albeit his session was cut short due to a loss of power leading to the replacement of his air flow meter. Behind Simon closely grouped in the 1:33s were Steve O’Brien, Gethin Llewellyn and Richard Ford in that order, and with 5 cars separated by only 1 second some close exciting racing was in prospect. Luke Powell was next: his best lap of 1:35.30 in his first ever qualifying session was only 2 seconds off the pace of the more experienced hot shoes ahead of him – a very impressive effort. Jeremy Chilton was in the pits after only 2 laps as the engine was cutting out (they had had to jump start it in the Assembly area). The battery was changed but 2 laps later he retired to the paddock as the car was still not running cleanly. Finally, Jon Tortolani was persevering with an engine that was down on power but qualified with a time of 1:41.72 to take the final spot on the grid.
The start of Race 1 featured one of those teething problems sometimes encountered when Regulations change and, in our case, when a new racing club takes over a Championship that has unusual start procedures. Without going into unnecessary detail this led to a problem with the grid formation and the pole sitter in the Twin Spark Cup erroneously starting with the Modified/Power Trophy cars. This was all resolved in consultation with the officials and the start in Race 2 went to plan.
After qualifying it was discovered that Jamie Thwaites’s brand new V6 engine had blown a head gasket making him a disappointed non-starter, joining Martin Jones on the sidelines. When the red lights went out Barry McMahon made an excellent start and soon began to pull away from the rest of the field. On lap 1 he was 7 seconds clear of Tom Hill in 2nd (!) and steadily built his lead, lapping consistently around the 1:20 mark and in the end won the race by a stunning 56 seconds. It was a showcase of power driving by a top class driver in an absolutely awesome car – a joy to watch.
In the Power Trophy Tom Hill made a characteristically fast start and was 2nd overall for the first 2 laps before first Graham Seager – recovering from a spin at Wilson – and then Scott Austin passed him. Dave Messenger also made a strong start in the Power Trophy, running 4th overall at the end of lap 1 and continued to keep Tom in his sights. Vincent Dubois was 3rd at the end of lap 1 but dropped to 14th at the end of lap 2 after spinning at Wilson. He steadied himself and began to make his way back up the order but it seemed that something wasn’t quite right with the car even though his lap times were comparable to Graham Seager’s.
Scott Austin had started on the back row after his careful qualifying session but the black 155 was soon flying, picking up one or two places on every lap until he was 3rd overall at the end of lap 5. At one point he reduced the gap to Graham Seager ahead of him to 3 seconds but after that Graham steadily pulled away to finish 2nd some 22 seconds clear of Scott in 3rd. Nevertheless it was a very impressive performance by Scott in a car that was straight out of the box, and bodes well for his pace as he continues to develop the car. Vincent Dubois finished 4th, the last unlapped runner – a good result as he was now missing a number of gears; he had lost clutch fluid and wound up having to change gear without the clutch before finally leaving it stuck in 3rd gear. So where were Richard Thurbin and Riccardo Losselli? With his clutch slipping alarmingly Richard had been contemplating packing up but elected in the end to go out and try to manage the problem as best he could. Using only 15% throttle he tiptoed round (in relative terms) lapping between 1:24 and 1:30 and finished 7th overall, a fine effort in the circumstances. Ricky was circulating with lap times around 1:35 and clearly in difficulties. He pitted and rejoined but continued to the end and finished 3 laps down. It turned out that the wastegate actuator rod had broken. Jamie Porter joked that he could now remember why he hadn’t built a race car and taken it racing since around 1992…
In the Power Trophy Tom Hill won impressively, the GT sounding glorious and performing impeccably. Dave Messenger kept him honest, hanging on but never getting close enough to mount a challenge and finishing 7 seconds adrift in 2nd at the end. Watching his in-car footage it looked like Dave was losing little bits of time to Tom here and there rather than being much slower overall. Andy Inman was driving well in his 156 but was losing out to Dave by 1 – 2 seconds per lap and finished a solid 3rd in class. George Osborne was driving conservatively early on but by mid race was engaged in an entertaining dice with Richard Thurbin and the 2 Abarths of Chris and Simon McFie, which was great fun to watch. Eventually he got clear of the Abarths to finish 9th overall and 5th in class. Chris and Simon meanwhile were dicing like crazy with each other – it seemed you couldn’t separate them with a sheet of paper at times – with Chris taking the flag by 0.47 seconds. The third Abarth of Luke Praoline took the final place in the class in his first ever race having really enjoyed it which, after all, is why we all do it. A best lap of 1:34.11 was very respectable.
In the Twin Spark Cup, Andrew Bourke lapped with remarkable consistency in the 1:31s with a best lap of 1:30.71, whereas no one else could get below 1:32, so even though he was penalised for a jump start he still won the class by a significant margin. The race for 2nd place, however, was close and exciting between Gethin Llewellyn, Simon Cresswell, James Ford, Richard Ford and Steve O’Brien. Steve O’Brien got an excellent start and led the group for the first 2 laps, with Gethin, James, Simon and Richard behind him in that order. On lap 3 it all changed – Gethin headed the group from Simon, James, Steve and Richard. The order was unchanged till lap 7 when Simon got ahead of James, only for James to take the place back 2 laps later, the scrapes on the sides of their cars a testament to how close the battle had become.
Four laps from the end James Ford pitted – a front brake duct had come loose and was trailing along the ground and he pitted to have it removed before rejoining. Sadly this dropped him to the rear of the Twin Spark field. Two laps from the end, Richard Ford went down the inside of Simon at Wilson to take 3rd in class followed by Simon and Steve.
Newcomer Luke Powell finished 12 seconds behind Steve, lapping consistently in the 1:34s with a fastest lap of 1:33.35, only 3/10ths slower than Steve and only a second or so slower than the rest of the group ahead of him. This was a very good performance and result in his first ever race and if he progresses from there as he seems likely to do he should find himself well in the mix for higher placings. Jeremy Chilton lapped consistently around the 1:36s mark to take 7th in class ahead of the delayed James Ford. It was great to see him back in the driver’s seat and we hope he will continue; if he can only find a couple of seconds’ worth of extra pace he will be in the mix for improved results.
Finally, Jon Tortolani had started the race but it quickly became obvious that all was not well with the car. It was down on power and sounding progressively worse and worse and he retired on lap 3 with smoke filling the cockpit. It was a disappointing end to his first race in the championship but he really enjoyed the weekend and is looking forward to the races at Brands with a new engine installed. Tom Hill beat Keith Waite’s Power Trophy lap record by some 5 seconds and Andrew Bourke beat James Ford’s Twin Spark lap record by 0.2s so congratulations to them. Barry McMahon was a couple of 10ths shy of Adie Hawkins’ lap record but would have beaten it comprehensively if qualifying times had counted. All in all it had been a great race to watch with some close dices and fine performances.
Race 1 Results
|Power Trophy||Tom Hill|
|Twin Spark Cup||Andrew Bourke|
It came as a surprise to some drivers that the grid for race 2 was to be formed from the second fastest laps recorded in the qualifying session rather than the finishing order in race 1, which shows how many actually read the regulations! By race time at 16.25 a hazy heat throughout the afternoon had raised the track surface temperature. Unfortunately we lost 2 more drivers before the start; Barry McMahon had no friction linings left at all on his rear brake pads, a problem compounded by leaking brake fluid, and decided it would be too dangerous to race, and Vincent Dubois’ sequential gearbox had a star cluster of bits of metal inside the casing where it definitely was not supposed to be, so 19 cars took the start.
At the lights, Tom Hill got a characteristically fast start to take the lead and was still leading at the end of the lap until the more powerful GTV of Graham Seager took over. Ricky Losselli’s MiTO was 4th at the end of lap 1, but passed Dave Messenger on lap 2 and Tom on lap 3 to go second. He was maintaining the gap to Graham at 4 seconds up to lap 7 but Scott Austin was lapping quicker than either of them and squeezed past Ricky at Murray’s to take second place. Ricky, however, was now in difficulties; the engine kept cutting out and he crawled around lap 8 to retire with a terminal fuelling problem. He wasn’t the only one experiencing problems either – very unusually the Abarths of Simon and Chris McFie were also out of the race. Simon’s gearbox seized on lap 4 and Chris’s front offside suspension collapsed on lap 8 putting both out on the spot, and 3 laps later Jeremy Chilton’s 147 Twin Spark pulled off on the outside of the start/finish straight to retire with a mechanical problem, a disappointing end for him.
Meanwhile at the front of the field Scott Austin was matching Graham Seager for pace, keeping the gap at 4 seconds, but on lap 12 Scott was delayed lapping a group of cars and the gap grew to 7 seconds and then to 9 seconds by the end as Graham took the win. Nevertheless it was a superb drive by Scott from the back of the grid – neat, tidy and very quick. Further back Richard Thurbin was getting into his stride. The slipping clutch meant he was slow off the line and he was 10th at the end of lap 1. However, what followed was a master class in finding ways to minimise the effect of a major problem – by lap 7 he was circulating in the 1:25s, a pace he kept to the chequered flag to record a brilliant 3rd place in the circumstances. His helper with the car, John Shields of JJ Performance, was blown away by how well he had driven and rightly so.
Tom Hill took the Power Trophy class win again, leading Dave Messenger home by 10 seconds. Behind them George Osborne was 3rd heading Andy Inman by a second or two for several laps but Andy lost time on laps 6 and 7 and the gap grew to 7 seconds, and then to 12 seconds by lap 10. Andy closed it to 7 seconds again by the flag but George took a fine 3rd place in the class, reversing their finishing positions in Race 1. The final Power Trophy finished was Luke Praoline’s Abarth, Luke improving his best lap time by 3 seconds compared to Race 1 and finishing 13th overall – a fine effort.
In the Twin Spark Cup, Andrew Bourke took the lead from pole at the start, had a 2-second lead over Simon Cresswell at the end of lap 1; by lap 7 the gap to his pursuers was 10 seconds, and by the end of the race it was 14 seconds. It was an excellent drive and Andrew has certainly laid down a marker for the season to the rest of the Twin Spark field. Another close dice between the 5 cars behind him didn’t hinder his cause as they swapped places and took chunks of time off each other. Initially Simon Cresswell led the group from Steve O’Brien, James Ford, Gethin Llewellyn, Richard Ford and Luke Powell, Gethin having passed Richard around the outside at Wilson – quite a difficult move to pull off – but he repeated the trick on lap 3, passing Steve O’Brien around the outside of the corner at Murray’s. Gethin now set off after James Ford up ahead who was pressurising Simon and passing him on lap 7. Richard Ford again passed Steve down the inside of Wilson on lap 5. The order then settled down for a few laps until Simon got past James on lap 13. James pressed Simon hard to the end but Simon held on to take a fine 2nd in class, with James 3rd followed by Gethin and Richard. Steve meanwhile had dropped steadily back and was almost caught at the flag by Luke Powell who had lost time early on with a lock-up at Wilson but in the end was the only driver apart from Andrew and James to dip into the 1:31s – as he gathers experience he is certain to be a force to reckon with.
Race 2 Results
|Power Trophy||Tom Hill|
|Twin Spark Cup||Andrew Bourke|
It remained to decide on the Driver of the Day award. Keith and I could think of a number of possible candidates but we did consider that one driver stood out amongst these for two impressive results in a car that hadn’t turned a wheel before the event, so the award went to Scott Austin. The trophies were distributed rather than presented to comply with Covid 19 restrictions and we all made our way home after an excellent day’s racing. Festival Italia at Brands on 16th August is always a showcase event and we are again hoping for as good an entry (or better of course) as we had at Snetterton.
View the latest standings.