Following the cancellation of our Anglesey race weekend due to Welsh Covid 19 restrictions the 750 Motor Club Alfa Romeo Championship found itself back at Snetterton on 13th September, albeit this time on the longer 300 circuit.

We had 16 cars entered: 2 Modified, 4 Power Trophy and 10 Twin Sparks, and the quality of drivers and cars present was second to none so we were looking forward to an excellent day’s racing. The weather was superb, a pleasant breeze and bright sunshine all day with only a smattering of cirrocumulus clouds here and there in an otherwise clear blue sky.

We were displaying stickers on our cars for a new sponsor to the Championship – HiTek Electronic Materials Ltd., global partners to the Electronics industry based in Scunthorpe; our sincere thanks to them. We were also pleased to see and welcome a group of Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club members who had set up near up near Murray’s to have a rare Alfa day out in these Covid-afflicted times.

QUALIFYING

The Alfas were first out onto the track for qualifying at 9.00, all 16 present and correct with no last minute dramas – at least not yet…

Tom Hill was first onto the circuit as usual in his immaculate V6 GT and – again as usual – was quickly into his stride with a first flying lap in the 2:16s followed by two more in the 2:13s, setting overall pole for both races with these 2 laps with a best time of 2:13.56. Paul Webster’s race lap record for the Power Trophy class of 2:15.884 looked likely to be at serious risk come the race and at this stage Tom was nearly 6 seconds quicker than anyone else (yes, that isn’t a typo – nearly 6 seconds quicker). So where were the two Modified class cars? The answer was that they were both in difficulties. Graham Seager was just settling into the session when the whole gear selector mechanism came apart in his hands, ending his participation in qualifying so he would line up 3rd and 6th on the two race grids. Scott Austin sadly had bigger problems: his 155 was overheating and he pitted after 4 laps with steam emitting in clouds from the header tank. Once the car had cooled down later in the morning an attempt to start it revealed little or no compression so that was the end of his weekend – very disappointing for him and for us.

Scott and Graham weren’t the only ones confronted with a car problem. Jon Billingsley returned to the paddock without completing a lap – no brake pedal pressure – and Stacey Dennis completed 3 slow laps to qualify but her normally reliable 147’s clutch had failed. Fortunately Bianco would fix both these problems for the first race and Jon was able to complete qualifying with 3 laps in the company of the 116 Trophy cars later in the morning.

Behind Tom, Dave Messenger was second quickest in his 156 GTA for both races with a best time of 2:16.86, and Andy Inman’s similar car qualified 4th for Race 1 and 3rd for Race 2 with a best time of 2:19.84. George Osborne qualified 5th in the Modified/Power Trophy group with a best time of 2:21.73 racing on the 300 circuit for the first time. All these V6s sounded absolutely glorious on track!

In the Twin Spark Cup Andrew Bourke was again quickest, as he has been in qualifying for every race so far this season, and took the class pole for both races. His best time of 2:21.54 was a second under Tom Hill’s race lap record, suggesting that the latter was under threat come the race. Gethin Llewellyn set the second fastest lap time to put him alongside Andrew on the grid for Race 1 but his second best lap was only 6th quickest. Nevertheless Gethin is showing impressive form – reaping the benefits of racing regularly this season – and his best lap of 2:22.90 was excellent; surely there will be much more to come from him as the season continues. Having sold the 156 that has served him so well in recent years, Richard Ford was appearing for the first time in the ex-Tom Hill triple championship winning 156 and he settled into it well qualifying 3rd and 2nd quickest on the Twin Spark grid recording a best time of 2:23.77. The ever-competitive Simon Cresswell was next, qualifying 4th and 3rd with a best time of 2:24.33 in his orange 156, half a second quicker than James Ford in 2:24.82 who would line up 5th on both grids.

Steve O’Brien is another driver whose form has been improving steadily through regular racing this season. His qualifying lap times were more consistent than most and 2 laps in the 2:25s placed him 6th and 4th on the two race grids in his 147, a very respectable performance. Luke Powell was close behind Steve and would start 7th in both races. In his first season of racing Luke is getting closer and closer to the midfield group of Twin Sparks. Martin Jones qualified 8th for both races in his 156, hoping for better fortune after his engine problems at Brands, and Stacey Dennis and Jon Billingsley would line up on the back row after their qualifying woes.

RACE 1

As race time approached the Bianco mechanics were working feverishly to complete the clutch change on Stacey Dennis’s car. It looked touch and go but they just managed it in time for Stacey to start from the pit lane. The front group made a clean start, Tom Hill making an excellent start and by the end of lap 1 had built a 4-second lead over Dave Messenger in second place followed closely by Graham Seager in 3rd then George Osborne and Andy Inman.

In the Twin Spark group Gethin Llewellyn was determined to make a fast start in order to get ahead of Andrew Bourke so that Andrew did not get away early from the rest of the field as he has been doing this season. He succeeded in doing so and took the lead through Riches; however he was adjudged to have jumped the start and received a 10-second penalty. Moreover Andrew went down the inside of him at the Wilson hairpin and retook the lead. By the end of the lap Andrew had a lead of over a second from Gethin, followed in very close order by Simon Cresswell, Richard Ford, James Ford, Jon Billingsley, Steve O’Brien, Stacey Dennis and… where was Martin Jones? He arrived back in the pits over a minute after the rest had gone by with an engine sounding horribly unlike an engine and retired to the paddock, very disappointed, especially as the same thing had happened for the second race meeting in a row.

Meanwhile at the very front of the field Tom Hill held the overall lead. Graham Seager had passed Dave Messenger on lap 2 to move into second but for the next couple of laps made no inroads on Tom’s lead, remaining 6 or 7 seconds back. However, on lap 4 he halved Tom’s lead and on lap 5 banged in the fastest lap of the race – 2:09.74 – and the superior power of the supercharged GTV enabled him to pass Tom and pull away into a 4-second lead on lap 6. Taking an Alain Prost approach rather than a Stirling Moss approach, Graham then watched his mirrors carefully and did enough to stay ahead. Tom cut the lead to just 2 seconds at the chequered flag and in the process broke the Power Trophy lap record by some 3.7 seconds with a time on the final lap of 2:11.91 in what was a quite brilliant performance. The remaining Power Trophy runners had become spread out behind Tom: Dave Messenger was some 41 seconds back, George Osborne was 6 seconds behind Dave having gone quicker and quicker as the race progressed, and Andy Inman was a further 24 seconds adrift. Although they weren’t close together it provided an opportunity for spectators to savour the glorious sound of each V6 in turn!

In the Twin Spark Cup, having disposed of the challenge from Gethin Llewellyn, Andrew Bourke slowly but surely increased his lead over his rivals to 5 seconds by lap 5 and held it at that margin, increasing it further on the final lap as his rivals held each other up battling for the minor places. It was extremely impressive and Andrew is clearly the class of the Twin Spark field this season; the only thing missing was the lap record, which he was 3/10ths of a second off and in fact it was Richard Ford back in 3rd place who came closest to breaking it, missing it by only 1/10th on lap 4.

Very unusually, from the end of lap 1 to the end of the race the Twin Spark Cup running order was unchanged; the only thing that changed it was the application of the time penalties at the end. The 10-second penalty for the jumped start dropped Gethin Llewellyn from 2nd to 4th (a disappointing end to an excellent drive) and a 10-second penalty for James Ford for exceeding track limits dropped him from 5th to 7th. James was aggrieved because he felt that others around him had also been exceeding the limits but unfortunately for him if that was the case the marshals hadn’t reported it. So Simon Cresswell took an excellent second place with Richard Ford 3rd then Gethin 4th. Jon Billingsley was 5th having had to start from the back due to his qualifying problem and also feeling that the car wasn’t behaving as it should. Steve O’Brien was 6th lapping very consistently throughout but just unable to break the 2:24 barrier. He was followed by James after the time penalty was imposed, and next was Luke Powell. Luke was lapping consistently in the 2:26s but a final lap of 2:24.69 was evidence of the progress he is making. The final finisher was Stacey Dennis whose misfortune in qualifying had been followed by another one – the auxiliary belt had snapped and the consequent loss of power steering meant that she was unable to match the pace of the cars in front as she hauled the reluctant car around the corners. She gamely continued, however, to record a well earned finish.

Race 1 Results

ClassWinners
ModifiedGraham Seager
Power TrophyTom Hill
Twin Spark CupAndrew Bourke

RACE 2

There was quite a long wait to our second race, due to start at 15.50. Scott Austin and Martin Jones departed as their engine problems were major and there was nothing that could be done with them at the circuit – a sad and premature end to the day for them. Mechanical failures like these do occur unfortunately and they are extremely frustrating but hopefully they will be overcome and lead to better days ahead. Bianco had been hard at work on Jon Billingsley’s car during the interval, checking that it was squared up among other things, and likewise Stacey’s auxiliary belt was replaced, so 14 cars took the start.

Again both sections of the grid made good clean starts. In the front group Tom Hill once again took the lead and finished lap 1 with a 3 second lead over Dave Messenger and Graham Seager who crossed the line side by side, Graham having started at the back of the grid due to his problem in qualifying. This time he was less reticent in taking the lead from Tom – he was through on lap 3 and extended his lead thereafter on almost every lap, taking the chequered flag at the end of lap 9 some 13 seconds clear of Tom in second. Both drivers were slower than in race 1 probably due to changed track conditions and throughout the field the drivers’ fastest laps were predominantly set between laps 2 and 6. Behind Tom, Dave Messenger was again running 3rd overall followed by George Osborne and Andy Inman, the cars spread out around the circuit once again and they finished in that order. Andy was delighted to have improved his fastest lap time by a second, the only driver in the entire field to improve their best lap time in race 2.

In the Twin Spark Cup, Andrew Bourke made an excellent start and took the lead, establishing a 3-second gap over the rest of the field by the end of lap 1. The group behind him was tightly grouped however with Richard Ford holding a slender advantage over Gethin Llewellyn in 3rd. There was then a 1-second gap to Simon Cresswell who was followed closely by Steve O’Brien, Jon Billingsley, James Ford and Luke Powell in that order but… no Stacey Dennis until over a minute later when she drove slowly into the pit lane. There was a quick conversation with a Bianco mechanic and she then drove slowly back to the paddock: the power steering had failed again and she had elected not to fight the car around the circuit for the entire race this time.

At the front of the Twin Spark field Andrew Bourke was driving superbly and built the gap to Richard Ford in second place to 5 seconds by lap 4 and he increased it to 12 seconds by the chequered flag to take a superb win. Behind him there was an almighty battle for second between Richard Ford and Gethin Llewellyn, circulating for the entire race less than half a second apart. Richard managed to hold the place for seven laps but on lap 8 Gethin found a way through and just managed to hold it to the flag with Richard only 0.5 seconds adrift in third. It was a superb dice: clean, fair, very close and exhilarating to watch. Just behind them Simon Cresswell was in close attendance, ready to capitalise on any mistakes but none were made and he finished 4th  in class, a few seconds ahead of Steve O’Brien who had been 5th throughout, lapping consistently in and around the 2:25s.

Behind them there were some dramas. Jon Billingsley had been 6th initially but James Ford took the place on lap 2 and held it till lap 4 when there was an enormous bang from the front of the car, the ABS stopped working and the car was vibrating and juddering. James lost a few seconds as a result but like a true racer elected to keep going, the thumping sound of the tyre being clearly audible to those watching. Impressively in the circumstances he began to reel Jon in again in the final laps and only narrowly failed to retake 6th place. Back in the paddock after the race it was clear to see that a large chunk of his left front tyre was missing! Luke Powell was the final finisher, taking another important step on his learning curve. He lost time on lap 3 with a trip across the grass on the outside of Murray’s and his lap times increased for a couple of laps but his best lap was only a second slower than the cars in front of him, so he just needs to find a little more consistency and the pace will come.

Tom Hill and Andrew Bourke both took dominant class wins and were the main contenders for the Driver of the Day award; Tom’s Power Trophy class lap record was what clinched it for him.

Race 2 Results

ClassWinners
ModifiedGraham Seager
Power TrophyTom Hill
Twin Spark CupAndrew Bourke

Points

So ended our second visit of the year to Snetterton in glorious sunshine. As always there were triumphs for some and difficulties for others: racing, like all sports, is a mixture of the two. We are now looking forward to the flowing curves and slopes of the beautiful Oulton Park circuit on Saturday 10th October. Please come and race with us there!

Andy Robinson
Championship Coordinator